By David Templeton | From the March-April 2023 issue of Strings magazine
Anyone who’s ever heard violinist Tracy Silverman play, either onstage or in recordings, knows what an engaging and electrifying experience it is. But those who’ve had the opportunity to speak to the energetic and verbally adroit musician also know that that same electricity comes through in his conversational style. The combination of those two elements is what makes Silverman the perfect podcaster, as demonstrated in his string-themed podcast For the Greater Groove: The Future of Strings, available on an array of platforms and easily linked to from his website TracySilverman.com.
Described as “a collection of chats/jams with some of the leaders in the progressive string playing community,” the podcast balances a comfortably casual, pleasantly DIY tone—“I do all the editing myself,” Silverman says—with an engagingly in-depth style that leads to conversations as informative and instructive as they are genuinely entertaining.
Over the last 35+ episodes, which appear once or twice a month, Silverman’s guests have included such high-profile string players as cellist Natalie Haas, fiddler Darol Anger, jazz violinist Sara Caswell, composer/violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain, electric violinist Mia Asano, Turtle Island cellist (and secret piano player) Mark Summer, violinist Tomoko Akaboshi, and rock violinist Mark Wood—the latter having so much to say that the discussion was broken up into two 40-minute episodes.
Given that his guests are musicians, of course, it’s no surprise that Silverman occasionally jams with them or explores some technical musical detail by encouraging them to demonstrate on their instrument. And because Silverman likes to play—musically and otherwise—he always throws in a three-part trivia game to end each show.
What, in a nutshell, is For the Greater Groove? And what is the purpose of this podcast?
It’s a place to talk with progressive string players about the changing role of string playing. I emphasize groove in the title is because I believe the groove, the rhythm, is the entry point for strings into popular musical culture. Without it, you always sound classical. Playing rhythm represents a paradigm shift for string players—to support the melody with harmony and groove, like a rhythm guitar player, rather than the traditional way of playing strings, which is to play melodically.
The podcast is subtitled “The Future of Strings.” This suggests that one purpose of the show is to use these conversations to explore individual players’ personal artistic ambitions for the future. Is that more or less accurate?
Actually no. I talk a lot about the “Future of Strings” to make the point that string playing needs to adapt, or it will perish. That’s a bit overstated, but the point is that classical pedagogy has become old-fashioned and outdated. Classical players have found themselves in a sort of musical culture-de-sac, while the rest of our thriving popular musical culture is passing us by on busier streets or on mainstream highways. Progressive string players are finding their ways into the popular culture, but not by following the old classical rules.
I believe that this paradigm shift from mostly melodic technique to a more well-rounded inclusion of rhythm, and the opportunity that affords us to participate more authentically in our own popular musical culture, will define this era in string playing.
What have you learned from doing this, both as a musician and as a human?
How interesting people are! I mean, I know all my guests have interesting lives or I probably wouldn’t be interviewing them, but it’s always so gratifying and fulfilling to learn how much more is going on beneath the surface that you don’t get from their websites, bios, and Wikipedia pages—and that they really want to share those experiences. It always exceeds my expectations.
What do you hope your audience has learned from these conversations?
That there are a lot of different ways to approach string playing that aren’t included in most conservatories. I think a lot of classical string players have always suspected that’s the case but may not have been so clear on what that music is, who the players are, and how and why they play the way they do. Hopefully the podcast opens a lot of ears and minds. While I sometimes feel like I’m preaching to the choir, I always hope there are more traditional classical listeners out there who are consistently getting their minds blown by my guests.
How do you choose those guests?
Most have been personal friends and colleagues so far, and I’ve got dozens more I’m slowly getting to—and a long list beyond that, of course. But they are all people making a difference in the string community, movers and shakers of some kind, either as players—some famous, some more niche—or as educators, or people who are making a difference on the business side of the progressive string world.
Do any conversations stand out as especially powerful, surprising, funny, or memorable?
All of them! I just seem to know so many incredibly talented, funny, and articulate people! Every interview has usually four or five stand-out quotes. I always post little 30-second previews of each show on my social media. I also have a Facebook group called For the Greater Groove, which all you Strings readers are invited to check out!
Like any artistic endeavor, I imagine there are joys and challenges to a project like this?
For sure. It takes an enormous amount of time—way more than you’d think. I do all the editing myself, because I’m way too picky and sometimes, if we’ve had a long conversation, you have to leave stuff out, and those are choices I have to make myself. I also do all the video editing for the clips I use for social media previews.
Even though I know many of my guests quite well, I do a ton of research on their careers and take a lot of notes and, if they’re artists, spend a lot of time listening to their music before each interview. And I also have a segment I use to close every show called “Not My Gig,” when I quiz my guests on a subject they don’t know anything about. So I have to come up with a few funny questions and multiple choice answers. And it takes time to be funny! It takes me time, anyway! It’s a direct rip-off of a segment called “Not My Job” on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, the NPR show. Hey, good artists borrow—great artists steal. [laughs] Picasso said that, but don’t ever try to argue the point with an intellectual property attorney.
Are there any similarities or skill set crossovers between playing music and producing a podcast? Like improvisational abilities or comfort with mistakes on the way to mastery of a piece?
Yes, I’m sure being onstage all my life and doing a lot of public speaking helps. And the analogy to improvisation is very true. In fact, I always talk about that when I’m teaching improv. You’re improvising all day long whenever you have a conversation with someone. You make it up as you go. But being aware of taking someone’s last idea, like the last phrase of a solo, and using that as a way to delve deeper or to contrast it with something else in order to shift the conversation, those are definitely musical improv skills.
But mostly I listen to a lot of Terry Gross.