Electric violinist Tracy Silverman, while studying classical violin at Julliard, had an epiphany while looking through catalogs of recordings of the classical literature. He wondered why would anyone want to hear his recordings when there are thousands already out there?
He figured that if Tchaikovsky were alive today, he would likely be writing concertos for electric guitar rather than for violin. Because the guitar to us is what the violin used to be – “the dominant voices of our generation.”
So he made the decision to play the violin “in such a way that it spoke to my friends like a guitar.” So he teamed up with Mark Wood, building electric violins together in the early 80’s.
Silverman credits John Adams’ electric violin concerto The Dharma at Big Sur (2003) with legitimizing the electric violin as a respectable instrument. He says that if all we ever play is classical violin, the instrument will die away.
I don’t want the violin to be this museum kind of instrument that people used to play. The acoustic violin will shrink into that distance if we let it. But the violin has such incredible expressive power as an instrument. It’s such a well-designed instrument that it needs to be updated to be kept alive. It’s our responsibility to keep it alive in the 21st century, and this is the way to do it – at least one way to do it.
He says the violin needs to be played “in a way that reflects 21st century American culture, not 19th century European culture.”
Why does this matter to me personally? I used to be the biggest classical snob around. Hey, it’s the only legitimate music, having survived going back 600 years.Rock? Electric violin?? For real? But often in trying to preserve something, we contribute to its demise. I think that just might be true with music.
I see now that keeping to the straight and narrow dismisses all the wonderful expressive musical creativity in the world today. Which audience is most appreciative and comes alive? Is the point of performing to showcase one’s talent, or connect with the audience? Would you rather leave the stage to politely applauding, politely seated upper-class patrons, or to laughing, screaming, real people who perhaps never experienced before what you just played?