March 10, 2023
About the Artist
Celebrating Mark O’Connor’s 50th anniversary as a musician, composer, recording artist,
bandleader and educator, O’Connor unveils the unique story of his childhood in music in
a new memoir. The book is a compelling and delightful examination of an American
musical journey unlike any other.
Although violinists have followed in O’Connor’s footsteps, using his career as a guide to
what is possible, few musicians braved a childhood odyssey like O’Connor’s. In the early
1970s, O’Connor made his mark as the first bona fide bluegrass and fiddle prodigy.
Following his instincts to go against the grain of conventional thinking—the heart of a
musical rebel was born.
During his teenage years, O’Connor was arguably the greatest fiddle champion in
American history. Combined, he racked up more 1st place finishes, more state, regional
championships and national titles in every region of the United States than any other
fiddler. O’Connor entered more than 200 contests nationwide with nearly a 50%
winning record. He has the best-combined record in the two major fiddle competitions,
National Old-Time Fiddlers Contest in Weiser, ID, and the Grand Masters Fiddle
Championships in Nashville, TN. At age 13, he was the youngest person ever to win the
Grand Masters Fiddle Championships competing against all ages, amateur and
professional. Nearly 50 years later, O’Connor’s record still stands.
While in his teens, O’Connor won a Canadian national title (Calgary, Alberta) and is still
the only artist ever to win the three sanctioned national and international U.S.
competitions on three different instruments; the fiddle, guitar and mandolin (Weiser,
ID; Winfield, KS; Kerrville, TX).
O’Connor’s success in competition summarizes only a portion of his astounding
achievements. The journey that brought him from child prodigy to daring the world with
the fiddle in a way it had not been heard before—as a lead instrument, as a relevant
solo voice in contemporary music after the Nashville music establishment had written it
off as old-fashioned, and in the forefront of a new iteration of American classical music
that incorporates the country’s various strains of roots music—makes O’Connor one of
the nation’s leading composers.
O’Connor’s early years in music are chronicled in his new memoir, Crossing Bridges: My
Journey from Child Prodigy to Fiddler Who Dared the World. O’Connor’s story includes
his own journey as much as how his life was shaped by the extraordinary artists he
learned from and worked with during his childhood years, including Benny Thomasson,
Stephane Grappelli, Roy Acuff, Vassar Clements, Merle Haggard, David Grisman, Rodney
Crowell, Bill Monroe, Steve Morse and the Dregs, John Hartford, Emmylou Harris, Chet
Atkins, J.D. Crowe, Tony Rice, Johnny Gimble, Joe Venuti, Byron Berline, Terry Morris,
Doc Watson, John Hartford, Patrick Simmons, Kenny Baker and Earl Scruggs.
Crossing Bridges details the personal triumphs, struggles and demons that inform the
decisions O’Connor makes about his music, career path and the risks he was willing to
take for a shot at the brass ring. In O’Connor’s professional journey, he has crossed
bridges from bluegrass to country to hot swing to classical, sometimes solely on the
strength of his own willpower to assert his voice as a solo artist hearing something no
one else seemed to hear in American music.
O’Connor is the only artist to have learned the fiddle from icons Stephane Grappelli,
Benny Thomasson and Vassar Clements as a child and then gone on to compose
symphonies and concertos and perform them with the greatest symphony orchestras in
the world in Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles and London. For many years, O’Connor has
enjoyed a close musical relationship with the two titans of instrumental music: jazz
musician Wynton Marsalis and classical musician Yo-Yo Ma. In his Nashville years,
O’Connor reinvented the fiddle in the modern country era, during which time he
collaborated with artists ranging from Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash, to James Taylor
and Twyla Tharp. His story is a sweep of history and personal reflection without
precedent in the world of music memoirs.
“To this day fans ask me what made that young boy from Seattle believe that he could
take his fiddle that far,” O’Connor says. “My story reminds me of the dedication it
required to develop something new at each critical stage of my youth and highlights the
demands I placed on myself in digging in for the maximum I could give. Many were
confused and wondered why I spent so much time working on things that few cared
about at the time. But as I mark a professional music career of five decades, it’s clear I
had a plan all along.”
O’Connor’s memoir traces his journey from his childhood years, when at age 10 he was
winning classical guitar competitions against University graduates, and at age 12 was
thrust as a soloist onto the Grand Ol’ Opry stage introduced by the “King of Country
Music,” Roy Acuff. It is a story of the child fiddler who learned tunes by ear from the
greatest American fiddlers of all time, used what he had learned to comprehend the
fiddle in a new light, and then reinvented himself as a classical violinist-composer-
teacher. Like Dvorak, Aaron Copland and Charles Ives before him, O’Connor stretched
the boundaries of classical music by daring to break with its hidebound formalism and
construct a new foundation out of indigenous music—folk, blues, country, bluegrass—in
order to fashion a new American classical voice.
For all its tales of his encounters with musicians famous and infamous, for all the
fascinating insights into the life and work of a touring child musician, Crossing Bridges
may be equally remembered for its gripping personal story and the struggles O’Connor
experienced in his formative years when his abusive, alcoholic father often turned
violent and lashed out at Mark, his mother and his sister.
“When I was 12 years-old, intimidation, ridiculing and fighting had begun at school. I
was living a double life, outwardly confident in music circles where being a good boy
was a virtue, but had a far different experience at the rough Seattle public schools,”
O’Connor says. “While withdrawing, hiding behind my longer hair and over-sized jacket
that I wore during school and never took off, I wished that I could be a bad boy so the
kids would respect me.”
