If your Christmas was anything like mine, you spent several days with extended family over the weekend. One of my favorite parts of this exercise is catching up with younger members of the clan, and hearing about their plans for college and beyond. I’m fortunate to have my son and a nephew studying music, and this has kept my interest where bluegrassers in college is concerned at a high level this past few years.
We’ve showcased a number of educational institutions who welcome grassers to study, and some of the talented young musicians who follow their dreams of a career in music to college here on Bluegrass Today. You can access these posts by following our Bluegrass In College tag.
Today, we will introduce you to Mason Wright, a 21 year old fiddler/violinist who has been studying at Shenandoah Conservatory in Virginia. Mason is the eldest of 5 children, all of whom are home schooled, and whose parents make great sacrifices of time and treasure to ensure that they also receive an outstanding arts education – better, in fact, than what most students receive in government or private schools.
His younger siblings perform as The Wright Kids, which had included Mason before he went of to school. They are popular performers throughout southwestern Virginia and North Carolina, and within the local school systems where they appear regularly. The group was also selected as finalists on the 2009 edition of America’s Got Talent on the NBC television network.
We asked Mason to give us an overview of his introduction to music, and his path to studying in college.
“I was born in Rocky Mount, Virginia in 1989 and introduced to music at an early age. My grandfather, Larry Robertson, was a musician, playing primarily guitar and banjo, who also repaired instruments, so I grew up listening to the sounds of bluegrass and Chet Atkins style guitar at my grandparent’s house.
I first met the violin when I was only six years old. My parents, Barry and Susie Wright, had wanted me to play an instrument, particularly the violin or piano. Given the decision between the two, I had a hard time making up my mind. One week it was violin, and the next it was piano. One particular week when I had decided on the violin, my parents decided to act on this decision before I could change my mind again. So, violin it was.
That day, my dad brought home a black case with silver fasteners and sat it on the counter. Barely as tall as the countertop, I was eager to see what was inside. The silver clasps were undone and the case opened to reveal a green felt lining that surrounded the new half sized instrument, along with a fiberglass bow. My folks said that I took the violin and bow, and with a great deal of excitement, began to vigorously play the open strings.
Around this time as my parents were looking for a teacher, a young lady named Ilga Thompson brought her violin to my grandfather for repair. Before long, she was my first violin teacher, coming to our house once a week for lessons. Ilga gave me a great start on the violin, learning not only how to play, but to read music, and music theory.
After I had learned the basics, and had a few pieces under my belt, my dad decided I was was ready to play for an audience. The performance took place in our kitchen, on a small, carpeted stage that my dad made for me. Schoolteachers, friends and family were all in attendance. The recital was a success and soon after this, I began to perform publicly. My first gig was as a strolling violinist at a local coffee shop in Rocky Mount called The Coffee Grinder, where I was paid in cheesecake.
After studying classical violin for two years, my grandfather got me interested in bluegrass and started taking me to fiddle lessons with Johnnie Haskins, a well known fiddler in the Roanoke area who showed me all the fundamentals of fiddling. Around this time, I began going to fiddler’s conventions and participating in the contests.
While working up my fiddle chops, I was also looking to advance in the classical world. I joined the Roanoke Symphony’s Junior Strings program under the direction of Joanne Steele, and after four years in the Junior Strings, joined the Roanoke Youth Symphony Orchestra at the age of 12 (directed by Jim Glazebrook). In the RYSO, I was able to become acquainted with the world of orchestral music, which really grew my musical horizons. During this time, I was studying violin with Jane Wang, violinist in the Roanoke Symphony, as well as Benedict Goodfriend, violinist with the renowned Kandinsky Trio.
Soon, I began performing bluegrass along with classical music, giving solo performances accompanied by my grandfather on guitar. Soon my little sister Sage, who also played fiddle, joined the group. The trio began to play more frequently, including live performances and local television appearances. It wasn’t long before little brother Baruch joined the group, and the group became known as The Wright Kids. The Wright Kids recorded our first album Havin’ Fun in 2005 with guest artists Dale Perry on banjo, and Jeff Midkiff on mandolin. After the next youngest sibling, Levi, joined us, our second album, Playin’ on the Job was released in 2008.
In 2007, I was accepted to Shenandoah Conservatory and became a student the fall of that year majoring in violin performance. I’ve been studying violin with Akemi Takayama, violinist of the Audubon Quartet, and I’ve also been able to study chamber music with other members of the quartet. But I’ve also continued to pursue a career in bluegrass with Romeny, WV based bluegrass band Lonesome Highway since 2009.
Here he is tearing up Big Mon with Lonesome Highway, shot at a late night IBMA showcase in 2009.
Currently Mason is taking some time off from school as many young folks do, but looks forward to returning to Shenandoah to finish his degree in the near future. At this time, he is available for session work, lessons, and any other music projects. You can reach through either Facebook or MySpace.