Lucia Micarelli brings her band, and her eclectic tastes, to the Keswick Theatre in Glenside for an 8 p.m. show on Friday, Nov. 9. Like Micarelli herself, the show promises to be an entrancing mixture of origins, influences, and styles.
Micarelli played her first concert with an orchestra when she was 6. She studied at the Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard, taking lessons from the likes of Pinchas Zuckerman and Itzhak Perlman. Before she turned 19, she was on the road with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, then Josh Groban, and then, and then … At only 26, she came to fame playing street musician Annie Talarico in HBO's Treme (2010-2013), set in post-Katrina New Orleans. As Annie, Micarelli played Americana fiddle on the streets of the French Quarter, jammed with folks like the New Orleans Jazz Vipers and Steve Earle, and as an actress was totally persuasive as a woman brought up in the music. Pretty good for someone totally new to the sound or the lore. The violinist, now 35, reflects on her twisty path to world music, and the benefits of staying flexible, ready for anything.
Let’s look at one year in your life when you start as a very serious classical violinist … and ended up being concertmaster on a Trans-Siberian Orchestra tour. What the heck happened that year?
I left home! I was alone in the big city, not super-sheltered any more, and I got super into other kinds of music. I met people who knew how to improvise, started listening to other stuff, and I tried to learn how to improvise myself. A cellist I knew used to throw me these little gigs. "Oh, there's an audition for a Trans-Siberian Orchestra tour, six weeks on the road," he said one day. I auditioned, they offered me the job, and then they asked: "Could you please figure out how to play electric violin?" I never played one before, but I learned how because I needed some money.
You were pitched right into the stadium-tour world. That had to be nuts.
It was completely insane. A very strange first job out, an arena tour, fog up to your waist, a rock-and-roll Christmas tour. I had no knowledge this world existed. See, if you're a classical musician, you fly to a place, you rehearse with the orchestra, and that's the gig. But in this world, they were loading, like, six semi trucks for the tour, with 120 people traveling with this show.
And then neck-breaking segues, to Josh Groban, jazz trumpeter Chris Botti, and … Jethro Tull? Prog? Really?
It has helped so much to be out on the road with a range of musicians, just always being totally out of my element. It's hard not to feel silly when you don't know what you're doing, but if you're OK feeling kind of dumb, it's the best situation. I've met and learned from people I don't think I would ever have met otherwise, and I've absorbed so much from their experience and knowledge.
That pretty much continued with Treme. Is it really true you’d never played New Orleans music before you showed up for the show?
I had never acted before, had never played that music, and had never sung before either. [Producer] David Simon is a genius with his own ideas about things. And he likes non-actors. I met David, and he said, "Do you know anything about trad jazz?" "Um, no." "I guess you're going to learn. Maybe you should sit in with the Jazz Vipers over the weekend." I sat in with them, totally bombed, but they were sweet to me. Encouraging. By the time Tuesday rolled around, I sounded like I knew what I was doing.
What can we expect for the concert?
It didn't feel right to make my own show a classical recital; I've fallen in love with a lot of different kinds of music. I ended up deciding, "I'm just going to write a long list of music I really love," and I ended up with classical, jazz, Americana, folk, country fiddle, a splash of classic rock. It's pretty wild. I looked at it, and I was like, "Whoa! How can we do this? Will it be too out-there?" It ends up being a personal show, my own personal journey through all this different music. I talk a little about "who taught me this," or "why I love this piece." It ends up being quite a pleasant journey.
Philadelphia schools have had to fight to keep music education around, and they’ve lost more than won in recent years. If you could address our school board about the benefits of music education, what would you say?
I'm so grateful for the discipline I've learned because I started learning violin so young, when I was 3. And the patience: As an adult, I'm finding myself constantly grateful that I understand the benefits of making, and accepting I will make, incremental progress at something. That serves humans well whatever they do.
Music feeds your whole life so much. And it spreads out into the culture. It's sharing, community: You can play with friends, neighbors, family. It feeds into the beauty of something bigger. It's not "Let's have music in school because we'll have more professional musicians;" it's "Let's have music because we will have more mindful people, people whose lives are made richer in so many ways." It's so easy to think music doesn't mean anything, but clearly it makes people's lives better, going beyond dollars and cents. Can we create a better culture in our country with music in our lives? Yes! It's obvious.