O’Connor’s abusive, alcoholic father envisioned his son joining him as a common laborer
by the time Mark was 12. Mark’s mother who was dying of cancer, spirited her son and
daughter, Mark’s sister, to Nashville to get as far away from the kids’ father as possible
and to give Mark an opportunity to realize his potential as a professional musician. Mark
witnessed adult situations long before he was ready—touring with veteran bluegrass
musicians, giants in the field, who regularly invited girls on their buses for sexual trysts.
Mark’s onstage assurance melted away in his private life, when his lack of self-
confidence and paralyzing self-consciousness doomed his every intimate relationship.
Mark’s story also includes the drug abuse that some young musicians became victim to
in the 1970s when the hardships of the road were too much to bear.
O’Connor overcame it all. He grew into his successful solo career and made important
records along the way, including the pivotal The New Nashville Cats, an album that
announced the arrival of a new generation of A-team Nashville session players, the end
of O’Connor’s Nashville era and the beginning of his new identity and focus as a classical
artist/composer. The New Nashville Cats won two Grammy Awards.
O’Connor began to shape a new American classical music form with his acclaimed 1992
album Heroes; made his orchestral debut in a televised performance with John Williams
and the Boston Pops; composed The Fiddle Concerto that has received more
performances than any other violin concerto composed in the last 60 years; became the
first fiddler to share the Carnegie Hall stage with the world’s top classical violinists Isaac
Stern, Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell and Midori; and forges a musical partnership with Yo-
Yo Ma. Their Appalachia Waltz recording, a composition of O’Connor’s, spent the
majority of 1996 as the No. 1 Classical album on the Billboard chart.
O’Connor composed eight more concertos, several chamber music pieces, composed
the Americana Symphony, which made its recorded debut with the Baltimore
Symphony, conducted by Marin Alsop; and writes the O’Connor Method, a new way of
approaching violin pedagogy using music of the Americas. The method has supplanted
some establishment-embraced methods as the teaching tool of choice in music
programs and schools for beginners all over the world—the first major challenge to
Suzuki Method since its introduction in the mid-20th Century. The O’Connor Method has
string teachers repeating his buzz words “American Music,” “Creativity,”
“Improvisation” and “Diversity” as these relate to the violin. O’Connor labeled the
movement; A New American School of String Playing.
More recently, O’Connor put his family band together to win a Grammy for Best
Bluegrass Album, collaborated with Zac Brown for more family band singles while still
contributing to classical music. Over the last year, O’Connor composed the competition
piece for the Menuhin International Violin Competition, and the Chicago Symphony
presented two of his long-formed compositions in concert at Symphony Center in 2022.
Now he has teamed up with his wife of eight years, violinist and vocalist Maggie
O’Connor, for a new album of original songs he has written called Life After Life (2023).
It marks a return to his guitar-playing from his 2021 solo guitar album, Markology II. For
Mark and Maggie’s fiddles, O’Connor created his arrangement of Verboyava
Doshchechka, a stirring Ukrainian folk song the couple learned from one of the Kyiv
Symphony violinists while in his basement bunker as bombs dropped from the sky on his
city at the outset of the Russian war in early 2022.
Crossing Bridges: My Journey from Child Prodigy to Fiddler Who Dared the World is a
heartening tale of personal triumph over adversity and how O’Connor became one of
the most gifted musicians of his generation and a fully realized man. It is also the story
of a visionary who gave young aspiring musicians advantages that Mark’s
unprecedented surroundings afforded him, and created a new way to train future
generations of musicians.
Along with Crossing Bridges, O’Connor will release two companion pieces to his memoir:
Early Childhood Recordings, a CD of never-before-heard field recordings from age 10
where Mark sings a Johnny Cash song and wins a Flamenco competition, to his Grand
Ole Opry debut introduced my Roy Acuff. The recording also includes the final rounds of
Mark’s national competition wins as a 13 and 14 year-old; performances with the iconic
bands he joined including Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys, the David Grisman Quintet
tour with Stephane Grappelli, and with Steve Morse and the Dregs.
The trilogy of releases is completed by a finely curated book of black & white
photographs by O’Connor’s mother, Marty O’Connor (1930-1982), A Musical Childhood
in Pictures. The 170 page book that follows the narrative of his memoir, feature images
of young Mark and the legendary musicians he learned from and performed with
including his fellow teenagers at the time, Vince Gill and Marty Stuart, to his command
performance before President Ronald Reagan introduced by Merle Haggard.
Mark O’Connor in 2023
Mark O’Connor is a multi-Grammy winning and CMA Award winning composer,
violinist/fiddler, guitarist and mandolinist. Today, he performs concerts with his wife,
violinist and vocalist, Maggie O’Connor. They are releasing a new album of original vocal
material that O’Connor has written, Life After Life in 2023. Mr. O’Connor releases
albums for his own independent label, www.OMACRecords.com and is active online
with his official websites www.markoconnor.com and www.oconnormethod.com; a
YouTube channel featuring over 600 videos from his music career with 59,000
subscribers and 32 million channel views; a Facebook Fanpage with 77,000 followers
and is an active blogger, showing 700,000 views of his blogs posted at Parting Shots:
From a Musician’s Perspective. The Library of Congress has archived these Mark
O’Connor online sites to be a part of the United States cultural record. Mr. O’Connor’s
Christmas album, An Appalachian Christmas, a holiday hit having charted #1 in Billboard
continues to be an annual national tour each December. Mr. O’Connor will direct two
string camps with his wife Maggie in North Carolina during the summer of 2023.