Music series brings Old Town School masters to area L stops for mini concerts

SHARE Music series brings Old Town School masters to area L stops for mini concerts

Ever heard thedulcet strains of a Chinese erhu? Or the cimbalom? Ever tap your toes to the rhythmic strains of a master Irish fiddler? Or the fiery wails of Balkan folk music emanating from a clarinet?

At the Old Town School of Folk Music, those instruments, and the musical styles and cultures they represent, are but a sampling of what the school offers year-round via classes and concerts. This month, the school is taking it all to the streets of Chicago, more specifically, the eight lines of the CTA’s L system.

Under the banner “Iron Heart Chicago,” the Old Town School’s free festival of L-stop music celebrates key local musicians whose artistry is internationally acclaimed and locally revered. From 4 to 6 p.m. June 10-17, you can take in free, two-hour outdoor setsfeaturing traditional folk music from myriad world cultures courtesy of six master musicians: Delta bluesman Jimmy Burns, All-Ireland champion and NEA National Heritage Fellow fiddler Liz Carroll, NEA National Heritage Fellow and Romanian/Gypsy cimbalom master Nicolae Feraru, Grammy-nominated Mariachi/folk violinist Juan Rivera and his Huasteco Trio, Greek clarinetist Jim Stoynoff and Chinese erhu virtuoso Betti Xiang.

Bau Graves, executive director of the Old Town School of Folk Music | SUPPLIED PHOTO

Bau Graves, executive director of the Old Town School of Folk Music | SUPPLIED PHOTO

“All year round, the Old Town School is in the business of presenting the work of great folk artists from all over the world,” said Bau Graves, executive director of the Old Town School of Folk Music. “And I knew we have some absolute virtuoso-level performers who are heroes in their constituencies and their communities. But outside those environments, they’re practically unknown for the most part. I felt it would be great to expose Chicagoans to some of these great musicians who might live in their own neighborhoods and they don’t even know it.”

Since the Old Town School has facilities on Armitage Avenue just off the Brown Line and in Lincoln Square at the Brown Line’s Western Avenue stop, Graves said utilizingL stops across Chicago for40 scheduled concerts was a no-brainer.

“The L stops are our lifeblood to the community,” Graves said. “I don’t think we’d be the success we are as a school and a concert venue if it weren’t for the L stops.” Some of the other stops slated for music performances include California on the Pink Line, 95th/Dan Ryan on the Red, Kedzie on the Orange, Belmont on the Red/Brown/Purple and Garfield on the Green.

“With this series we have the opportunity to reach out to the people directly,” said Jim Stoynoff, a master of the Balkan folk clarinet, who specializes in Greek folk music via the wind instrument. “Truth be told, the clarinet was being used since the mid-nineteenth century in Greek and Balkan music.”

Stoynoff has been playing the clarinet for 52 years, as a self-taught pre-teen and thenwith his high school marching band. He took lessons from acclaimed Greek folk clarinetists who visited the States and studied the instrumentin Greece for several years. He has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Silk Road Ensemble.

“I think the most fun of this will be the people’s reaction to hearing this music live at an L stop,” Stoynoff said. “Lots of people will hear music they’ve not heard before.” Stoynoff will be accompanied by a bass player, a percussionist and a master santouri player (a classic Greek stringed instrument).

Erhu master Betti Xiang. | SUPPLIED PHOTO

Erhu master Betti Xiang. | SUPPLIED PHOTO

For Betti Xiang, a master erhu soloist who is also a member of the Silk Road Ensemble, the chance to play the unusual two-stringed instrument at an L stop will be a unique experience.

“I have no idea what to expect,” Xiang said excitedly, “but I realize this is a good way for people to hear this instrument. After all, people go to the theater to hear music all the time, and I’ve played Millennium Park. So it’s really just another great way to let the music be heard outdoors. Maybe they will discover a new instrument they really like.”

Xiang’s love for the erhu began when she was 4 years old in her native Shanghai, China, listening to her father, erhu master Xiang Zuying. “I always heard my father and asked him to teach me,” Xiang said of the two-stringed, vertical fiddle-type instrument.” Xiang gives lessons in the instrument when she’s not appearing with top ensembles and orchestras across the globe.

“I play primarily Chinese folk songs, but people might be surprised when they hear very modern music or classical music. Maybe I’ll play some Bach at the L stop. That will be wild!”

NOTE: A special Iron Heart Finale concert featuring all six artists is slated for July 29 at the Old Town School.

For a full schedule/L stops visit

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