Uptown Violins

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Romeo and Juliet!

“Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs.”
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet


Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, bringing thoughts of love and warmth to our cold winter. I can still remember a very special Valentine’s Day several years ago when a handsome guy took me on a helicopter ride and asked me to be his wife. I said yes, of course!

    However, the love story we are looking at today is not quite such a happy one, although its longevity has stood the test of time. Romeo and Juliet is arguably one of the most famous plays ever written. William Shakespeare wrote the work at the end of the sixteenth century, and it has continued to fascinate artistic aficionados centuries later.


    Artists including Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893) and Frank Dicksee (1853-1928) have memorialized the famous balcony scene on canvas. Eighteenth-century actor and playwright David Garrick adapted the work to better appeal to his contemporary audience. The film industry has created multiple versions of the story, including the 1936 film with Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer as the star-crossed lovers. The renowned 1968 film adaptation features Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, and of course who can forget Leonarda DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the 1996 version? Only a few years ago in 2013, Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld starred in yet another remake of the epic tale.

    Musically, Romeo and Juliet appealed greatly to the 19th-century Romantic sensibility, resulting in phenomenal orchestral masterpieces. Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) greatly admired the literary works of Shakespeare, as well as the musical genius of Beethoven, so when he wrote his symphonie dramatique Romeo and Juliet, he drew inspiration from Shakespeare’s epic depiction of love, as well as Beethoven’s use of vocals in a symphonic work, as evidenced in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (1824). Berlioz first saw David Garrick’s version of Romeo and Juliet in 1827, which inspired him to compose a symphony on the story. A little over a decade later, in 1839, he wrote the symphonie dramatique. Although the work employs vocals, Berlioz admiringly gave the lead characters of Romeo and Juliet to the orchestra, who play the “scène d’amour.”


    Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Overture-Fantasy of Romeo and Juliet was first performed in 1870, but underwent much editing for a decade until the Tchaikovsky finished the version we know today. Unlike Berlioz’s colossal work (the entire symphonie dramatique takes about an hour and a half to perform), Tchaikovsky’s is more succinct, only about twenty minutes in length. However, the beauty and power of the work is no less breathtaking. The 1936 movie Romeo and Juliet even incorporates Tchaikovsky’s music into the film.

    Composers’ fascination with Romeo and Juliet continued in the twentieth century, with Sergei Prokofiev’s (1891-1953) stunning ballet, premiering in 1935. He derived three orchestral suites from the original ballet, the 2nd of which contains the famous scene between the Montagues and the Capulets, featuring the majestic dotted motif.


    In 1957 the musical theater production of West Side Story captured the American audience through its retelling of Romeo and Juliet with relatable themes and a contemporary setting in New York City. The musical was a collaborative effort by Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Jerome Robbins featuring the volatile relationship between rival gangs the Jets (Montagues) and the Sharks (Capulets). American-born Tony, the contemporary Romeo, and Puerto-Rican Maria, Juliet, fall in love, but the story ends tragically with the death of Tony and a reprimand by Maria to the rival gangs in which she claims that hate killed him. The songs “Maria,” “Tonight,” and “Somewhere” beautifully describe the love of the young couple. The musical was memorialized in the 1961 film. Our own Uptown Violins member Allison Peterson even starred as Maria in a production of the musical!


    This Valentine’s Day, take some time to relive your favorite renditions of this tragic love story, whether that be rereading Shakespeare’s original play, listening to Berlioz’ symphonie dramatique, soaking in Tchaikovsky’s Overture-Fantasy, watching Prokofiev’s ballet, or reliving your favorite film adaptation!


Berlioz: “Scène d’amour”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aenKKIgXP0I


Tchaikovsky: Love theme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upyQMC-ioKE


Prokofiev: Balcony scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a04IcHI1fFQ


West Side Story: “Tonight”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7xTvb-FAhQ


Let's Accessorize!

Exercise? I thought you said accessorize! –Anonymous


    We all know that a well-chosen accessory can really make an outfit pop, like a pair of red heels with a black cocktail dress, or a sparkly clutch with the right blouse. However, we’re not here to talk about fashion! In our last post we looked at the benefits of the electric violin, and here we are delving into its many accessories.


    Firstly, the electric violin by itself makes no sound, therefore buying some kind of amplifier or speaker is paramount. Many guitarists use Fender amps, and they can work well for their instrument. However, Fenders do tend to produce a gritty sound overall, making them less conducive to the violin. We at Uptown Violins personally prefer the Fishman amps, which can be bought from most local guitar centers. If you are just getting started with the electric and are only looking to plug in yourself, you might consider the Fishman Loudbox minibox (60 watts). However, if you often collaborate with another musician, we recommend the Fishman Loudbox Artist Amp (120 watts) or the Fishman Loudbox Performer (180 watts) which allow for two instrument inputs. The Fishman amps keep a clean sound that doesn’t distort the tone of the violin, better resembling the sound of acoustic instruments. If you want a quality three-instrument input amp, we recommend the Acus Sound Engineering One for Strings (200 watts), although it is significantly more expensive than the Fishman amps.


    In order to set up your amp, you will need a ¼ inch cable that connects to both the violin and the amp. We suggest that you don’t put the gain too loud, as it is not just volume. Also, if the treble is turned too high it becomes piercing, so it should be turned down lower than the bass and middle ranges. You can plug an auxiliary cable into your phone for music/backing tracks/etc. If you are playing in a large venue you should plug your amp into a sound system via an XLR cable, allowing for a more surround sound. If you use the amp a lot, you might also consider buying a cover to protect it, as well as a dolly to help transport it from venue to venue.


    After you have purchased your amp and ¼ inch cable, you might consider buying a pedal to allow for different effects. For this you will need an additional ¼ inch cable. One connects your violin to the pedal via the electric guitar input, and the other connects the pedal board to the amp. We like the Boss ME 80 pedal board, as it includes fifty-nine different effects. As opposed to the individual Loft pedals, this combines several pedals in one. The pedal board weighs about eight pounds, which is much easier to transport than a huge pedal board with many different individual pedals. Some of our favorites effects include the blues pedal (good for jazz), the wahwah pedal (for an electric guitar sound), the octave pedal (which we use to imitate the cello), the distortion pedal (which also imitates the electric guitar), the delay pedal (which gives an ethereal sound, and you can choose how many seconds delay you prefer), the loop pedal (allowing up to thirty-eight seconds of looped material), and the OD (overdrive) pedal (which gives a gritty sound). You can also buy a Boss ME pedal bag to hold the pedal and cords. If you prefer not to have so many cords, wireless options are available as well.


    Another small accessory we like to use especially with our electric instruments is our violin mute. The mute gives our instruments a warmer, less tinny sound. Because we use the mute most of the time, we turn our overall volume up. If you want a more pointed sound, we suggest taking the mute off. We personally like our Finissima mutes, which our friend Brandie Phillips decorated for us with sequins to add a little extra.


    Lastly, if you want to fully digitize your music we suggest purchasing the new I-pad pro. You can upload your music onto the device through the app For Score. This eliminates your need to carry around enormous bags of heavy music, as you can have it all at your fingertips. You would need to buy its accompanying stand, and we recommend the Page flip firefly Bluetooth page-turning pedal as well, so that you can keep your hands free from inconvenient page turns.


    As Valentines Day approaches and you’re thinking of buying your violinist sweetheart a gift, instead of giving a visual accessory like jewelry or shoes, try buying an auditory accessory instead!

It’s Electric!

“If I like dubstep and electronic, why don’t I make the violin fit me rather than making myself fit the violin?”- Lindsey Stirling


Last month we looked at the origin of the acoustic violin, and we thought it would be fun to contrast it with the electric violin. Surprisingly, the electric violin will soon be celebrating its centennial, as it first appeared in the 1920s and 30s during the jazz age. Stuff Smith, a famous jazz violinist of the era, performed on one in his band Stuff Smith and the Onyx Club Boys during the 1930s.

Now, nearly a century later, violinists have a wide variety of options to choose from when considering electric instruments. As usual, however, you do get what you pay for. If you buy the cheapest instrument you can find off the Internet, you may be disappointed with the quality of sound it produces. Most classically trained violinists who venture into the world of electric sound prefer the Yamaha line, including popular artists Black Violin and Lindsey Stirling.  All members of Uptown Violins perform on a Yamaha SV-130 Concert Select Violin. Brittany experimented with a few others before deciding on purchasing the first electric violin for the group, and she found that this violin most closely resembles the feel of the acoustic. Some of the other brands she tried out had a weak sound, and she wanted something that still sounded refined but with an electric edge. Although some electric violins look impressive with their minimalistic straight neck approach, we definitely prefer electric violins with a shoulder in order to better accommodate left hand shifting. For violinists who also double as violists, the five-string Yamaha SV-255 Silent Violin Pro can be a good fit because it includes both the E and C strings.


We at Uptown Violins love the versatility of playing on both acoustic and electric instruments. We were all trained on acoustics, which allowed us to develop better dynamics and, most importantly, excellent tone. Students who try to bypass using an acoustic often deprive themselves of these fundamentals needed for violin playing. However, the electric instrument offers violinists the opportunity to expand their sound palette, as well as adapt to more contemporary venues that were designed with electric instruments in mind.

    Here are a few the things we consider when deciding whether to use our acoustic or electric violin.

  1. Musical genre: If our gig is classical in nature, we often prefer to play our acoustic violins, as these were the instruments used by the composers whose music we are interpreting. This certainly doesn’t mean we can’t play Bach on the electric with a contemporary twist!

  2. Ensemble: When performing in a large group, like an orchestra or large chamber ensemble, we usually perform on acoustic instruments, as electrics are much less universal. Large groups need the string section to elicit a more uniform sound, which would be impossible to do if some string instruments were amplified and others not. In contrast, if we are playing in a rock/pop/praise band setting, we prefer to use our electric instruments, as they can compete more easily with the other instruments in the group, including electric guitars, keyboards, and drum sets.

  3. Venue: Sometimes we perform in large venues that necessitate amplification. For example, when playing in a stadium, contemporary church/building, or outside, we often need our electric violins to help our sound project throughout the entire space. However, if we are playing in a small setting like a home, in a traditional church, or in a classical concert hall, we usually prefer to use our acoustic instruments, as they are more suited to these environments.

We hope you all have a Merry  Christmas, and an Electric New Year!

"I Want a Stradivarius for Christmas. A Stradivarius is all I Want..."

"... I don’t want Amati, a Stainer or a toy. I want a Stradivarius to play with and enjoy. I want a Stradivarius for Christmas. Only a Stradivarius will do. No French Vuillaumes, or Guarneriuses. I only like, Stradivariuses. And Stradivariuses like me too!"


     If you know anything about violins, you’re probably aware you can’t go wrong in buying your sweetheart violinist a Stradivarius for Christmas. And she would most certainly be happy with an Amati or Guarneri as well! The primary glitch is they are very expensive!

