When violinist, fiddler, composer and teacher Mark O'Connor saw the response to his first Christmas album, An Appalachian Christmas, he couldn't believe it.
It made several ‘Top 5' and ‘Top 10' lists nationally, and it charted on five different Billboard charts at the same time. I had never even been on an album that did that, let alone have it be my own album, he said.
It's because of the compilation's success that the Grammy-winning artist has embarked on a Christmas tour, which comes to the Scranton Cultural Center and F.M. Kirby Center on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
O'Connor's album, which includes collaborations with Renee Fleming, Alison Krauss, Yo-Yo Ma, James Taylor and more, will be the focus of the concert. He'll perform with the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic, local violin students and his own band of two musicians, female singers Carrie Rodriguez and Cia Cherryholmes, and his 24-year-old son Forrest, who will sing and play the mandola.
TIMES LEADER: This album was not just a one- or two-year process …
MARK O'CONNOR: It took practically my entire career to put this together. They're different Christmas cuts from different eras of my music-making with different guests along the way, and it ended up as my one and only Christmas album.
How did you choose who would perform on each song?
MO: It sort of happened song by song along the way, with the very earliest recording being 25 years old. I came into contact with separate guests over the years, and the way my career worked with the record labels I was with … is that they would often have the artist perform, record or arrange a Christmas song. Well, 25 years later I finally have enough to make an album. It was sort of like a neat career retrospective through Christmas songs.
TL: You're well-known for your way of playing and teaching, the O'Connor Method. What is that exactly?
MO: It's a series of books that teach young people, or beginners of every age, how to play the violin using American music, culture and history that's never taken place before in the history of violin.
TL: How did you figure out that was a successful method?
MO: I was very immersed in fiddle music, jazz, writing, arranging, improvising, all the things people associate with me. The big game-changer was 20 years ago when I established my own string camps in the summer. Over those years I've had 5,000 unique enrollments, so I've seen firsthand what's working, what's not, what could be better and what's completely missing.
TL: Is it true you had a full studio of students when you were 12?
MO: I did. I was already very accomplished when I was younger; I had won a national fiddle championship, and people began to request that I teach them.
TL: Do you come from a musical family?
MO: I come from a family of dancers, so it was an artistic bunch; they really appreciated music. My problem was that we were just absolutely dirt poor so the opportunities I had I really had to create. We lucked out and didn't even pay for most of my lessons. The only access we had, ultimately, was through my talent. People would hear me and want to help. I realized how powerful music was, that I could play and somebody could change their mind about me or accept me in a different way. I had students so young because my mother would say You've received so much in your life with your music, and you should give back, so I was giving back at age 12. It's that spirit that really informs most everything I've done.