The idea of this interview comes from Ian Anderson who was instrumental in helping Ann-Marie Calhoun get the attention she deserves as musician – and as a person, too, as the lady’s quite shy and soft-spoken. But if you engage her in conversation – which this scribe did before the JETHRO TULL pilot came down to take Ann Marie on-stage to rehearse together for the first time – and you can’t help but fall under Ms Calhoun’s charm and wit. Then you hear and see her play her burning violin and you become a fan. You already are – if you were at one of the concerts of the last leg of Anderson’s orchestral tour or his main band’s acoustic trek. Yet there’s more to Ann Marie and her music, so why not follow Ian’s idea and introduce the lady to the audience?
- Entering the picture out of the blue – for rock fans, I mean – could you, please, tell a bit about yourself?
I’ve been playing the violin since the age of three and come from a classical and folk music background. While music has always been an important part of my life, I actually spent the past five years as a full-time teacher of conceptual physics and chemistry at an all-boys school in Virginia. No matter how hard I keep trying to become a professor, music keeps calling me away. After touring Italy and Africa with a band called KANTARA and touring with an acoustic ensemble called OLD SCHOOL FREIGHT TRAIN, I realized that I needed to take time to explore music. I’m taking a leave of absence this year to play music full time.
- How did Ian Anderson find you and what was your initial reaction to his proposition to tour with him?
Ian found out about me through a mutual friend of ours. I think that he initially contacted me to humor his friend, but I went through and sent him some demo materials. I didn’t have a current biography, pictures, or even a demo recording of myself. I put it all together quite quickly and doubted that I would hear back from him. At first, I didn’t really take the opportunity seriously. I figured there was no way that Ian would offer me to tour without ever seeing me or hearing me play live. When he did, I was blown away by his trust in me as a musician. I was just handed this amazing opportunity out of the blue, and it took a while for it to sink in.
- Were you aware of Ian’s music before he got in touch?
I had to google “Ian Anderson” when he first contacted me. I loved discovering his music for the first time. I’m a new fan.
- Was the concert in Israel your first encounter with classic rock ‘n’ roll – as opposed to recording with Dave Matthews?
My concert in Israel was a big first on many levels. I’ve performed acoustic music my entire life, and playing classic rock ‘n’ roll on a stage was a completely fresh experience. However, I don’t think that the music we played was typical rock. I was playing with an orchestra and there were just enough classical and folky elements to the music to keep me tethered to familiar experiences.
- What feelings were there when the orchestra and that flute started playing your pieces such as “Runty”?
It is always amazing to hear a composition of yours come to life. It’s almost surreal to realize that a little piece you wrote about your cat has been arranged for orchestra and performed with a legendary flautist. I got fan mail after the concert and somebody told me that they would name their next cat “Runty”. Another artist contacted me to draw Runty’s portrait. I’m in awe that my cat has international recognition!
- What did you learn from the experience of working with Anderson?
I’ve been learning a lot about stage presence. Before I played the Israel concert, I had never seen Ian perform live. In our rehearsals, he was really laid back and saving his energy for the show. I couldn’t believe how energetic and enthusiastic he was in the live show! I had to figure out how to reflect his energy in my own playing and it was exciting to interact with him on stage.
I’ve also learned a lot about electronic gear. I had never used a violin pick-up or a zoom box to adjust my levels before. Ian’s sound crew were so sweet and understanding to help me figure out everything. Ian was also very generous in helping me learn the gear and in helping me adjust levels during soundcheck.
- What was the audience’s reaction when you played with JETHRO TULL?
Honestly, I don’t think I remember if the audience acted any differently when I played with the band. I remember that the audience was enthusiastic, and I felt like they were receptive to everything we played.
- Playing both classical music and country, which of the two styles you think you belong to?
I don’t think that I belong to any style. I prefer to say that I’m informed by both styles and that I’m open to any other style that I immerse myself in.
- Could you, then, describe the difference between a violin and a fiddle?
A violin and a fiddle are physically this same instrument. The term “fiddle” is used in the folk and country music genre.
- You played bluegrass almost since the very birth. What did you think of “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” – that, as they say, revived the genre – when the movie was out?
I remember that the soundtrack for the movie became popular in the States. I liked bluegrass before it was “cool” and it was neat to see other people discovering that they liked bluegrass music too.
- How did studying biology inform your music?
Studying biology gave me discipline and made me more efficient at practicing. I had to divide my time between practicing concertos, playing bluegrass gigs, and studying for exams. You really learn how to “practice smart” when your time is divided like that. Also, when you have to memorize all the processes that go on in cellular respiration, it actually makes memorizing music easier. I believe that when you stimulate the brain in one way, it has benefits in other disciplines as well.
- Being so young, how do you feel when teaching music? Teenagers are quite tough audience…
I’m older than I look and have been teaching for five years. I am lucky to work at Woodberry Forest School. The students are hand-picked for their character and their academic ability. The boys respect me and are a pleasure to teach. Teaching is a lot like performing music. When I am in front of my class, I know that I need to capture their attention. The way I move, speak, and convey information are almost like stage choreography.
- What is your next move after the TULL tour is over?
If only I knew the answer to that question! Actually, I have plans to tour with TULL through some of next year and I am also touring with KANTARA. KANTARA plays a unique Arabic-Appalachian fusion music and will be touring in Africa and Italy next year. I also have some recording jobs lined up and I want to work on my own compositions and music in my free time. I have a simple one-page web site at annmariecalhoun.com where you can see my tentative tour plans.