Grammy Award-Winning Violinist Mark O’Connor Brings “An Appalachian Christmas” to Park City

Grammy Award-winning violinist Mark O’Connor will celebrate “An Appalachian Christmas” with Park City on Tuesday at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
Photo by Diana Rose

Grammy Award-winning violinist Mark O’Connor remembers waiting until Christmas as a young musician so he could jam with his friends.

“The summers were fantastic because of the trips to all the different fiddle competitions, conventions and festivals, but when the school year started I couldn’t play with anyone except occasionally on the weekends,” O’Connor said. “That changed when the Christmas holidays came. People would come and jam with me.

These jam sessions consisted of fiddle tunes and folk and Christmas songs, he said.



“I’ve always associated American music with Christmas, because we turned those songs into folk music and let ourselves go on a lot of breakdowns,” O’Connor said.

Local music lovers will have a chance to experience these musical breakdowns, which carried over to O’Connor’s live performances, when the Park City Institute presents O’Connor”Appalachian Christmasconcert at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday, December 21.



“The first song we play is ‘Frosty the Snowman’ which is turned into a violin breakdown,” O’Connor said with a chuckle. “It makes an excellent violin piece.”

O’Connor’s wife, maggiealso famous violinist, and son, Foresta renowned session musician, part of the Grammy-winning O’Connor Band, will make the show a family affair.

“The band plays a lot,” O’Connor said. “We do instrumentals and there will be a lot of vocals, because we have great vocalists in Maggie and Forrest. I add some harmonies here and there.

Adding to the musical dynamic, O’Connor will not only play his violin, he will also play his acoustic guitar, mandolin and another instrument called the mandocello.

“The mandocello is this huge crazy mandolin, and the one I bring to Park City is a relic,” he said. “It’s a 1924 Gibson that I’ve had since I was 14. I rarely take it out on the road, but I have to for those Christmas songs.

The gig will start with the O’Connors and the band performing as an ensemble, before breaking things up into duets and solos, O’Connor said.

“The duets will be between Maggie and me or Forrest and me,” he said. “Then I will play solos on each of the instruments in succession.”

The concert is based on and named after O’Connor’s 2011 album “Appalachian Christmas”.

“Over the years, I’ve recorded Christmas songs here and there, and it added to all those songs on the album,” he said. “It’s a record made over a few decades and compiled into one release, so there’s a lot of variety.”

Violinist Maggie O’Connor will join her husband, Mark O’Connor, and their son, Forrest O’Connor, on stage at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts for Tuesday’s “An Appalachian Christmas” concert.
Photo taken by Southern Ground Photography

O’Connor, who performed with the Utah Symphony Orchestra at the Deer Valley Music Festival, decided to name the album “Appalachian Christmas” to continue the concept he and two other Grammy-winning musicians – the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and bassist Edgar Meyer – created with the albums “Appalachian Waltz” and “Appalachian Journey”.

“As I did with those albums, I thought about all those Christmas songs and the music that emanates from where we live in North Carolina,” O’Connor said. “There is a real and beautiful variety of musical styles that come from this part of the country. Sometimes people forget the diversity of music that follows the development of what I call the American fiddle over the past 300 years.

These diverse styles include blues, spirituals, ragtime, swing, bluegrass and folk, he said.

“It’s like musical education, because there are so many different musical languages, and ‘Appalachian Christmas’ represents that stylistic breadth of tradition — that mystical, magical nature of instrumental music from that region,” said O’Connor.

This diversity and the organic feel of the instruments he works with is another reason why O’Connor enjoys performing his holiday show.

“I love acoustic instruments, and I think those instruments and Christmas make a great combination,” he said. “You have the Christmas tree, with the wood and natural elements that most people bring home. Then you have these beautiful wooden instruments.

O’Connor also thinks there’s more music being played during the holiday season.

“When you think about it, people who don’t usually sing the rest of the year will find themselves singing Christmas songs,” he laughed. “So it all fits.”

O’Connor is grateful to be back on the road after canceling all concert appearances last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Maggie and I have kept ourselves busy by presenting 70 straight weeks of concerts online every Monday from home,” he said. “It kept us physically fit and kept us active.”

The two are also working on a new duet album and have pivoted The O’Connor Method, their music education string camps, to a virtual format.

“Our next will be the first week of January, but we hope to resume our in-person camps this summer,” he said.

O’Connor has also written and recorded a new solo guitar album called “Markology II”.

“The album is a 42-year sequel to the first solo guitar album I made when I was 16,” he said.

Multi-instrumentalist Forrest O’Connor, son of Grammy-winning violinist Mark O’Connor, will perform “An Appalachian Christmas” concert with his father and mother, Maggie O’Connor, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday. .
Photo by John David Pittman

O’Connor dedicated “Markology II” to his mentor, bluegrass guitarist Tony Rice, who died a year ago.

“Tony played on my first album and helped me mix it,” O’Connor said. “He was a big brother to me.”

O’Connor appreciated that someone like Rice cared enough to work with him and would like more adults to help young people find their way into music.

“I like to remind people when they think of Christmas gifts for kids that they might want to try the gift of music or an instrument that those kids can practice and play with,” he said. “The playing of instruments is important in American culture. I think they should still be. If more people played instruments together, I think it would improve our culture.

One of O’Connor’s favorite childhood gifts was two years of music lessons given to him by his father’s boss.

“He could have gotten me a toy car kit or a train, but he paid for music lessons,” O’Connor said. “And look what it did.”

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