So who were these famous luthiers (violin-makers), and how did the violin become the prestigious instrument it is today? 

     The violin emerged onto the music scene at the beginning of the sixteenth century at the peak of the Italian Renaissance. Bertolotti “da Saló” (1542-1609) founded one of the earliest violin-making schools in Brescia, Italy, during the mid-sixteenth century. Around the beginning of the seventeenth-century, Cremona, Italy, took center stage, boasting the most famous luthiers of all time: Amati, Stradivari, and Guarneri.

     Niccolo Amati (1596-1684), the grandson and son of luthiers Andrea and Girolamo Amati, improved the family tradition of violin making using more precise mathematical proportions than his predecessors (Cizek, 49-50).


     Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737), the most famous luthier of all, most likely studied under Amati, and some of his early violins resembled those of the Amati school. However, during Stradivari’s second period of work he created longer, more slender instruments, which deviated from those of his teacher. His most famous violins emerged during the third period of his career, around the turn of the eighteenth century, and are still performed by twenty-first century virtuosos today! Over the course of his lifetime Stradivari made more than a thousand instruments, including at least five hundred violins (Cizek 61-62)!

     Stradivari’s contemporary and fellow Cremona luthier, Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri “del Gesù” (1698-1744) created instruments that rival even the Stradivarius. The Guarneri violins can be even more difficult to procure, as fewer than one hundred of his violins and violas have been preserved. Nineteenth-century virtuoso Paganini played a late Guarneri instrument which Paganini famously referred to as “Il cannone” due to its incredibly powerful sound (Cizek, 63). He would send “Il cannone” to renowned French luthier Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume (1798-1875), to be serviced. Vuillaume’s copies of the Italian masters were so precise that even virtuosos like Paganini couldn’t always differentiate them from the originals (Cizek, 65)!


     During the late Classical/early Romantic period the violin underwent many changes in order to meet the needs of the day. In contrast to the more intimate settings of the previous era, violinists were now expected to perform in larger venues where they needed a more powerful sound. Composers were also writing compositions that required musicians to play higher pitches than before. As a result, luthiers tilted and lengthened the fingerboards, even altering the instruments of the previous era, to accommodate the nineteenth-century demands. Louis Spohr designed the chinrest in the early part of the century in order to allow the violinist to hold the instrument with the chin rather than the hand in order to facilitate shifting to the higher positions.

     Today, our twenty-first century acoustic violins still largely resemble those of the nineteenth century, and the eighteenth century instruments of the Italian masters are still the most revered worldwide. Although I personally don’t own a Stradivarius, I do enjoy my Italian-made Regazzoni!

     Stay tuned (no pun intended)! Next month we will look into the contemporary electric violin!

Works Cited:

Cizek, Bohuslav, adaptation française de Cécile Boiffin. “Chapitre 2: Instruments À Cordes Frottées.” Instruments de Musique. Édition Gründ, 2003.

The Violin: A Devilish Instrument!

“Death at midnight plays a dance-tune, zig, zig, zig, on his violin.”

-“Danse Macabre” by Henri Cazalis (French symbolist poet: 1840-1909)


The haunting month of Halloween is upon us, and I couldn’t help but revisit my favorite ghostly violin music. Over the past couple of centuries the violin has had it’s bout with the devil, from Berlioz’ Symphanie Fantastique (1830) and Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre (1874), to Mussorsky’s Night on Bald Mountain.

Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre is the quintessential Halloween work, as it celebrates the “Dance of Death” which we all must undergo eventually. The “Danse Macabre” was first depicted in Medieval French art during an era when Europeans frequently endured gruesome deaths due to war and plague. In Saint-Saëns’ 19th century rendition, the violin soloist plays the part of “Death,” who calls the dead to rise at the stroke of midnight on Halloween night. The violin, which we often associate with beauty and lyricism, begins its eerie dance using the diabolic tritone, or “devil’s interval.” In order to accomplish this feat, the soloist tunes the E string down to an Eb to clash with the open A string. The skeletons end their night of frenzied revelry when they hear the rooster crow, announcing the break of dawn.

In high school I played the ominous “March to the Scaffold” and “Dream from a Witches Sabbath” from Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique for the first time, and was struck by the power of this programmatic work. Last spring I had the privilege of hearing it performed live by the Illinois Symphony Orchestra in its entirety, and was again blown away by the French musical genius. Berlioz takes his audience on both a literary and musical journey through a series of movements featuring an artist’s obsessive love and grisly demise. I have always felt akin to the romantic notion of the fusion of the arts, and therefore admired Berlioz’ obsession with literature, which he read vociferously. I find that Berlioz’ fantastical literary descriptions of the work really bring it to life. Admittedly, Symphonie Fantastique is a phenomenal musical work in and of itself, but its ghoulish qualities are ever more grotesque when described in the dance of the witches’ Sabbath in the 5th movement, as well as the artist’s execution at the end of the 4th movement.

In Night on Bald Mountain, we encounter another witches’ Sabbath when the devil calls them together to celebrate St. John’s Eve, which takes place June 24th, as opposed to Halloween. As in Danse Macabre, the revelers dance the night away, but upon the return of the dawn, they retreat from the light. Although Mussorgsky composed the original of this work in 1867 (on St. John’s Eve!), his fellow Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov’s wrote the more famous 1886 arrangement, depicted in Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia.

In 2013, the film The Devil’s Violinist portrayed the life and career of Niccolò Paganini, the famous 19th century virtuoso whose compositions are so challenging even the devil might have a run for his money! Paganini’s intense popularity, bravado, love of violin and guitar, and lascivious behavior made him the rock star of his century, earning him the title “the devil’s violinist.”

Even outside of the world of classical music, the violinist still can’t escape a row with the devil! In the Charlie Daniels Band country song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” (1979), the boy Johnny duels with the devil on his violin to save his soul. Fortunately, Johnny wins out in the end with his flashy fiddling, leaving the devil to suffer defeat.

In my own family, we have always loved Halloween. As kids we usually planned our costumes nearly a year in advance, which our Grandma Carol would sew for us. This was no small feat, as there were so many of us! We especially enjoyed dressing up as the fairies from Sleeping Beauty while watching the 1959 movie featuring Tchaikovsky’s epic ballet. We good fairies always won over the evil Maleficent!


Additionally, our Grandmother Ruth, family composer in residence, loves Halloween so much she wrote a Halloween musical triptych made up of “The Witch of Hate,” “The Devil of Temptation,” and “The Giant of Selfishness.” I can still remember all the lyrics to the first, having dressed up as a witch to sing it as a little girl.

We now enjoy celebrating the holiday with my daughter Annalise who was nearly born on Halloween! Happy haunted listening!

Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyknBTm_YyM

Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique:

    “March to the Scaffold”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roX70PAu3oA

    “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cao6WyF-61s

Disney’s Fantasia: Mussorgsky’s/Rimsky-Korsakov’s Night on Bald Mountain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLCuL-K39eQ&list=RDSLCuL-K39eQ&t=14

The Devil’s Violinist (2013): Paganini’s Caprice No. 24:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WV5wDqJ5WU4

Charlie Daniels Band “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgvfRSzmMoU

Disney’s Sleeping Beauty: Tchaikovsky’s ballet, Opus 66: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmM-XX8atlQ

The Music Behind the Masters

“Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is.”

-Jackson Pollock

 On August 10, 2017, Sherèe Lutz of the Contemporary Art Department performed with Uptown Violins to highlight the musical connections to Abstract Expressionist legends Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell  in the exhibition, “Pollock and Motherwell: Legends of Abstract Expressionism,” on view in Gallery L8 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO. The exhibition is on view from July 8 through October 29, 2017. Photographer / Ashley Elwell

Jackson Pollock, arguably one of the most famous American artists of all time, still draws attention from art aficionados even now, over a half century after his death. Uptown Violins member Sherèe Lutz recently curated the exhibition Pollock and Motherwell: Legends of Abstract Expressionism for the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, which is on display in Kansas City through October 29th. While looking into the men behind the legends, she examined their many sources of inspiration, including the music which surrounded their work. She recently gave a presentation on these two works, Pollock’s Mural, 1943, and Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic, No. 126 (1965-75), in the gallery where the two paintings are displayed. She was accompanied by Allison and Brittany Peterson on violin, as well as pianist Terry Glanville and drummer Rod Lincoln.



Ashley: Sherèe, can you describe the two paintings a bit, in layman’s terms?


 On August 10, 2017, Sherèe Lutz of the Contemporary Art Department performed with Uptown Violins to highlight the musical connections to Abstract Expressionist legends Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell  in the exhibition, “Pollock and Motherwell: Legends of Abstract Expressionism,” on view in Gallery L8 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO. The exhibition is on view from July 8 through October 29, 2017. Photographer / Ashley Elwell On August 10, 2017, Sherèe Lutz of the Contemporary Art Department performed with Uptown Violins to highlight the musical connections to Abstract Expressionist legends Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell  in the exhibition, “Pollock and Motherwell: Legends of Abstract Expressionism,” on view in Gallery L8 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO. The exhibition is on view from July 8 through October 29, 2017. Photographer / Ashley Elwell

Sherèe: Both of the paintings in the exhibition are what we would call monumental in scale. Larger-than-life in some ways. They are roughly 10 feet tall by 20 wide! They both are abstract with very little representational imagery. You would not see faces, or flowers, or a landscape etc., but rather, color, line and form. Pollock’s Mural is very freewheeling! Swirling colors and forms stretch across the entire canvas surface. Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic, No. 126 is primarily black-and-white with strong verticals. It also has repeated red and ocher accents that move the eye across the painting.


A: What do you find most striking about Pollock’s work? And Motherwell’s?


 On August 10, 2017, Sherèe Lutz of the Contemporary Art Department performed with Uptown Violins to highlight the musical connections to Abstract Expressionist legends Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell  in the exhibition, “Pollock and Motherwell: Legends of Abstract Expressionism,” on view in Gallery L8 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO. The exhibition is on view from July 8 through October 29, 2017. Photographer / Ashley Elwell On August 10, 2017, Sherèe Lutz of the Contemporary Art Department performed with Uptown Violins to highlight the musical connections to Abstract Expressionist legends Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell  in the exhibition, “Pollock and Motherwell: Legends of Abstract Expressionism,” on view in Gallery L8 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO. The exhibition is on view from July 8 through October 29, 2017. Photographer / Ashley Elwell

S: To me, the most striking thing about this particular Pollock painting is that it is the first known use for him to fling paint onto the canvas surface. It points to techniques he would later use that made him so famous. I am dumbfounded by how Motherwell was able to achieve the most matte finish with his black paint meaning no shine on it whatsoever. This is nearly impossible at this scale!


A: During what time periods were the two works painted, and what were some of the cultural influences surrounding them?


