News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Young life: Hitting the right notes
BY COLLETTE CAPRARA
FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR
He may look like he’s just fiddling around, but National Symphony Orchestra musician Glenn Donnellan is clearly a master of the violin, and families who experience his performance at the Hylton Performing Arts Center will not only delight in his fun-filled, interactive presentation but will also be gaining quite a bit of knowledge in the process.
Donnellan’s lighthearted style engages children and includes plenty of audience participation as he relates information of the essential elements of bow-and-string instruments, a legend of the first violin, and a scientific exploration of how sound is created. His appreciation of youths’ spirit of innovation, spontaneity and creativity may be rooted in his own childhood experience.
His mother, a music teacher in Washington state’s public schools, introduced her two young sons to the Suzuki method of learning to play the violin—an approach based on language-learning, which focused not on reading notes but on learning to imitate music students listen to.
“When I perform for young audiences, I’m asking them questions as much as sharing information with them,” Donnellan said. “I try to make my presentation as interactive as possible.”
For example, he may ask them what is the difference between a violin and a fiddle, and then play on the same violin, a composition by Mozart and a rendition of “Boil Them Cabbage Down.”
“They’ll see that there is no difference between a violin and an American fiddle and that it’s just how you play it that makes the difference,” he said.
Through a series of slides, projected close-ups and onstage demonstrations, Donnellan will take the audience on a virtual worldwide tour of string-and-bow instruments, including the two-stringed erhu from China, the horse-ornamented morin khuur of Mongolia, the elaborate Norwegian Hardanger fiddle and the African goje gourd fiddle.
Intertwined with his presentation will be some striking legends, such as that of two Mongolian children who, 1,000 years ago, first realized that their bows and arrows would “sing” when they were rubbed together. He’ll also tell the tale of a bereft horseman in Mongolia who, upon the death of his beloved steed, crafted a string instrument from its hide and hair, which conveyed the horse’s spirit when it was played.
Donnellan also delves into the science of sound as he displays and demonstrates various string instruments. After playing a piece on the erhu, he explains how the vibrations from the strings resonate through the drum-like base of the instrument and through the air to the listener’s ear, pointing out that a fiddle can be made of virtually anything.
Then, out of its case, he pulls his tour de force—the violin he crafted from a regulation Louisville Slugger bat, on which he has played the national anthem for numerous Major League Baseball games. Donnellan demonstrates how the whisper-quiet notes played on his “batolin” take on the sound of a violin when “magic crystals” that create electricity channel the vibration to a speaker. He then treats the audience to the full-throttle experience of his stadium performances, with Hendrix-like wails.
“Kids are a spontaneous audience,” Donnellan said. “They can’t hold themselves back, and you hear the oohs and ahhs that you don’t normally hear in a symphony concert or recital—though you do hear them when you play at a stadium!”
What: “Follow That Fiddle,” by Glenn Donnellan
Where: The Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Circle, Manassas
When: Thursday, July 19, at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Cost: $15 adults; $5 children
Tickets/info: 888/945-2468; HyltonCenter.org.
Collette Caprara is a local writer.