I performed “The Train Song” at a September salon concert for members of the Founding Consortium, along with expert help from ROCO bassist Erik Gronfor and train whistler Suzanne Lyons (aka the ROCO Cookie Lady). I had contemplated whether or not to program “The Train Song” for this particular soiree, fearful that it might be too low-brow for our ROCO patrons. But since this piece has been so well-received by other audiences, I took the chance.
I have never claimed to be a versatile musician. Classical music was my calling, and I was perfectly content to keep it that way. However, my first ministry trip to Cuba in 2009 motivated me to broaden my horizons.
I travel to my sister church in Havana at least one time each year. One morning during my first visit, our group was waiting to depart for a day filled with activities. Eventually our trip leader, Jack, boarded the bus and announced that we would not be attending a performance by the National Ballet that evening as the ballet was on tour. Instead, Tammy and John Winkler would perform a concert and we would invite all of our church friends in the neighborhood to attend. Then, Jack turned toward me and said, “Tammy, is that okay?” What I wanted to say was “Jack, you have a lot to learn about high strung classical violinists!” However, I opted for the more gracious reply and said that I would be happy to.
Later that day, as this impromptu concert was underway, Jack opened his mouth again. “Tammy, why don’t you play some Bluegrass for our Cuban friends?” My brain was racing with thoughts such as “What could you possibly be thinking? How could you make such a request? WHO DO YOU THINK I AM?!” This time I opted for the stunned, deer in the headlights look. I could not think of a single tune that I could even attempt to pass off as Bluegrass. Shortly thereafter, I resolved that I would have at least a passable rendition of “The Orange Blossom Special” ready by the time I returned to Cuba the following year.
A dream come true for me has been making music with my Cuban counterparts. We perform concerts together every time I travel to Cuba. Apart from music that has been bootlegged into the country, Cuba has been quite isolated from American music since the time of the 1959 revolution. It has been one of my great joys to bring and share American music with Cuban audiences. Equally wonderful is my being exposed to Cuba’s rich musical heritage and bringing their music back to the US. These musical exchanges aid in building bridges above the animosities of our two governments.
So in 2010, I made my fiddling debut in Havana. It is still slightly frightening to think that I may be setting the standard for Bluegrass in Cuba, but I am fortunate that my audiences lack a point of reference. As it turns out, the Cubans have an insatiable appetite for “The Orange Blossom Special,” now more affectionately known as “El Tren.”
River Oaks and Havana are a world apart, but now they are linked by this classical violinist (and occasional fiddler) and a mutual appreciation of “The Train Song.”
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