S: The paintings could be almost considered bookends to what we might call the mid-20th century. Pollock’s Mural was early and Motherwell’s Elegy was towards the end of the period. The cultural influences in this period are far ranging, but being shortly after WWII, post-war trauma definitely played an influence. Particularly, it brought the leading European modernists to New York fleeing persecution in the 30s and 40s. These men had a large impact on the younger generation of American artists. But the young Americans pushed the boundaries even farther, removing almost all representational imagery. In fact, even the US government used this style of painting to promote the freedom that Americans had to paint however they wanted in contrast to the Communist Realist style of the USSR during the Cold War.


A: What music did you select to accompany your presentation of the paintings?


 On August 10, 2017, Sherèe Lutz of the Contemporary Art Department performed with Uptown Violins to highlight the musical connections to Abstract Expressionist legends Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell  in the exhibition, “Pollock and Motherwell: Legends of Abstract Expressionism,” on view in Gallery L8 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO. The exhibition is on view from July 8 through October 29, 2017. Photographer / Ashley Elwell On August 10, 2017, Sherèe Lutz of the Contemporary Art Department performed with Uptown Violins to highlight the musical connections to Abstract Expressionist legends Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell  in the exhibition, “Pollock and Motherwell: Legends of Abstract Expressionism,” on view in Gallery L8 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO. The exhibition is on view from July 8 through October 29, 2017. Photographer / Ashley Elwell
 On August 10, 2017, Sherèe Lutz of the Contemporary Art Department performed with Uptown Violins to highlight the musical connections to Abstract Expressionist legends Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell  in the exhibition, “Pollock and Motherwell: Legends of Abstract Expressionism,” on view in Gallery L8 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO. The exhibition is on view from July 8 through October 29, 2017. Photographer / Ashley Elwell On August 10, 2017, Sherèe Lutz of the Contemporary Art Department performed with Uptown Violins to highlight the musical connections to Abstract Expressionist legends Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell  in the exhibition, “Pollock and Motherwell: Legends of Abstract Expressionism,” on view in Gallery L8 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO. The exhibition is on view from July 8 through October 29, 2017. Photographer / Ashley Elwell

S: I selected a variety of music to accompany my presentation! Motherwell was well educated and very well traveled. He spent time in Europe and was quite influenced by historic European culture. In fact, he has a different collage series where he titled some of the works with classical composers’ names such as Bach and Mozart. So Brittany played the first movement of Mozart’s Concerto for Violin in D Major, and then she and Allison played Bach’s Violin Concerto for Two Violins in d minor. But then we shifted focus to Pollock who was an aficionado of jazz. He had a very large collection of historic jazz albums including big names such as Armstrong, Parker, and Ellington! Brittany had arranged a wonderful jazz medley that included works by each! Finally, we discussed how both artists had an influence on a later generation of artists, including some Pop movement artists. So we could not resist playing some pop songs for our audience as well!


A: Apparently at the end of your presentation, you took Allison’s violin and began to play with Brittany as a surprise. How did the audience respond?


 On August 10, 2017, Sherèe Lutz of the Contemporary Art Department performed with Uptown Violins to highlight the musical connections to Abstract Expressionist legends Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell  in the exhibition, “Pollock and Motherwell: Legends of Abstract Expressionism,” on view in Gallery L8 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO. The exhibition is on view from July 8 through October 29, 2017. Photographer / Ashley Elwell On August 10, 2017, Sherèe Lutz of the Contemporary Art Department performed with Uptown Violins to highlight the musical connections to Abstract Expressionist legends Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell  in the exhibition, “Pollock and Motherwell: Legends of Abstract Expressionism,” on view in Gallery L8 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO. The exhibition is on view from July 8 through October 29, 2017. Photographer / Ashley Elwell

S: I think they thought it was fun! They did not know that Uptown Violins was my family’s group that I play with, so it made it fun to play both role as curator and then performer for one song.


A: Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share about the exhibition?


S: I think both the paintings display innovation. It is always good to push yourself and try new things! You never know what might catch on!


    We at Uptown Violins have been thrilled to collaborate with the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City! We believe it is important to foster a connection between the arts, both musical and visual. Please come check out this wonderful exhibition!


The Hills Are Alive

“For I assure you, without travel, at least for people from the arts and sciences, one is a miserable creature!”

-Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart



     I am afraid that, like Mozart, the travel bug runs in our family! We all have those moments when we need to escape the mundaneness of everyday life and experience something exotic. This summer, two members of Uptown Violins traveled to Europe, with Kerri Parr and her husband Forrest taking a breathtakingly beautiful tour of France, even visiting the gardens where Claude Monet painted his famous water lily paintings in Giverny! Christy Peterson had the privilege of attending a music study abroad program in Austria, and we wanted her to share the experience.



Ashley: Where did you stay during your time abroad?

Christy: I stayed with a host grandma in Salzburg, Austria. It was a small apartment close to Nuβdorfer strasse. I had my own room, but she and I shared a bathroom. My host grandma, Heidi, made me breakfast and dinner every day, which was always amazing!


A: Where else did you travel while there?


C: We began our trip in Vienna, where we saw the Hofburg and the Shönbrunn Palaces. We went to Schubert’s birth house, and I was surprised to learn he was born in the kitchen! We also visited Mauthause, a concentration camp from World War II, as well as the Residenz, in Munich, home of the rulers of Bavaria. On my long travel weekend I went to Prague and saw the Jewish Quarter, the Castle, the John Lennon wall, and the astronomical clock.


A: Can you tell us about some of your favorite concerts you attended in Austria?

C: We got to hear Mahler’s Ninth Symphony played by the Vienna Philharmonic during the Salzburg Music Festival. The orchestra was alive and moved and breathed together. It was amazing! I have never really heard anything so moving before. I also enjoyed listening to the Salzburg Orchestra play Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major. I loved the atmosphere of both orchestras. The players would look at each other and smile. They looked like they were having the time of their lives!


A: Considering Salzburg is the home to Mozart, one of the greatest composers of all time, what is your favorite of his works?



C: My favorite Mozart compositions are his Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, as well as Concerto No. 5 in A Major. I loved playing them! Mozart’s playfulness makes his pieces enjoyable. I also like his piano variations of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. This may be the result of listening to beginner violinists play Twinkle for too many years, so to hear the creative variations is a nice break!


A: What was the best musical aspect of the trip?

C: I loved how accepting of classical music people were in Europe. I like pop music as well, but classical music often has a lack of respect in the United States, even though most music here actually has derived from some sort of classical music. In Munich, my friend and I happened upon the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra rehearsing on an outside platform. Anyone could listen and be a part of their rehearsal free of charge. I was amazed! The members of all the orchestras seemed have a lot of fun. As an observer, I could see when a member loved a particular part of a piece because they would either smile, move accordingly, or even make a face at a friend in the orchestra! The sense of community could be felt by the audience. They love what they do, and they want others to love what they do as well. It proved to me that you do not have to be completely serious to be professional, and that classical music is not just a serious matter!



A: What did you study in addition to music?

C: I took a history class on the Holocaust, which was very sobering, yet eye-opening. Hearing about Hitler’s life and how the Holocaust became a rational necessity in his eyes and the eyes of many others was baffling. Going to the concentration camp was humbling, but the strangest part was when we visited Eagle’s Nest, home to Hitler’s bunker and the houses where he stayed for a good portion of his rule. The scenery was beautiful, breathtaking actually. We went on a really fun hike where for a moment I forgot everything and just enjoyed the beauty. Then all of a sudden, I remembered the history of the place. It was quite eerie.



A: What else did you enjoy apart from the many musical experiences?

C: We visited the beautiful town of Hallstadt in the lake district, which was surrounded by the lake and mountains. Truly, Hallstadt is one of the prettiest places I have ever seen! From a relational perspective, I loved getting to know my host grandma, Heidi, and other Austrians. To be immersed in another culture was so rewarding. Experiencing how other people live is something I really enjoy. Getting to know Heidi was definitely one of my favorite parts of Austria!


A: Having helped with the Sound of Music themed music camp in Illinois earlier this summer, I have to ask if you went on the Sound of Music Tour?

C: No, but I lived it! Our group visited all of the on our excursions. We saw the church from the wedding scene, the convent where the real Maria Vontrappe wanted to become a nun, and the Mirabel Gardens that are so gorgeous with all the flowers and fountains. We sang in the festival hall portrayed at the end of the movie, and saw many places after which the sets were modeled. The lake and the back of the house were actually only a five-minute walk from my apartment, so I would walk there and do homework for my classes, hang out, or go for a run. I still cannot believe that became a normal part of my schedule!


A: Describe the typical food/dress/culture you experienced in Salzburg.

C: They do have a lot of the stereotypical sausages and sauerkraut, but the sausages are nothing like I’ve had in America. Personally I am still not a fan of sauerkraut. Of course schnitzel is a staple. There is wiener schnitzel (veal), pork schnitzel, chicken schnitzel, and zucchini schnitzel. You can schnitzelize anything! Austria is also very well known for its cakes, which have a lot of layers. They serve a lot of apricots, so I enjoyed apricot cake, apricot ice cream, and apricot jelly. Of course you can’t visit Austria without trying their famous Appfle (apple) strudel . We even took an apple strudel class, although I must say my host grandma’s homemade apricot strudel was the best!


In terms of attire, people wore dresses, shorts, jeans, and pants, basically American dress except that they only wore their exercise clothes for exercise. Austrians do have a traditional dress, which for women is a dirndl and for men is the lederhosen. I saw people wearing this attire every day as well. Women could wear dirndls to work, and both men and women sometimes wore lederhosen. People would wear both to church, nice concerts, and even weddings as formal attire. I couldn’t resist buying a dirndl for myself!    


A: Would you like to go back someday?

C: Is that even a necessary question?! Of course! I loved it and I already miss it! I miss the mountains and the lakes! I miss the people, the friendliness, the food, and the music. I am so excited to return one day!

Oh The Places You’ll Go: Music Camps 2017!

Oh the places you’ll go, Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So get on your way!

-Dr. Seuss


Uptown Violins just finished three weeks of music camps in three different cities. We had a blast working with our students across the Midwest!


Week 1: My Favorite Things, Springfield, IL


Our first camp’s theme centered on the beloved 1965 Rogers and Hammerstein classic, The Sound of Music. This movie has always held a special place in our hearts, as Allison and her family used to dress up and perform as the Von Trapps in the years following the movie’s debut. A half-century later, this touching story still resonates with our students. We read a portion of it each day to the kids, while also introducing them to several of its classic songs. We even sang My Favorite Things for our recital on the last day!

