McDuffie pulls Macon’s heartstrings

The Robert McDuffie Center for Strings broke from its traditional Labor Day festival to conduct its first annual free concert for the community: “McDuffie Loves Macon,” which took place on Aug. 30.
Members from the Macon and Mercer communities gathered to watch a lively and engaging performance by the center’s renowned musical faculty and conservatory-level students.
The event, held at the Grand Opera House at 7 p.m., completely packed out the sizable venue.
McDuffie, the center’s founder, said that the event was a great success and that the center as a whole “had a great time.”
“We were really fortunate and happy to see that it was packed,” McDuffie said. “They actually had to turn a lot of people away—which was not that fortunate, but it shows that a lot of people in Macon know what’s going on at Mercer with music, and that’s exciting.”
The event took the place of the Labor Day Festival of Strings, a recruiting event the center has held each year since its founding.
In the past the center invited high school musicians for a weekend of study with its faculty of top strings musicians, all of whom travel and perform with famous conductors and symphonies around the world.
The event was meant to expose talented high school musicians to the center’s many assets so that they might apply to Mercer and join the center.
However, the center is currently doing so well that McDuffie said they had no need of a recruiting event of that magnitude this year.
“Now we’ve grown to a critical mass,” McDuffie said.
“Our limit is 26 kids in the center, so we don’t need to have that big high school push anymore. But we’d have concerts at that time, and the community loved coming, so we didn’t want to shut them out.”
Jessica Pickersgill, a viola player in her junior year at the Center for Strings, said that the center’s students had a week and a half to learn the music for the concert, rehearsing almost every day with McDuffie and violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti.
Students from the center have a limited amount of time to learn the required pieces.
They put in hours of work in order to perfect their skills for the large crowds that they will be performing for.
“I had no idea that more than 900 people would be showing up,” Pickersgill said.
“That was a shock, for sure, but that made it really fun.”
The music for the night featured what McDuffie called a “hodge-podge of fun, American music.”
The program included “Hoedown” from Aaron Copeland’s “Rodeo Suite,” an adagio by Samuel Barber, and the “Star-Spangled Banner” in addition to the tangos and sambas played in smaller chamber groups.
“It was a real eclectic night,” McDuffie said.
“It wasn’t the kind of music that anyone would look at and think, ‘I’m intimidated by that.’”
McDuffie has been quite pleased with the performance. He hopes to educate people on how beautiful classical music can be.
He added, “We wanted to show how far we’d come but also how accessible classical music could be… not the elite, intimidating art form that some people think it is.”
McDuffie plans to make the free concert an annual event for the community.
He encourages Mercer students and the Macon community to participate in the event.
He has already playfully dubbed next year’s concert “McDuffie Loves Macon, The Sequel.”