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Heart, Art & Soul: Castle headlines elementary school art program benefit
By Scott Rasmussen, Journal editor
Smitten by music at an early age, and in school no less, Seattle-based violin virtuoso Geoffrey Castle carved out a career as a professional musician in part by using the latest technology to breathe new life into his instrument of choice. And as art and music programs continue to fall by the wayside, Castle has embraced a new role as an ambassador for school art programs, donating his time to ensure that they survive. He headlines a benefit concert for the Friday Harbor Elementary School Arts Program, May 31 and June 1.
Journal: What sparked your interest to make music a professional pursuit?
GC: I love telling this story on stage. I was going to college, and I had one of those jobs you do in college: I was shelving books in the library, and it wasn’t exactly the most fun job ever... so one day, I went out on Broadway with my violin and played for half and hour... and made a week’s wages. I was hooked. I’ve been a professional musician (with a Cum Laude English Degree from Columbia University) ever since. If you can make a living making music, why would you ever want to do anything else?
Journal: Of all the instruments, why the violin?
GC: No one in my family played the violin. There was no “grandpa’s old violin” in the closet or anything like that. I was inspired to get started by my best friend back in elementary school who was something of a genius on the instrument. The school had a music program, and I thought it was fun. And I stayed with it. That’s why I support school music programs all over the U.S.: if it hadn’t been for the music programs at all age levels when I was growing up, I’d probably be working in a cubicle somewhere.
Journal: What inspired the techno-aspect approach, loops, etc., emblematic of your shows?
GC: I love taking gear that was made for guitar players and turning it to my own nefarious purposes. I remember the day I used my first digital loop sampler, back in 2002. I think I used it on a gig 2 weeks later, and I never looked back.
Journal: What are your favorite violin pieces?
GC: I have no idea (laughing). Really. Violin pieces? Most of what I do is either original, or pop, or rock, or from some ethnic tradition like Celtic (Irish) music. I actually revel in doing material that no one would ever expect to hear coming from a violin. I’m more likely to play “Metal” than Mozart.
Journal: How did your parents influence in your early musical pursuits?
GC: They got me lessons, drove me to orchestra practice, chamber music rehearsals, string quartet gigs in Washington D.C.… on my 16th birthday, they gave me the keys to the family car and did a little dance. They live in (New York City) and I live in Seattle, and their biggest regret is that the distance makes it hard for them to come to the show. They have no idea how I turned out this way. My mom was a librarian, and my father is a retired Navy man, who is a published author and expert on Persian Gulf policy and now teaches a political science seminar in the graduate school at Columbia University.
Journal: How about a few tips for parents for encouraging creativity in their children?
GC: Tell those kids to put down the phone and go practice! Oh yeah, and have fun too.
Journal: The guys in the band have “island ties”, right?
GC: My friends Steve Boyce (bass) and Jonathan Sindelman (keys) both lived in Friday Harbor and when they heard I was playing a concert at the San Juan Community Theatre to support Elementary School Arts programs, they both volunteered to come over and rock the place with me on Saturday night. Steve was telling me that his ancestors were some of the first non-native residents of the island, going all the way back, and Jonathan ran a wine distributorship sort of thing with ties all over the islands. They are wonderful guys and we’ll be joined by some other Friday Harbor talent on Saturday night as well. I think this is a great way to demonstrate just how music builds communities.
Journal: This concert is listed as a fundraiser for school arts programs. How did that come about?
GC: I really care about supporting music and art programs in schools. My wife is an artist, and my whole career came from having music in my schools growing up. These vital programs are getting cut all over the U.S. It’s not the brightest thing to do. Cutting a music program is not like turning off a light switch, where you can just turn it back on again when you can afford the bill. Cutting a music program is like cutting down a fruit bearing tree, that bears fruit that supports the whole community, year in and year out, and when you cut it down, it’s dead, and if you want it back, buddy, well, you’ll have to go grow yourself a new one. There are beautiful trees, decades in the making, being cut down all across this country, which is why I travel everywhere, doing big concerts (Synergia, Music Matters, etc), community concerts like the one I’m doing at the San Juan Theatre, workshops, assemblies, all to raise awareness of the true value of arts education in this country. I hope the word gets out to the community there on the islands and we can fill the place two nights in a row: it’s going to be fun and it’s for a great and noble cause.