In addition to learning about the musical, we studied several other musical genres as well. We looked at classical music, listening to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and playing one of his minuets while learning how to dance like the courtiers of the 18th century! We also taught our campers to fiddle and even square dance like Texans, which was a whole new world to our Illinoisans! On the last day students learned about early pop and rock music, listening to the works of icons including Elvis Presley (whom none of them had heard of before!), The Beatles, and Michael Jackson. They particularly liked performing a rendition of the King of Pop’s hit song “Billie Jean.”


Week 2: Under the Sea, Dallas, TX

The second week of camp we took our Texas campers on an oceanic adventure! Each day we discovered more about our favorite sea creatures, including the fact that male seahorses can give birth to their own babies! We enjoyed playing some of our favorite water games, including “sharks and minnows” and “still water still.”

From a musical perspective, we focused on famous songs which center on the sea, including Handel’s Water Music, Saint-Saëns’ “Aquarium” from The Carnival of the Animals (which many of the students recognized from the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast), Debussy’s Impressionist work La Mer, and Jazz singer Charles Trenet’s 1940s hit “La Mer,” popularized in the United States by Bobby Darin as “Beyond the Sea.” The kids especially enjoyed performing John William’s terrifying two-note theme from the 1970s thriller Jaws. We also delved into the world of music theory, working on mastering students’ knowledge of key signatures and the order of sharps and flats. To review our extensive material, campers went fishing for musical flashcards, and even embarked on a competitive musical treasure hunt, for which they had to search for clues with musical challenges, including playing the Beatles’ song “Yellow Submarine” and “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid. Our little pirates celebrated with a treasure chest of Swedish fish and goldfish crackers.


Week 3: Oh The Places You’ll Go, Wichita, KS

We concluded our summer music camps with an engaging musical tour of Europe, inspired by Dr. Seuss’s beloved classic, Oh The Places You’ll Go, the last of his published children’s books. We focused on composers spanning the Baroque time period to the twentieth century. The first day of camp centered on Russian composers, including Tchaikovsky, who wrote one of the most challenging violin concertos of all time, and Rimsky-Korsakov, who wrote the stunning violin solos in his famous work Scheherazade. The second day the campers dawned braids and alpine hats for their virtual trip to Germany and Austria, meccas of Western classical music. Having already studied the great masters Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven in previous years, we focused on Brahms, Haydn, and the scintillating Schubert symphonies.

Of course we couldn’t ignore Uptown Violins’ affinity for all things French, so on the third day of camp we entered the realm of Paris, with the Eiffel Tower presiding over us as we enjoyed the Impressionist works of Debussy and listened to the coquettish music of Bizet’s opera Carmen. On the last day, we enjoyed the Baroque Italian masters, including the Vivaldi violin concertos and the chamber works of Corelli. We finished the week by performing some of our favorite showpieces at the Lakepoint Assisted Living Facility.

Needless to say, it has been a busy three works for Uptown Violins! However, we all took time to relax together at our favorite summer vacation spot, Table Rock Lake. A little known fact about us: in addition to playing violin, all members of Uptown Violins are avid water skiers!


My Favorite Things

Sound of Music: “My Favorite Things:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IagRZBvLtw

Bach: Brandenburg Concertos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUUUAsqE77w

“Boil the Cabbage Down:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=441sSWWxee4

Michael Jackson: “Billie Jean:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45Ph_MXIP1o


Under the Sea

Handel: “Hornpipe” from Water Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1h4mAceHmrI

Saint-Saëns: “Aquarium” from Carnival of the Animals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyFpZ5MZ7kk

Debussy: La Mer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOCucJw7iT8&list=RDFOCucJw7iT8#t=76

Bobby Darin: “Beyond the Sea:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bRAtV-jgoQ

John Williams: Jaws Theme song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BX3bN5YeiQs

The Little Mermaid: “Under the Sea:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GC_mV1IpjWA


Oh The Places You’ll Go

Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op 35: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbJZeNlrYKg

Rimsky-Korsakov: Violin Solos from Scheherazade: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPB15Ma2o48&list=RDTPB15Ma2o48

Schubert: Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished” D 759: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWnKMzAedK4

Bizet: “Habanera” from Carmen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJ_HHRJf0xg

Vivaldi: Concerto in A minor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTPiZup0QmM

Corelli: Christmas Concerto: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=na9OFx-DnAs



Summer Reading!

-“At heart, she was a violinist. No other instrument, for her at least, could capture the strains of the soul’s deepest yearnings and desires, its bitterest disappointments and losses.” – Tamera Alexander: A Note Yet Unsung


     The beautiful summer weather is upon us, and as a result, I have primarily relocated to my porch. My husband, daughter, and I planted our flowers for the potted plants a few weeks ago, a beautiful assortment of petunias, ageratums, and begonias, as well as several rose bushes for the yard, and my favorite pastime is now admiring the view with a peach tea in one hand, and a good book in the other.

     As a mother of a toddler, trips to the store can prove challenging, so I now order most of my necessities online: clothes, books, shoes, and even, I feel lazy even admitting it, groceries! However, I decided to brave a trip to a REAL bookstore to find a new book for my summer entertainment, with my toddler in tow. I selected Tamera Alexander’s A Note Yet Unsung, and finished the 430-page novel in three days. I have the sunburn to prove it! Here is my review of the book, without giving away any spoilers.

A Note Yet Unsung: A Belmont Mansion Novel

By Tamera Alexander

430 pp. Bethany House. $15.99

Published in 2017

     Alexander sets her historical romance in the 1870s in Nashville, TN. She recounts the experiences of twenty-three-year old Rebekah Carrington, a violinist who returns to her hometown after ten years abroad studying music in Vienna. She desires to play with the newly formed Nashville Philharmonic, but is unable to join due to her gender, as women are not allowed to play violin in public. However, she seeks to persuade the new conductor, Maestro Nathaniel Tate Whitcomb, that she should be permitted to join the orchestra, hoping the positions can be filled based on merit and not simply gender. However, the conductor works with many prejudiced donors who oppose this sort of progressivism, and she is denied. However, she is eligible to serve as his assistant, a job to which she reluctantly agrees.

     During their weeks of collaboration together, Rebekah helps the Maestro write his symphony that the orchestra will perform for the opening of the new opera house in Nashville. Rebekah resigns herself to being grateful she can contribute to the performance in some way, even if she cannot perform on stage. The plot continues to follow their relationship and careers, with several twists along the way.

     As a musician, I found Alexander’s depictions of our kind to be pretty spot-on. She described the perfectionism, creativity, passion, irritability, and intellectualism of the conductor’s personality, a combination of characteristics which often apply to people of this profession. I had to laugh, and slightly grimace, as I saw a bit of myself in these depictions. I must admit that the spouses of musicians really are saints to put up with us! As a violinist, I loved Alexander’s descriptions of the importance of the instrument in our lives, how it allows us “to capture the strains of the soul’s deepest yearnings and desires.”

     I especially enjoyed her inclusion of a musical playlist, which allowed readers to listen to the songs described in her story. I am a predominantly auditory person, so listening to the selections of Mozart, Chopin, and Beethoven deepened my appreciation of the text, giving me an auditory component to accompany the literary page. This fusion of the arts exemplified Alexander’s ability to tap into the romantic ideals of the 19th century when the blurring of lines between all forms of artistic expression was revered.

     Although the book is predominantly presented as a sweet, inspirational romance, it addresses several serious themes throughout the story, including sexism in the workplace, the shift from slavery to servant hood in the lives of African Americans after the Civil War, physical abuse, musicians’ proclivity towards substance abuse, the difficult effects of degenerative disease in one’s profession (a Beethovenian component), and the role of faith in these circumstances. I thought Alexander handled these issues with wisdom and delicacy.

     I personally found this to be an enjoyable, captivating book, and would highly recommend it for both musicians and non-musicians alike looking to find the perfect summer read. I am including the link to the book, as well as the author’s website for access to the musical playlist.




Pizza Practice!

Practice only on the days you eat.

-Shinichi Suzuki

As the school year comes to a close, students are busily trying to fit in all of their end-of-the-year activities jam-packed schedules, and often one of the first things to go is their daily practicing. Regular practice is a discipline that requires a lot of motivation, as well as perseverance. As music teachers (and parents of young music students), it is our responsibility to help our young pupils stay motivated!


I was very proud of my studio this past weekend when they all performed their solo pieces, as well as a couple of group songs, at a local senior living facility. I believe it is important to give even our youngest students the opportunity to perform their pieces for others. For me personally, as well as most musicians, the act of performing is a reward for good practice in and of itself. This is often true for our students, too! If they have an upcoming concert, they are noticeably much more likely to practice. However, young pupils (especially elementary school children) often need additional rewards to help with the daily practice routine. As a result, we at Uptown Violins enjoy implementing practice contests with our students.

This past month I conducted a “Pizza Party Practice Contest” leading up to our recital. At the beginning of the month, I gave each of the students a stack of construction paper strips, and for every day that they practiced, they taped it, forming a link on their construction paper chain. If each student could practice at least four days a week, then the entire studio could earn a pizza party (a little positive peer pressure can often be effective). Furthermore, if they could all practice five days a week, then they would additionally earn a dessert pizza! Every week they enjoyed watching their chain grow longer and longer, which inspired them to keep practicing. I am happy to say that they earned both the pizza party and a tasty cookie pizza, too!


Another practice contest that we found to be popular has been the sports contest. We have adapted it for various regions, depending on which sport is most popular in the area. I live in central Illinois at the intersection of Cardinals and Cubs territory, so I decided to conduct a Violin World Series last October. In this four-week Violin Fall Classic, students were asked to practice at least four days each week in order to advance to the next round. For example, if they completed the first week, the Wild Card, they received a sticker and advanced to the Division Series. If they “won” their Division series with their required practices, they got a candy bar from me and advanced to the League Championship. If they “won” their league championship, they could pick out a fun toy/game (determined by the parent), and advanced to the World Series. If they “won” the World Series, they could go out for a fun celebration! I also offered a Series MVP prize for the student with the most practices, as well as a Bonus prize for the students who correctly selected the winning team when they filled out their practice chart at the beginning of the month. (This was also a great bonding opportunity for the student and their parents, especially the sports aficionados!)

britt pic 3.jpg

The Violin World Series can certainly be adapted to other sports as well. Brittany originally developed it as a March Madness practice contest due to the popularity of basketball in the region, with rounds Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four, and the Championship Game.

I hope these ideas can inspire parents, teachers, and students to keep practicing!

Music Mom!

I don’t want this music to die. The older people are passing it on to the younger generation so the younger generation can pass it on to the next generation.
-Vy Higginsen


     This past month, I had the privilege of playing two exciting concerts of two distinct genres on two different violins in two separate states the same week. Needless to say, this required a lot of planning and practice! At the first concert, I enjoyed performing in Kansas City for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s Third Thursday event, in which the museum showcased its newly renovated European wing, including the French Impressionist gallery. For this gig, I performed on my electric violin alongside my mother and sister Sheree. I loved having the opportunity to sing French songs by some of my favorite French artists, including French legend Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose.” To prepare for the gig, I watched old footage of the star performing her iconic work, noting everything from vocal inflections to wardrobe selections. I even watched Marion Cotillard’s brilliant performance of Piaf’s life in the movie La Vie En Rose. Poor Edith was raised in a brothel, having been abandoned by her alcoholic mother, who wanted to make it as a singer. Sadly, her parenting skills resembled those of her mother, abandoning her own daughter who ended up dying very young.

