I grew up in a small college town (Ashland, Oregon), which has a very well known Shakespeare theater. So for this reason, I was fortunate to live in an artsy place, where I felt very supported in my pursuit of music.
I played a lot of classical music when I was growing up, which was great for developing my «chops» so I could play Greek music. I competed in solo competitions, learned pieces like the Mendelssohn violin concerto, and performed in string quartets, school orchestras, and the local symphony. In high school, I knew that I would not pursue classical music as an adult – but I didn’t know what music I would play. While I was deeply involved in performing classical music, I was listening to classic rock acts like Pink Floyd and Neil Young, and art rock acts like Talking Heads, David Bowie, and Brian Eno. My first exposure to «world music» was Peter Gabriel’s soundtrack to the film «The Last Temptation of Christ», where I heard Middle Eastern sounds and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for the first time. In college, I composed music and learned audio engineering — a world far from classical music. And after college I dabbled in Irish music, and toured with an Irish music group throughout Scandinavia and Germany.
The Balkan Music & Dance Workshop
This is where I discovered Greek, Balkan, and Turkish music. The camp brings in excellent musicians and dance teachers for a week in the woods of Northern California for community, classes, and great parties and kefi at night. There is also a camp on the East Coast. You can learn more about the camp at www.eefc.org. I’ve been going to this camp for 20 years, and for the past two years have been honored to teach at it. How has it changed me? It’s given me an outlet to play music for the love it, for people who love the music and dance of Greece the Balkans, and Turkey -not about selling as many records as possible but for the community and «kefi». It’s also really opened up my world to exploring other cultures, traveling to these areas, and getting to know a great community of dancers and musicians.
I am actually on a long holiday from my full time job. I went to the paniyiri in Vitsa last year because I am passionate about traditional music from Epirus (and Grevena), and my aim was to find an excellent violin teacher, with the hope of returning to study with this year. When I heard Kostas Karapanos, I knew he was the one. I find the Epirot style to be the most difficult to learn from recordings, and I wanted to have face to face lessons with a master of Epirot violin.
Student and teacher
Before I answer the question, I want to stress that I’m very much a student of Greek violin. In Greece, I hear the violin played at such a high level from professionals like Kostas Karapanos and others – and I am trying to develop expertise and improve while working at a full time job. That said, I really love teaching ornaments and technique to really help people get closer to capturing that elusive «sound» of Greek violin. It can be very hard for classically trained violinists to let know of certain restrictions and relax in their playing. That relaxation is key to developing personal expression and nuance, which is so important in this music.
I love Pontic music because it has a primal intensity. I love the rhythms, harmonies, and parallel fourths. And I love the dances. One could call Pontic music «heavy metal of the ages». Dipat might be my favorite.