This week I have been in Macon Georgia, the place which gave us Otis
Redding, Little Richard, The Allman Brothers and violinist Robert McDuffie.
McDuffie in Lights
McDuffie has founded a center for string players in his hometown, limited to
26 elite players, and the group will be making its New York City debut on February
4, 2013 at (le) Poisson Rouge with a program that includes the Glass Sextet for
Strings (Symphony No.3), Prokofiev's Sonata for Two Violins, and the complete
Glass Violin Concerto No.2 "The American Four Seasons" with full orchestra.
McDuffie has been asking me to visit his Deep South hometown for years and
being the entrenched Northeasterner that I am, I resisted. However, my visit in
Macon of the past few days has been wonderfully eye opening. It's been
filled with architectural beauty, nice people, and most importantly great
Macon is a place that was seemingly largely spared the destruction of the
civil war. Consequently there are these stunning historically registered grand mansions in
abundance. One of these houses, the Bell House (which was seen on the
cover of the first Allman Bros. record) has just been announced as the new home
for the McDuffie Center for Strings – part of Mercer University and the
Townsend School of Music.
A vestige of the Old South
Despite my own prejudices about the South being a cultural wasteland, on Wednesday
I attended an ensemble of students practicing the Bruch Octet. Moments later I found myself encountering an
organ expert from Marseille France repairing and rebuilding an organ that was dismantled
in Paris to be rebuilt here at the Townsend School, then again moments later I
stood in on a rehearsal with McDuffie playing a Bach Concerto for two violins
with the Center’s dynamic music director Amy Schwartz Moretti.
The big event in Macon this week is the filming of their Christmas special A GRAND MERCER CHRISTMAS
for public television. The downtown’s
Grand Opera House (1884) is the venue and McDuffie is the master of
ceremonies. I took some time to drive
around the greater area to see the Macon profonde;
the Macon that isn’t just about incredible architecture and cultural initiatives.
What I found was the wasteland that is an exact replica of all the
mistakes of suburban sprawl across America, no better-no worse than anywhere else.
The endless strip malls and roadside McDonalds, Krispy Kreme, K Mart, Family Dollar and other national
retail outlets (I could have been in California, Oklahoma, or Western
Massachusetts)– in tandem with lots of abandoned homes, the product of the
mortgage crisis and misguided zoning strategies over the past 50 years. All
this seems to be the visible part of the death struggle for that kind of
Koyaanisqatsi-like way of life which calls for another way of living.
McDuffie at the Grand Opera House for A Grand Mercer Christmas
The point of all this is that McDuffie is truly the guy who wants to make
the somewhat beaten down a little backwards place that he comes from a better place; and he’s
actually doing something about it. Macon
has “good bones” and another decade of smart decisions could make it a very
special place. For a glimpse of what
they’ve got going on you can perhaps catch Macon’s Christmas special on PBS or
better yet, come to New York in February and hear the level of musical excellence
that McDuffie is harboring in his hometown. McDuffie's passion was enough to coerce a snob like me down here and believe in what he's doing. And that's not an easy thing to do.