Jason Hurwitz  

My Ideal Orchestra - Barrage

Jason Hurwitz
September 1, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

In this Article, violinist Jason Hurwitz opens with the phrase - "I get paid to live my dream."That dream is his position as a performer with Barrage, what he calls an "in-your-face alternative violin show."Jason talks about his training as a classical violinist, and how he yearned to explore other types of music with his violin in hand. He describes his path prior to joining Barrage, and what it took to join the ranks of such a renowned and fast-paced group. Jason's story is an excellent reminder that there are endless paths and possibilities for musicians - you just have to keep your dream in mind and work hard to make it happen.

- Stephen Danyew

My Ideal Orchestra – Barrage

I get paid to live my dream.

Twenty years ago, when I began playing the violin, alternative strings were just that – alternative. Most private teachers were not telling their students to listen to both Paganini and Ponty, nor were they suggesting that after learning a Bach partita students work on “Foggy Mountain Special” by Earl Flat and Lester Scruggs. Most school orchestra programs stuck to classical standards, teaching major and minor scales, arpeggios, and sight reading while ignoring modalities, chord progressions, and improvisation. Consequently, string students grew up ready to play symphonies and wedding music, but were ill-prepared to sit in on a jazz jam or hoedown. Of course, there were pockets of resistance to the close-mindedness of the classical string world: Stephane Grappelli, Mark O’Connor, Mark Wood, the Turtle Island String Quartet, and even the United States Air Force Strolling Strings all pushed the antiquated stylistic boundaries of string instruments. There were also forward-thinking music educators creating alternative string groups in their schools, which allowed students to discover that their instruments could be used to play not only classical music but jazz, bluegrass, swing, rock, even mariachi tunes!

Then, in the late 90s, the alternative strings world was rocked by the emergence of Barrage, an in-your-face alternative violin show. Having seen the success of Riverdance and Stomp, the creators of Barrage questioned, “Well, why not a violin show?” and soon had a PBS special on TV. Since its creation 13 years ago, Canadian-based Barrage has wowed crowds in 24 countries including China, Guatemala, Denmark, the United States, and Canada with its combination of very difficult and impressive music, choreography, and atmosphere. Barrage provides theater and festival patrons with an experience that is truly unique.

It turns out that “unique” element was exactly what was missing from my musical life, though it wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I realized this. As concertmaster of my high school’s orchestra, I had trouble keeping my feet planted firmly on the ground– usually, I ended up just letting my feet dance while I kept my body (mostly) on the chair. People would come up to me after concerts to tell me that they really enjoyed watching me “dance in my seat” while playing the concerts; however, I knew that, were I to follow the path of most violinists, a professional symphony orchestra would never allow me to move in that way. I needed something that blended fun music with movement, something that paid the bills while allowing me to enjoy the musicianship that I had been cultivating since I was five.

This was the battle I was fighting with my violin during my senior year of high school. Then, I saw Barrage for the first time.

The violinists were all solid musicians!

They sang!

They danced!

They interacted with the audience!

They had fun with their instruments and each other!

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