Steely Sweetness

Tai Murray tells stories through her violin

Oct 29, 2008 at 2:06 pm

Some kids might admit to their parents that they want to play a musical instrument. Some might even want to make it their lives. Tai Murray was like that at the age of 2 — but she also had an uncanny sense others lack.

“At a very young age, I knew it would entail a lot of work,” Murray says. “All that stuff — practice, hard work. I just knew it. I was serious and I kept badgering my mom for the next three years until she said OK and I got the crackerjack box with a ruler and never looked back.”

The self-aware toddler has grown into an assured and accomplished violinist, earning critical acclaim for her technique, her virtuosity and her depth of tone, mature sound and steely sweetness. She performs Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra this Friday and Saturday at Music Hall.

Now 26, Murray has been performing for 17 years, making her debut at the age of 9 performing Mozart’s “Violin Concerto in D Major” with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

“It was really fun for me,” she says. “I was doing a string of concerts, so when I was done, I’d go backstage and play Legos with my brother.”

Murray began her studies in Chicago, but when she was 8 the family moved to Bloomington, Ind., where Indiana University’s outstanding music school offered Murray opportunities for intensive study.

“There’s an amazing faculty there and I just soaked it all up,” she says.

In addition to private lessons, Murray attended master classes with the legendary violinist and teacher Josef Gingold and performed in chamber groups and orchestras. Along the way, she and her mother got the university to implement a pre-college program for young music students.

“I’d been home schooled and I was ready for college level courses,” she says. “My mom went to the administration and asked if I could take courses while I was at the music school.”

Murray was 17 with a nearly completed bachelor’s degree in French when she entered the artist’s diploma program. After finishing at IU, she entered Julliard for another artist diploma.

“My education is so boggled,” she says ruefully. “Julliard offers bachelor’s and master’s programs, but I was so busy performing that I would have gotten kicked out.”

The schedule hasn’t let up. This is already Murray’s second appearance with the CSO, playing the exquisitely lyrical Barber Violin Concerto, a work she describes as a novel without words that begins with the solo violin.

“I love this concerto because it uses all the qualities we assume the violin possesses — the singing, the facility of the instrument. It’s such a spoken work. There’s a statement in that first note. It’s such a story, and I love telling it.”

Murray loves sharing her story with young musicians, and she’s already in a position to take a mentoring role. And although she acknowledges the difficulties facing African-American children who aspire to careers in classical music, Murray says the real challenges transcend racial barriers.

“Kids who’ve never seen a violin, never heard a violin, they all respond because it’s music,” she says. “Just getting to these kids is the issue. They’re already interested. It is not a color thing.”

She shakes her head as she tells how her mother, now teaching fifth grade in Philadelphia, told her principal she wanted Murray to perform for the students. He wasn’t interested.

“My mother was flabbergasted, and not because she’s my mother but because here is an opportunity for these kids to hear a world-class instrumentalist, to hear something new, and he’s asking why.”

TAI MURRAY performs with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra 11 a.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday. Get details and find nearby bars and restaurants here.