     For the second concert, I shifted from French pop to first violinist of my local quartet. We performed in a formal chamber recital, featuring Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 1 in F Major, Opus 18, No. 1. I know it’s cliché to name Beethoven as one of my favorite composers, but his works are such masterpieces it is impossible not to! I have always admired his courage and perseverance, in spite of his many obstacles. While preparing for this concert, I delved a little into his life as well. Most people think of his deafness as his biggest obstacle, and rightly so. However, I was amazed to discover his perseverance to succeed in music in spite of his many family obligations and struggles. Like Edith, he was the child of an alcoholic wanna-be-singer, in this case his father, and from a young age he had to help support the family. This included helping raise his two younger brothers, since his mother had died at an early age. Later in life he even raised his nephew after the death of the child’s father. Beethoven took his child-rearing responsibilities seriously, while still maintaining his musical responsibilities.

     As a mother of a budding two-year-old, I am fascinated by the family life of the artists whose works I perform. I feel better knowing that even the genius Beethoven himself had to balance his family and work life! Having needed to practice a lot this past month to prepare for these gigs, I had to figure out how to pull this off with a two-year-old in tow. That said, I this month I digress into a musician mommy blog to give a behind the scenes glance at the real life of the parent musician, as well as some helpful tips!

  1. Prepare a cage you can crawl into to protect your amps, mics, pedals, music, instrument, and sanity from a busy two-year-old who would like nothing more than to literally push your buttons and “play” with your interesting “toys.”

  2. During rehearsal, if you enlist your colleague’s six-year-old to babysit, be prepared for elaborate artwork to appear all over your child’s face when the two-year-old finds a stray marker.

  3. Turn off movies about famous musicians’ lives before your child wakes up from the nap, as most of their stories seem to revolve around drug and alcohol abuse and promiscuity…

  4. Buy your child her own cheap violin so that she can imitate you, and hopefully not break your own instrument that’s worth more than your car.

  5. Start using your fortissimo voice if your child comes near your instrument.

  6. Have your child color on old sheets of music you no longer need, until he decides to color all over the score you are currently working on. Then resort to letting him watch his favorite cartoon while you finish your practice session. Your focus will hopefully improve (or possibly deteriorate) as you try to block out the distracting cartoon ditties from your ears.

  7. When you have exhausted all of your energy and resources, finally ask your spouse, significant other, friend, or anyone you can find to watch your child so that you can have a few minutes of focused practice time.

  8. In spite of all the craziness of raising children in your unconventional life as a musician, know that someday they may learn to appreciate the wonderful world of music you have given them, and wonder if maybe they, too, will pass on this crazy life to their own children.


French Impressions

"J'aime les images presque autant que la musique."    

(I love images almost as much as music.)

-Claude Debussy

     Imagine you are going on a vacation to visit the French countryside, where you discover a small bed and breakfast off the beaten track. Your host greets you and welcomes you to her home, and you look around, noticing the décor of the cottage. The brick floor first catches your attention, as you’re not accustomed to seeing it inside. Paired with the toile drapes and the wrought iron furniture, you almost feel as if you’re sitting outside rather than in the interior of a home. A fresh scent of lavender reaches your nose as you gaze at the loose floral arrangement in the corner of the room, next to the patterned plates hanging decoratively on the wall.

    This French scene is one Kerri Parr tried to recreate for guests at the HopeNet Docent Society program in Wichita, KS, this past weekend. A Renaissance woman herself, Kerri gave the presentation on French country décor, French gastronomy, Parisian tourism, and French music. She and Allison prepared a gourmet French meal, including a soupe aux poireaux et pommes de terre (a rich leek soup made with butter, potatoes, chicken stock, and a dollop of crème fraiche), as well as a French salad of bib lettuce with an easy homemade vinaigrette, consisting of Dijon mustard, shallots, white wine vinegar, and olive oil. Next, they brought out a tasty cheese plate with a variety of fare, including a creamy port salut from the French Loire Valley, a Normandy Boursin cheese spread with herbs, a compté from the Franco-Swiss border (similar to Gruyère), and the ever popular Brie. To conclude the meal, Kerri served her dad’s famous mousse au chocolat, an egg-based recipe for decadent chocolate lovers, which he learned while taking a cooking class in Paris.

    Between the décor and the food, Kerri strove to create a uniquely French impression on her guests, similar to that evoked by Monet’s Water Lillies or Debussy’s Arabesques. She performed the violin transcription of Debussy’s famous La fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair) from his first book of Preludes, which had been transcribed for violin shortly after it’s original composition for piano. The piece was inspired by a famous poem, as well as a well-known image of a girl who embodied innocence and naïveté. The work exemplifies French charm and elegance at its finest. Debussy himself was inspired by French Impressionist artists, including Degas, Monet, and Rodin. Instead of implementing traditional chord progressions, Debussy focused on creating musical “colors.” When one of Debussy’s critics compared his works with those of Monet, he replied, “You do me a great honour by calling me a pupil of Claude Monet.”

     Kerri loved Debussy’s work so well that she even walked down the aisle to La fille aux cheveux de lin at her wedding! She concluded the musical portion of the program with the 1990s pop song “Sympathique,” a song ironically written by the American musical group Pink Martini, which became so popular in France that the chorus line “Je ne veux pas travailler” (I don’t want to work) became a theme of French protestors for numerous strikes!

     Continuing in Kerri’s French vein, Uptown Violins will be offering another opportunity to enjoy French music at the opening of the newly renovated European galleries, including the Impressionist wing, at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. The event will take place on Thursday evening, March 16th, and is free and open to the public! Surrounded by the beautiful artwork of Monet, Caillebotte, Morisot, Pissarro, and Renoir, to name a few, we will feature works by several French composers and artists, including classical composers Camille Saint-Saëns and Erik Satie, as well as pop artists Edith Piaf and Patricia Kaas. Come join us for a belle nuit at the Nelson-Atkins, s’il vous plaît!

     Kerri Parr lives in the Dallas, Texas, area, and is a co-founder and principal member of Uptown Violins. In addition to her frequent musical performances, Kerri is a French teacher and school counselor at Texas Christian Academy. Kerri earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Violin performance at Baylor University, and studied private lessons under Dr. Eka Gogichashvili. She served as Concertmaster of the Baylor Symphony, and performed with the Waco Symphony for three years. In 2010, Kerri was one of the students selected to tour with the Baylor Symphony in Belgium. In August, 2016, she graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary with a Master’s Degree in Biblical Counseling. A true Renaissance woman, in her free time she enjoys French cooking, listening to new French artists, including the Parisian group L.E.J., going on dates with her husband Forrest, and playing with her Golden Retriever Annie.



10 Things You Need to Know in Order to Date a Violinist

"A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit, and a violin. What else does a man need to be happy?"

-Albert Einstein

February is here, and with it the season of love! Maybe you enjoy everything romantic, and I'm not just talking about the musical time period! I recently read a hilarious post called "8 Things You Need to Know Before Dating an Organist," which inspired me to write this blog. 


1. You need to live on European or South American time: Dinner starts whenever we have finished teaching our students, practicing, or meeting with prospective clients. It may be later if we have rehearsals or a concert. Better yet, just plan on cooking for yourself! As my violin teacher Aunt Valerie said to her husband, it's a YOYO night. "You're on your own!" 

2. Plan an escape room where you can block out the noise of beginning violin students. Uncle Brian had an entire room where musicians were not allowed to enter and bother him. (We broke this rule frequently.) This room may be your study, basement, or if these are still too close, the garage (my husband's favorite place to hide.) 

3. You have a large role to play at home recitals: Vacuum the house, set up at least 25 chairs, keep your own children quiet, clean up, and prepare a special treat for the guests. My uncle was famous for his green lime sherbet punch at the St. Patty's Day recitals. Following in this vein, I was impressed at one of my recent recitals when my husband decided to roast marshmallows with the kids in our backyard. He also scored points by setting up a beanbag toss to play with the students and their siblings while I chatted with the parents! Creativity is key! 

4. Sometimes date night means dressing up to go sit alone at a concert where your spouse is performing. It may be sad to sit by your lonely self, but at least you can see your talented spouse on stage! You can always brag that you are with one of the violinists. If you behaved well at the concert (not too much texting or scrolling on your phone), you might get to grab dessert with your special someone afterwards! 

5. Don't touch their instrument until you have been together at least a year; maybe two, or perhaps five. After that, you will probably become their roadie for all concerts, in which you will be expected to carry the instrument, music stand, music bag, and possibly an amp and microphones. You will most likely be asked to serve as photographer, videographer, and sound engineer as well. 

6. Be adaptable. This may mean traveling with the violinist across the globe for a concert or gig. I will always remember leaving my husband with my friend's dad in France while I had to play a wedding, and although the two didn't speak the same language, they decided to go to the hardware store together to pick out tools. Apparently music isn't the only universal language! 

7. Get used to sitting alone at church. The moment your organist or praise team director discovers your spouse plays violin, he or she will probably be playing in the balcony or on stage more than sitting with you in the pew. 

8. If your significant other is female and top-notch at playing, you should not refer to her as ever having served as a mistress when you meant to say "concert mistress." Just say "concert master," and your life will be easier. 

9. Become familiar with the parts of the violin. What may seem scandalous to you might not be as bad as it sounds in the violin world! 

10. Be their biggest fan. Nothing says you love your violinist more than telling them how wonderful they performed at a concert. (Even if they missed their shift to the high note...) Violinists want to know that you appreciate their music, because it's a huge part of their identity! 

I want to take time to thank the men in our lives: Dr. Stacy Peterson, Dr. Robert Rescot, Mr. Ben Lutz, and Mr. Forrest Parr, as well as our Uncle Brian Sullivan, for the countless hours you have given to serving the musicians in your lives. Although you work behind the scenes, we could never do it without you! 

A Day in the Life of a Music Major

“I read the news today … about a lucky man who made the grade.”


It takes a special kind of person to be a music major. And when I say special, I mean you can’t be embarrassed by clapping rhythms in the hallway, singing “Queen of the Night” in your dorm room (much to the chagrin of your roommate), or realizing that you should have clarified whether your 9:00 lesson meant 9 a.m. or 9 p.m., because both were viable options. With the start of the New Year, high school seniors across the country will be deciding which major to choose, so we asked sophomore Christy Peterson to shed light on her experience as a violin performance major.


