The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 5, 2010


A broken violin and real audience participation

If you remember Thursday, February 25, it was a rainy, windy day and as the evening approached, I wondered if my husband and I really wanted to go out to the First Religious Society for the third and final concert of the Cambridge Society for Early Music series. Reluctantly, we put on our raincoats and headed into town.

Absolutely, we made the right decision! The duo of Chris Norman playing the baroque and other flutes (also bagpipes, pump organ and voice) and David Greenberg on violin and octave fiddle (also pump organ) gave a rousing performance that made all thoughts of stormy weather go away. The two musicians from Nova Scotia presented a program of Baroque and traditional music from Scotland and maritime Canada.

Norman, who performed with a variety of flutes that evening, has been influential in bringing the simple wooden flute to the forefront as a modern orchestral instrument. Greenberg, a classical violinist, as well as a traditional fiddler who has made a name for himself in Cape Breton music circles, came on stage with two violins, one tuned an octave lower.

As the program got underway, we heard “Lord Elcho” (slow air), “Bonnocks of Beer Meal” (song variations) with Norman on voice, “Johnny Lad” (reel), and several other traditional pieces. After the set ended, Greenberg placed the violin to his chin and all of a sudden the bridge fell to the floor and the instrument came apart! The octave violin was intact but could not be used in many of the other pieces to be performed during the evening’s program. What were the musicians to do? They looked to the audience for guidance.

So while Greenberg and Norman continued with their octave violin and flute solos, phone calls were made to Carlisle musicians who lived nearby — Jack O’Connor, who lives on the other side of the Common, and Phil Drew on Bedford Road – but nobody knew where to borrow a violin for the rest of the evening.

Since refreshments had been prepared to be served at the end of the concert, a change of plans seemed appropriate. An intermission was called with the audience invited downstairs for early refreshments and the opportunity to interact with the musicians. But just then a gentleman in the audience managed to Google a contact in Concord. A phone call, a fast trip into Concord, and just as the intermission ended, there was a borrowed violin! A little tune-up and we were off to the “Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog,” a delightful 18th century piece by Oliver Goldsmith.

Those of us at the concert (fewer than usual on a night like this) were thrilled with the music – Norman’s hearty voice reached out to the audience in “The Last Rose of Summer,” Greenberg on his, or should I say on the borrowed violin, with the four strings re-tuned and pitched to either A or E, fiddled away on “The Empress Clog.” These rich Canadian Maritimes tunes performed on violin, flute, Scottish small bagpipes and pump-organ brought the audience to its feet at the close of the concert.

And for those of us totally enthralled, a trip into Redbones in Davis Square, Somerville for an open jam session of Scottish and Canadian music with Norman and Greenberg from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 2, was a must. ∆

© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito