The Oregonian
November 27, 2005

 

Spreading the Legacy of Daniel Pearl – through music

 

By: MARGIE BOULÉ

 

It is a striking violin.

 

The wood is rich; the tone is bright and full. It has the ability to stir people, its notes creating a kind of speech beyond words.

 

Which is fitting, since the violin was created in honor of a man who loved words and music equally. He was a man whose name Daniel Pearl became famous because of his horrific 2002 kidnapping and murder by terrorists in Pakistan.

 

With this violin, people who loved Daniel in life or came to love his memory after he was killed hope to honor The Wall Street Journal reporter who traveled the world as a journalist and took a musical instrument wherever he went.

 

This violin will travel, too. Every year it is given to a different promising young violinist who will play it and share with audiences at every performance a message of world peace and the story of Daniel Pearl’s life.

 

The violin was created by a master instrument maker, Jonathan Cooper. It is awarded each year by a famous performer and composer, Mark O’Connor.

 

And this year, it lives in Oregon in the hands of a musician Mark calls “amazing,” and “one of our really bright prospects in this next generation.” Jonathan Cooper calls him “an extraordinary musician . . . Rather than playing notes, he plays ideas.”

 

In 2003 and 2004, the violin was given to musicians in their 20s, well on their way to promising musical careers. But the 2005 recipient is a junior high school boy, a 13-year-old from Corvallis named Alex Hargreaves.

 

Don’t let his age fool you. This kid can play.

 

“Alex was obviously drawn to music at a young age,” says his mother, Robin Silver. “The way he responded to music played live in our home, or recordings, I thought, ‘Gee, I’ll do some experimenting.’ “

 

When Alex was 3, Robin introduced him to the Suzuki method of violin training. “By age 4 he was still interested, so we got him lessons,” Robin says. Soon after, Alex expressed interest in learning Texas-style fiddling.

 

“He took off on both styles quickly,” Robin says. “And as time went on, it seemed he did have a natural feel for different styles.”

 

“Almost any style he came across,” says Alex’s dad, David Hargreaves, “he tried to play like the people who are part of that tradition, rather than sounding like a classical player trying to play fiddle music or a fiddle player trying to sound like a classical player.”

 

Driven by Alex’s interest, his parents located teachers who were, in David’s words, “masters of those traditions, to get to the roots of whatever it is, whether Scottish or Texas or Appalachian.” When he was 11, Alex developed an interest in swing and jazz music. “He was listening to all different jazz styles and adapting them to the violin,” David says.

 

Alex’s fascination and his talent took him far at a young age. As a classical violinist he’s been concertmaster and guest soloist with the Willamette Chamber Orchestra. Playing Texas-style fiddle, Alex became the youngest person ever to win the Championship Division of the Oregon Oldtime Fiddlers Contest this year. He’s performed with the Sawtooth Mountain Boys, the U.S. Navy Bluegrass Band, the David Grisman Quintet and many others.

 

His enthusiasm and ability drew attention when he attended a summer music conference in 2004 and again last summer, sponsored by Mark O’Connor. Mark, the only artist ever to win Grammy awards for both classic and country music recordings, says Alex “not only is young and gifted, but he’s got some incredible staying power. He’s one of the folks that jammed late into the night.”

 

Jonathan Cooper also was at the conference. “There are a lot of kids around these days who are technically very proficient musicians, really hot players,” Jonathan says. “But Alex is extraordinary in that when he plays, he really is capable of a musical conversation with just about anyone. The first time I saw him, he was playing with amazing musicians and he wasn’t just keeping up, playing the notes, he was actually in the conversation. Everyone was stunned by the way he played, completely relaxed and at ease.”

 

But his versatility really made Alex stand out. “When he pours himself into a certain style, it feels like that’s all he does,” says Mark, who has made a name blending diverse musical styles. “Then all of a sudden he’ll switch gears and do something else, and your ear is telling you that’s all he does.”

 

The world came to know Daniel Pearl’s name because of his career as a journalist and his awful death. But Daniel also was a musician who played diverse styles of fiddle music. No matter where Daniel’s writing career took him, “he always carried a fiddle and a mandolin every place he went,” says Jackie Gelfand, executive director of the Daniel Pearl Foundation. “He’d sit down and make music and bring people together.”

 

Jonathan was watching TV at his home in Maine when he learned Daniel Pearl had been killed. “They showed a photo of him playing the fiddle in a band, and I said, ‘This guy’s a fiddle player?’ Then I saw his wife; she was such a lovely person, saying things about wanting a more peaceful world.” Jonathan’s own brother is a journalist. He felt drawn to make a violin in Daniel’s memory.

 

When the instrument was finished, Jonathan presented it to the Daniel Pearl Foundation at a concert in Boston in 2003. Mark accepted the violin on behalf of the foundation.

 

That night, at the concert, Daniel’s bandmates played a recording they made before Daniel’s death. “They took out their tracks, leaving Daniel’s part,” Jonathan says. “Then they played the tape of Daniel, and played their parts live. It was eerie, like he was playing the violin from the great beyond.”

 

The Daniel Pearl Foundation promotes world peace through music, journalism and dialogue. It funds scholarships and internships, gives awards and organizes an annual Daniel Pearl Music Day, when hundreds of concerts around the world celebrate his life and dreams.

 

The foundation also lends the beautiful violin to someone each year. “There’s something really special about the fact the violin will be passed on from musician to musician over the years,” says David Hargreaves. “It’s like a musical tune, a couple hundred years old, passed on, and each musician adds a different twist. This violin will be part of that kind of tradition, so people won’t forget what Daniel Pearl stood for.”

 

Alex Hargreaves may only be 13, but he’s done research on Daniel Pearl’s life, and is aware of the responsibility that comes with the violin. “I am so honored to play it,” Alex says. “And so honored to spread the word about the importance of peace through music.”

 

Margie Boule: marboule@aol.com; 503-221-8450