AR: How would you describe a typical day for you?

CP: Busy! I have a lot of classes, so I start at 8 and don’t usually get done until 4 or 5, and often have rehearsals at night, too. Many of my music classes only count for one credit hour but require several meetings per week. As a result, I don’t have many large breaks during the day, and the ones I do are usually dedicated to practicing. But I like to hang out with my friends when I get the chance!


AR: What does your coursework entail?

CP: At my university, I have orchestra three days a week, and I rehearse with my string quartet the other two days. I also have a private violin lesson once a week (sometimes very late at night) as well as a private piano lesson. In addition to my performance classes I take music theory, musicianship (where we work on rhythms, solfège, and music dictation), as well as general education classes. Upper classmen take four semesters of music history.


AR: What has been your favorite class so far?

CP: I really loved Theory IV! I have always enjoyed math, so the 20th century atonal music really appealed to me. Instead of being chordal like the previous eras, 20th century classical music is linear. You have to use all 12 notes in the chromatic scale before you can repeat any of them. You can use a matrix to change up the order of the notes like composers Schoenberg and Webern. (It may not always sound good to the ear, but it is fascinating to study!) To me it feels like a giant Sudoku puzzle! Check it out: http://www.carolingianrealm.info/Music.php?MusicID=29


AR: What kinds of performing opportunities do you have?

CP: These first two years my performances have primarily been orchestral. We usually work on four sets of music per semester. My favorite concerts were the Children’s Concerts in the fall! The kids don’t usually get exposed to orchestra music, so this is a special opportunity for them. They loved our Star Wars movie music this past fall, especially when Darth Vadar and a Storm Trooper came out on stage and staged a battle with our conductor. Another of my favorite concerts is our annual Christmas concert. For this event all of the choirs join the orchestra to perform some of our beloved Christmas songs.

I play in studio and chamber music recitals as well, and am looking forward to participating in a chamber music competition this winter. The winning ensemble will have the chance to perform their piece in Carnegie Hall in May! Performance majors are also required to play a solo recital their junior and senior years, and music education majors perform one recital their senior year. These recitals give students a chance to show off what they have learned during their time at school.


AR: Are you involved in any extra-curricular activities?

CP: Yes, I like meeting people in other fields of study as well, so I joined the sorority Chi Omega. I enjoy going to our formals and Take-A-Date functions, like the one to Six Flags! Our philanthropy is with “Make a Wish Foundation,” which grants wishes to kids with severe cancer. For example, sometimes they bring in a famous baseball player to meet a child, or the kid gets to go to Disney world. One way we help raise funds is through our Chi-O chili cook-off competition. We collaborated with the Fraternity Kappa Sigma, and together raised over $50,000!


AR: What has been the best part of college for you so far?

CP: I am a very social person, so I like making new friends. In college there are so many opportunities to meet new people, especially on a big campus! As a freshman I ran around the football field with the other first years before our home games, which was a lot of fun! I also really love my church and Bible study. Our pastor is excellent, and always helps us to better understand what it means to be a Christian.


AR: What are you looking forward to the most this New Year?

CP: I will have my first opportunity to play in the opera pit this month, so I am excited to try it out! I am also looking forward to participating in the sorority/fraternity production of SING, where we all perform a mini musical. This summer I get to attend a music study abroad program in Austria, which will be a once in a lifetime experience!


AR: What advice would you give a prospective music major?

CP: Go to class! Use good time management to schedule practice time, as well as plan breaks to avoid injury. Branch out to different styles, like jazz improvisation, and meet as many different kinds of people as you can!


AR: What products would you recommend for a new music major?



1. Buy a quality instrument. Most strings shops will let you try out several at a time to see which one is best for you.


2. I highly recommend the BAM violin case! It is much lighter than other cases, and great if you need to carry your instrument around campus! http://www.musiciansfriend.com/accessories/bam-high-tech-contoured-violin-case/472705000001000?cntry=us&source=3WWRWXGP&gclid=Cj0KEQiAhZPDBRCz642XqYOCpb8BEiQANUcwT9vx1XI8yphfbRH1KSOjyl24tYQnAIJ9H2bCLB9huUEaAiVz8P8HAQ&kwid=productads-adid^156403583515-device^c-plaid^140857971141-sku^472705000001000@ADL4MF-adType^PLA


3. Build your own music library. I suggest the following for starters:

 Don Juan violin part: http://www.sharmusic.com/Sheet-Music/Violin/Excerpts-47-Parts/Strauss-Richard---Don-Juan-Op-20-Violin-1---Kalmus.axd#sthash.F2pDLZ6B.dpbs

Brahms symphony No. 4 violin part: http://www.sharmusic.com/Sheet-Music/Violin/Excerpts-47-Parts/Brahms-Johannes---Symphony-No-4-in-e-minor-Complete-Violin-Orchestral-Parts-and-Excerpts---Kalmus-Publication.axd#sthash.ibIuOgSr.dpbs

Bach’s 6 Sonatas and Partitas : http://www.sharmusic.com/Sheet-Music/Violin/Unaccompanied/Bach-JS---6-Sonatas-and-Partitas-BWV-1001-1006--Solo-Violin---edited-by-Ivan-Galamian---International-Music-Company.axd#sthash.Tv2AEg54.dpbs

 Paganini’s 24 caprices: http://www.sharmusic.com/Sheet-Music/Violin/Unaccompanied/Paganini-Niccolo---24-Caprices-for-Violin-Op-1---Solo-Violin---edited-by-Carl-Flesch---International-Music-Company.axd#sthash.KJ3NpKB8.dpbs

Kreutzer Etudes: http://www.sharmusic.com/Sheet-Music/Violin/Etudes-47-Studies/Kreutzer-Rodolphe---42-Studies---Violin-solo---edited-by-Ivan-Galamian---International-Music-Co.axd#sthash.Yab5u7sB.dpbs

Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto: http://www.sharmusic.com/Sheet-Music/Violin/w-47-Piano/Tchaikovsky-PI---Violin-Concerto-in-D-Major-Op-35---Violin-and-Piano---edited-by-David-Oistrakh---International-Music-Company.axd#sthash.GLH7p5Kz.dpbs

 Sibelius Violin Concerto: http://www.sharmusic.com/Sheet-Music/Violin/w-47-Piano/Sibelius-Jean---Violin-Concerto-in-D-Minor-Op-47---Violin-and-Piano---edited-by-Francescatti-Gretchaninoff---International-Music-Company.axd#sthash.5PqdJdfD.dpbs

Les Chansons de Noël

Here are the answers to Madame Rescot’s French Christmas music quiz from last week. How many did you get right?!? 

1. Les anges dans nos campagnes: Angels We Have Heard on High 


2. L’enfant au tambour: Little Drummer Boy


3. Le petit renne au nez rouge: Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer


4. Mon beau sapin: O Christmas Tree


5. Promenade en traineau: Sleigh Ride


6. Noël Blanc: White Christmas


7. Vive le vent: Jingle Bells


8. Un Noël d’Amour: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas


9. Minuit Chrétien: O Holy Night


10. Pere Noël arrive ce soir: Santa Claus is Coming to Town


11. Au Royaume du Bonhomme Hiver: Walking in a Winter Wonderland


12. Joyeux Noël: The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting by an Open Fire)


13. Douce Nuit Sainte Nuit: Silent Night


14. Petit Papa Noël: French only


15. La plus belle nuit: French only

Joyeux Noël!

Minuit ! Chrétiens, c'est l'heure solennelle
Où l'homme Dieu descendit jusqu'à  nous.

-Placide Cappeau (1847)


As French and music teacher, French music has always held a fascination for me! This time of year, my mom, my sister Kerri (a fellow French teacher), and I enjoy sharing some of our favorite French Christmas traditions with each other. These include baking the traditional “Bûche de Noël” (Yule Log), drinking “Esprit de Noël” French tea, and listening to French Christmas carols. Last year Kerri and I taught the original French carol “Les anges dans nos campagnes” to our respective classes, reminding students that not all of our beloved carols are English in origin. “Minuit Chrétien,” (another French original) is my personal favorite, which I now love to sing in both French and English! (In my last blog I talk about its significance to our family, remembering my mother singing the English version for our many Christmas shows!)

If you want to mix it up a bit this Christmas season, try baking your own “Bûche de Noël,” sip on delicious French tea, and listen to the following Christmas carols in French! Enjoy the renditions of many famous francophone artists over the years, from the 1950s to the present, as well as some beautiful traditional gems. If you feel particularly ambitious, write down the English equivalent of the songs, and check back next Friday for the answers! (The last two are only in French.)

Tastes of Christmas

French “Bûche de Noël” recipe


Uptown Violins’ Favorite French tea



Les Chansons de Noël

1. Les anges dans nos campagnes : chanson traditionnelle https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Ap-zj7H23g

2. L’enfant au tambour : chanson traditionnelle 


3. Le petit renne au nez rouge : chanson d’enfant


4. Mon beau sapin : Tino Rossi


5. Promenade en traineau : Fernand Gignac 


6. Noël Blanc: Dalida


7. Vive le vent : Ginette Reno


8. Un Noël d’amour: Pierre Lalonde https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Z6GZc21QuM

9. Minuit Chrétien : Nicole Martin 


10. Père Noël arrive ce soir: Céline Dion


11. Au royaume du bonhomme hiver: Roch Voisine https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGnby1FHtcw&list=PLpdMoG1R00J5id0bAKFUg-19L0Nl-HaLM&index=3

12. Joyeux Noël : Marie-Élaine Thibert https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGWhyYwDTG0&list=RDcGWhyYwDTG0

13. Douce nuit, sainte nuit- chanson traditionnelle


14. Petit Papa Noël : Josh Groban : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jM1tfaM5y1o

15. La plus belle nuit : Marie Denis Pelletier 




First Fridays with Uptown Violins is hosted by Ashley Rescot, Director of Public Relations. Ashley received her Bachelor of Music from Baylor University, as well as minors in French and English. She taught English as a Fulbright scholar in France for a year, and then obtained her Master’s Degree in French Literature at the University of Kansas. She has taught French to all ages, including a Maman et Moi baby French class, as well as collegiate French levels I-IV. She teaches her own private violin studio and performs throughout the Midwest. Research interests include the relationship between music education and language acquisition, as well as the connection between music and other forms of artistic expression.

Christmas is Coming!

“Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat. Please do put a penny in the old man’s hat. If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do, if you haven’t got a ha’penny, God bless you!”

-Traditional Christmas Carol


Fall has always been one of my favorite seasons. With Halloween, my November birthday, Thanksgiving, and now my daughter’s birthday, I always have so much to celebrate! As a child, I especially looked forward to fall because my family and I would begin our Christmas show rehearsals. We were a 3 generational music group called “The Belles and Beau of Christmas,” made up of my Grandmother Ruth, mother, aunts, sisters, and cousins. We played and sang everything from “Deck the Halls” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” to “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Silent Night.” Uptown Violins now continues this family tradition, but with a modern twist! Brittany has written beautiful violin arrangements to some of our old favorites, including “The Sugar Plum Fairy” from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, and genre mixing on “O Holy Night” and “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, as well as “Silent Night” interwoven with “Amazing Grace.” Her flirty winter medley made up of “Baby it’s Cold Outside,” “Santa Baby,” and “Let it Snow” is always a crowd pleaser! Filled with rich harmonies, elegance, innovative song combinations, and a hint of nostalgia, our beloved Christmas carols continue to be the highlight of our season! All of us still enjoy performing Christmas carols in our respective cities, with concerts ranging from corporate Christmas parties, to Christmas cantatas, to senior home recitals, and even symphony concerts!

In order to capture the essence of our childhood Christmas shows, I have written a few of our favorite memories. Enjoy!


“The Twelve escapades of Christmas”

12. Singing the intro to “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and watching the audience laugh when the youngest member of the group emerged as Rudolf with a red, strap-on nose. Rudolf would then gallop vigorously around the stage, pretending to lead Santa’s sleigh.

11. The Christmas show when my sister Kerri kicked off her shoes during the Rudolf dance, and the rest of us followed suit. Soon the stage was strewn with little black Mary Jane shoes!

10. Wearing matching Christmas dresses with my sisters sewn by my Dad’s mom, Carol, who wasn’t musical herself, but contributed her time and talent to the production. She never forgot to include the puffed sleeves!

9. Singing the sassy song “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” but being deathly afraid when “I saw my hippo hero standing there,” embodied by my two oldest cousins in a giant hippo costume!

8. In later years of the show, laughing at my sister Sheree who had to personify the back-side of the hippo while I dressed up as the over-sized head.

7. The older cousins building the base of a pyramid so a little cousin could jump off of thier backs to the line “Out Jumps Good Old Santa Claus.”

6. Performing a Nutcracker violin medley while my younger sisters and cousins marched around on stage dressed in soldier uniforms.

5. Leaning over, with my finger to my mouth, and saying “Ssshhhh” to my aunt when she sang a really high note in the middle of “Christmas is Coming.”

4. Dancing as hard as I could to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Jingle Bell Rock,” even though my middle school dance moves needed a little tweaking…

3.  Playing and singing the harmony part to “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and thinking I was very grown-up because I could carry an alto line for the first time!

2. Representing the 3 kings by presenting gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus.


1. My number one memory by far, however, didn’t actually involve me. After singing, playing, and dancing to the Christmas carols, near the end of the program my mom and her sister would always sing my personal favorite, “O Holy Night.” I will never forget standing backstage, listening in awe as mom’s beautiful soprano sailed over the audience. With her voice like an angel, she always knew how to convey the true meaning of the season: the birth of Christ.

Sadly, our childhood days are over, and we no longer crawl around on the floor in our fancy dresses building chimneys for Santa, wear outrageous red noses, or dress up as hippos during our Christmas programs. However, we still have a lot of fun performing our holiday favorites every Christmas season! A couple of years ago I even had the privilege of performing “O Holy Night” as the soloist for a Christmas Eve service at my church. While I sang about the birth of Christ from the balcony, my own newborn baby listened quietly from the pew, cradled in her father’s arms. I couldn’t help but think back on my own childhood days when I would listen to my mother sing the same song. I hope my daughter will have the privilege of continuing her grandma’s tradition someday!


First Fridays with Uptown Violins is hosted by Ashley Rescot, Director of Public Relations. Ashley received her Bachelor of Music from Baylor University, as well as minors in French and English. She taught English as a Fulbright scholar in France for a year, and then obtained her Master’s Degree in French Literature at the University of Kansas. She has taught French to all ages, including a Maman et Moi baby French class, as well as collegiate French levels I-IV. She teaches her own private violin studio and performs throughout the Midwest. Research interests include the relationship between music education and language acquisition, as well as the connection between music and other forms of artistic expression.

Musical, Medical, and Mentorship Missions, Summer 2016!

“Here I am, Send me.”

-Isaiah 6:8

Our members of Uptown Violins have been busy this year with two missions trips, one to Uganda, and the other to the Dominican Republic. I thought we should include a special edition blog for everyone who attended one of these two missions trips to tell about their experience. This includes the “Men of Uptown Violins” as well!

Uptown Violins participants at St. Mary Kevin School in Kajjansi, Uganda: Dr. Stacy and Allison Peterson, Brittany Peterson, Ben and Sheree Lutz

AR: Dr. Peterson, what was your experience working at the hospital in Kampala? What do you feel was the most meaningful part of your trip?

SL: While in Uganda I had the privilege of working at Mengo hospital. It is the oldest hospital in Uganda and was originally started by British missionaries. There are three observations I would like to make. First, I was impressed by their medical staff. With very limited resources they worked tirelessly and effectively against unlimited needs. Second, the Ugandan people were extremely appreciative of any care that was provided to them. They would even wait in line for hours without complaining. It made me so thankful for our medical care here in the U.S. Third, God has his remnant of Christians throughout the world. In so many ways they were just like me, wanting to practice medicine like Jesus would! I would like to close with Paul's letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 2 v. 19-20: Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens but citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.


AR: Allison, what did you enjoy most about teaching the children at SMK? What struck you most about Uganda?

AP: I enjoyed seeing how excited the students were to learn new concepts and play sounds they may have never heard before. Not only is violin rarely played in Uganda, it is rarely even heard on the radio! The violin originated in Europe, so most classical music isn’t part of the African culture. Rhythmic instruments like bongos and drums are the basis of their music. Some of the students entertained us by performing native dances accompanied only by drums.

The students were thrilled to play the simplest of songs, like “Jesus Loves Me” and practiced them over and over. I was also able to teach two of the students, Ambrose and Elijah, how to play fast by changing their bow grip and having them play in the middle of the bow. They really liked going fast! Because the students have fewer opportunities to be involved extra activities, I think they really enjoy playing their violin more.

What struck me most about Uganda was that even though the country is behind in their infrastructure and housing, the people live above their situation. Maybe they don’t even realize that not having running water isn’t the norm in the United States.  Cooking over charcoal rather than ovens is normal for them. It is interesting, however, that they have cell phones but no paved roads. The people work very long, hard days just to survive, yet in general they are very happy! I’m so glad I was able to meet these kind people.


AR: Ben, what kinds of activities did you conduct while working with the children at SMK? What was your favorite experience while in Uganda?

 BL: SMK had six laptop computers in their computer lab, but computer lessons are not a part of the regular curriculum. I spent a few hours every day overseeing the kids using a typing program, and gave some limited instruction in Microsoft Word. The students loved getting to spend time on the computers and asked me about getting on them whenever they saw me. I also spent time having conversations with the older students as a way to improve their English skills. I really enjoyed getting to interact with the kids and making friendships with them.


AR: Brittany, what did you find most rewarding working at SMK? What did you enjoy most about your trip?

 BP: What I thought most rewarding was being able to really love on the kids and also be loved on. It was a mutual joy to be around each other and learn about one another. We were able to share our likes and dislikes with each other, including our mutual love for puppies when “Scooby” wandered onto campus and found his home there. Most importantly, we were able to share our love of Christ with one another, and even the kids who had never heard of Christ before were open and willing to hear about his love.

I had fun working with the violin students and hearing their progress even in the short time we were there. I also really enjoyed being able to share resources and pedagogical information with their violin teacher so that he can help the students grow in their violin studies while we are gone. The kids were so eager to play it was incredible! They practiced practiced practiced in order to please us the next day at lessons, and what teacher wouldn’t want to work with kids who practice?!


 Uptown Violins participants at Makarios School in Montellano, Dominican Republic: Forrest and Kerri Parr

 AR: Kerri, you helped lead a group of American students on a mission’s trip to the Dominican Republic. What was most rewarding for you in serving both the citizens of the Dominican Republic, as well as helping the American students learn to serve?

 KP: I found that the most rewarding part of the trip was watching the high school students grow throughout our time there. Students who originally were not comfortable with kids were giving them piggy-back rides and playing duck duck goose by the end of the week. Overall, I was touched by how joyful the Dominicans were, even though they had very little. It really brought my attention to how materialistic we are in America, and it inspired Forrest and myself to live our lives differently. 


AR: Forrest, what kinds of activities did you conduct while working in the Dominican Republic? What was your most memorable experience there?

 FP: We were responsible for running Vacation Bible School, doing construction at the school, and helping organize and facilitate a neighborhood soccer practice and soccer tournament. We also went into the surrounding communities and played games with the children. My most memorable moment came when we took the students from the school to the beach for a morning. They rarely got to go to the beach because they had no form of transportation. The kids just grabbed our hands and we all ran into the water together. Despite the language barrier, the kids just wanted us to play with them and hold them. 


AR:  I would like to say thanks to all of our participants for their inspiring stories! I pray we can all develop a spirit of gratitude for our many blessings as we approach Thanksgiving this year!


First Fridays with Uptown Violins is hosted by Ashley Rescot, Director of Public Relations. Ashley received her Bachelor of Music from Baylor University, as well as minors in French and English. She taught English as a Fulbright scholar in France for a year, and then obtained her Master’s Degree in French Literature at the University of Kansas. She has taught French to all ages, including a Maman et Moi baby French class, as well as collegiate French levels I-IV. She teaches her own private violin studio and performs throughout the Midwest. Research interests include the relationship between music education and language acquisition, as well as the connection between music and other forms of artistic expression.


Uptown Violins’ Vacation Music School in Uganda!

“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”

- Mary Anne Radmacher


This past August, Allison, Sheree, and Brittany had the opportunity to conduct Vacation Music School at St. Mary Kevin Orphanage and Primary School in Kajjansi, Uganda, a suburb of the capital city Kampala. Dr. Stacy Peterson (the patriarch of Uptown Violins) and Sheree’s husband Ben Lutz accompanied them on the trip. Upon their return, I spent an entire day living vicariously through them all, trying to soak up the experience as best I could, listening to their amazing stories. Here Sheree Lutz, the initiator of the trip, shares her experience.


AR: How many children/what ages were you working with?


SL: We worked with quite a few children! The first few days we had a music workshop of about 30 kids who were approximately ages 5-8. Then we had our class for about 25 older students who were 9-12 or so. But we spent time with kids even outside of music classes, so it probably accounts for more!


AR: What did a typical day look like for you while there?

SL: We would arrive at the school in the morning, Allison, Brittany, and myself gave private violin lessons to about 15 violin students. Some just started the violin this year, while others have participated in the program for about three years. They worked on songs such as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, I Would Like A Fiddle including the “pizzicato” part, and Jesus Loves me. We would then eat lunch at the school prepared by Matron Josephine (who introduced us to some local cuisine!) followed by our music camp in the afternoon.


AR: What kinds of techniques did you work on during private lessons?

SL: We worked on learning proper positions first and foremost, incorporating aids including proper shoulder rests and the new bow-buddies that help with the bow hold. We also worked on scales, pizzicato, and melody vs. harmony. Their favorite though, was simply learning new songs and having additional music available!


AR: What were some of the students’ favorite activities during the afternoon music camps?

SL: They loved getting to learn rhythms, which we incorporated into a song from Tarzan. Some children used rattles to play an eighth note rhythm, others used “boom whacker” sticks with quarter notes, and they really enjoyed the partner clapping section. They were also very excited to make the music crafts, especially the bridges donated by Simon McHugh violin shop. They got to paint them, add stickers, ribbons, and more. The older students like competition, so playing Musical Jeopardy, led by Brittany, became very lively. They chose questions from sections we had covered throughout the week, including Music History, Rhythms, Note Names, Playing Your Instrument, and Dynamics.


AR: What kinds of concerts did you/the students perform?


SL: We thought it important to play a bit for the students to show them what is possible with practice and dedication: we played a wide variety of songs including the Bach Double, an arrangement written by Brittany of Be Thou My Vision/Angel by Jewel, and Fantomen so they could hear a bit of fiddling. The violin students performed Jesus Loves Me, I Would Like a Fiddle, an A-Major scale, as well as a very fun game of “follow the leader” while playing the rhythm “Grasshopper, Grashopper.” They even ended up sitting on the ground while playing!


AR: What did you learn from the students/teachers there?

SL: The kids are extremely open to learning new things. They cannot get enough information fast enough. What they do with that newfound knowledge is also amazing. They are very creative! They can build toys out of discarded plastic; they play games with found objects such as rocks, and dance unlike anything I’ve ever seen. We learned a lot from hearing their choir perform using call and response, listening to the marching band concert, and the highlight, watching the traditional African dance troupe!


AR: Outside of music, what did you enjoy most?

SL: We loved getting to know the students, teachers, and staff. Even though they face adversity, they persevere and constantly look out for one another. The teachers helped us so much and there is no way we could have held class without them! The staff, including the school’s director Joan Faith and social worker Melissa Mosher, are amazing women who give of themselves constantly to ensure safety, health, education, and love for the students.


AR: What surprised you most about your experience?

SL: For me, the most surprising thing was the sense of family between the students. When 150 kids live at the school, it is impossible for the few adults to take on all of the chores. Daily activities that seem daunting to a five-year-old, including washing laundry by hand, learning English, and getting water, can be very difficult. The older students take the younger ones under their wings and help them learn.


AR: What are your plans to help maintain a relationship with the students there?

SL: We hope to be able to continue the pen-pal relationship we started with our US violin students. They have already been able to send and receive a letter. It was most encouraging for the students to hear from others who live half way across the world, but have the same interests and dedication as themselves. We also hope to maintain relationships through emails, sponsorships, and hopefully a return visit at some point (the configuration of people going may look different!).


AR: What are ways in which we can continue to help the students at SMK?


SL: The students are dependent upon donations to keep the strings program going. They use the raised funds to pay for the teacher’s salary to come once a week and give instruction. We were so happy to be able to donate 5 violins to the program and leave them there. However, they still have to pay to rent the additional instruments. They always will need new strings, music stands, and rosin. If interested in donating go to either the Change The Truth website (http://changethetruth.org/) or the Strings for Uganda site (http://stringsforuganda.com/ ). Of course, please feel free to contact us at http://www.uptownviolins.com/contact/ if you would like additional information and we can help point you in the right direction!


Beyond music, the school is working to get more reliable water supply as well as additional nutrition in their food. Also, a student’s education typically ends after the 7th grade if they do not receive a sponsorship for secondary school. While a larger commitment, a sponsorship helps keep a student in school and gives them a great chance at a job, etc. If interested, again go to the Change The Truth Website and they will help get a perfectly matched student. http://changethetruth.org/

SPECIAL EDITION TO COME SOON!!: Dr. Stacy Peterson's and Mr. Ben Lutz's missions work at the Mengo Hospital and Saint Mary Kevin Orphanage in Uganda!


First Fridays with Uptown Violins is hosted by Ashley Rescot, Director of Public Relations. Ashley received her Bachelor of Music from Baylor University, as well as minors in French and English. She taught English as a Fulbright scholar in France for a year, and then obtained her Master’s Degree in French Literature at the University of Kansas. She has taught French to all ages, including a Maman et Moi baby French class, as well as collegiate French levels I-IV. She teaches her own private violin studio and performs throughout the Midwest. Research interests include the relationship between music education and language acquisition, as well as the connection between music and other forms of artistic expression.

From the Winspear Opera House to the Dallas Cowboys Stadium: How to adjust your performance to fit your venue

“If you’re gonna play in Texas, You gotta have a fiddle in the band.”


As 21st century musicians, we live in an age where versatility is essential to our trade. We hear violin in a wide variety of settings, whether listening to Hilary Hahn playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto at Carnegie Hall or Boyd Tinsley rockin’ out to a concert with the Dave Matthews Band. In her interview, Brittany Peterson, Executive Director of Uptown Violins, recounts her experiences performing in diverse settings, ranging from the Winspear Opera House to AT&T Stadium.

Participants: Ashley Rescot (AR) and Brittany Peterson (BP)

AR: Which venues have you enjoyed performing at the most?

BP: I particularly liked performing at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas, TX. The acoustics were excellent, the sound managers were good, and the audience was receptive. I played a fun variety of music, including a violin concerto intro leading into a Ledd Zepplin song. I also liked the Orpheum Theater in Wichita, KS. The audience was impressed to see eight members of the same family playing together, and they really enjoyed my arrangement of Vivaldi’s Winter with a modern twist for eight violins. Another memorable performance was the movie premier of Fotolanthropy’s “Travis: A Soldier’s Story” at the Majestic Theater in Dallas. We had the privilege of performing patriotic music for the paraplegic soldier whose life had inspired the movie. Playing at the Ambassadors’ Ball for the presidential inauguration in DC was also a highlight. The guests entered on the Red Carpet, and they loved both our classical music opening, as well as our pop finish. At the end the ambassadors chanted, “One more song,” so we played the most popular song at the time, "We Are Young" by the band FUN, to great applause. I even got to kick off my heels and dance!

AR: How does your audience and venue affect your choice in genre?

BP: You have to know how to read your audience. Stereotypically, younger crowds are often more drawn to the pop sets, including songs by Taylor Swift and Twenty One Pilots. Older generations, as well as people from cultures where classical music is more widespread, may better understand classical music references than the average American. Of course Texans are known for their love of country, so the ability to throw in a lick from “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” is a huge crowd pleaser. Audiences are most drawn to what they know, so it is important to be able to adjust your set lists accordingly.

AR: What kind of venues and genres lend themselves to the acoustic instrument? How do you prepare a large verses small setting?

BP: In general, I use my acoustic violin for classical playing and in more traditional settings, including symphony halls, historic churches, and people’s homes. If you are playing on a small stage, you don’t need to be powering through an orchestra, so you can incorporate more dynamic contrasts by using less pressure, playing closer to fingerboard, and tilting your bow hair. Concert halls were made for acoustic instruments. When I have played at the Meyerson Symphony Hall, Bass Performance Hall, Dallas City Performance Hall, and the Winspear Opera House the conductors have determined our dynamics. However, if you are a soloist in a large hall, all of your playing has to be stronger in order to be heard over the orchestra. You can’t do as many dynamic contrasts. For example, your piano in a large venue may require flatter bow hair, but perhaps you can still play closer to fingerboard. Try to practice in advance on the stage where you will be performing. In college I would sneak onto the concert hall stage late at night in order to get the feel for it. In this way the hall became more like a practice room, instead of a gigantic stage. I eventually felt like all the stages were the same, whether I was playing in front of five hundred or 50,000 people.

AR: What kind of venues and genres lend themselves to the electric instrument? What are some of the challenges of playing electric violin for venues like the Dallas Cowboys’ Stadium?

BP: I often prefer my electric violin for outdoor venues, large stadiums, band settings, and for contemporary music concerts. New concert venues and many modern churches are designed for bands and musicians who “plug in.” The electric violin is helpful because you can plug in just like the electric guitars and play as loudly as them. You can adjust your volume in a variety of places: on your violin, your pedal, amp, and even in the sound system by a sound engineer.

When you play at any sports stadium, keep in mind that cameras will be on you. You have to acknowledge them every once in awhile with your facial expressions, but you do not want to continuously be looking at them. Sometimes focus your attention on interacting with the other musicians or playing to the audience, giving an occasional smile at the camera. In the age of social media, you want to look as professional and fun as possible, because you could end up on someone’s phone, on YouTube, or with your face spanning from 30-yard to 30-yard line!


When I played for Dierks Bentley at the Country Music Awards, we were performing in front of 80,000 people. The stadium was so loud we couldn’t even hear the drums! As a result, we had to use “in ears.” We were plugged into the sound system, but we also needed a “count off” or a click track, as well as a “talk back” in order to communicate with the person in charge.  I could tell him if I needed more of the lead singer, lead guitar, etc.

AR: Do you have any final suggestions for performing, regardless of venue?

BP: My best suggestion is to over-prepare. Before a big concert, I recommend "practice performing" your song 10 times every day for 10 days. This way by the time you perform, you will have practiced it 100 times recently. During this time you can experiment with body motion and different dynamics. Maybe you played too stiffly the first time, so now you try moving forward, etc. Practice in front of the mirror. Record yourself, even though you may hate it. Play your song out for a forgiving audience. The night before the big concert, always get good rest so that you have enough energy for the audience, whether you are performing a Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto or a two-hour pop set. And enjoy yourself! The audience appreciates the concert more if they know you are having fun, too.

 Brittany does an excellent job of reading audiences and adjusting her performances to fit their needs. Although some people may believe adaptation is compromise, we must remember that adaptation is not new to the world of music. The musicians transitioning from the Classical to the Romantic Era adjusted their technique and even their instruments’ makeup to accommodate the large stages of Berlioz and Liszt, in stark contrast to the intimate settings of the royal residences hosting Mozart. So if you’re gonna play violin in Texas, you might have to fiddle with the band!



First Fridays with Uptown Violins is hosted by Ashley Rescot, Director of Public Relations. Ashley received her Bachelor of Music from Baylor University, as well as minors in French and English. She taught English as a Fulbright scholar in France for a year, and then obtained her Master’s Degree in French Literature at the University of Kansas. She has taught French to all ages, including a Maman et Moi baby French class, as well as collegiate French levels I-IV. She teaches her own private violin studio and performs throughout the Midwest. Research interests include the relationship between music education and language acquisition, as well as the connection between music and other forms of artistic expression.