Violinist revels in sharing love of instrument with young, old

Lila Hood and her blue violin will take the stage Saturday at Buckman Arts Center at St. Mary’s Episcopal School.

Photo by Maurice L. Bailey

Lila Hood and her blue violin will take the stage Saturday at Buckman Arts Center at St. Mary’s Episcopal School.

Head-banging '80s music and rock and roll hardly seem like the genres to inspire a classically trained violinist.

Lila Hood and her blue violin would beg to differ.

It all started during her freshman year at Georgetown University in Washington, in a year that makes her feel too old to admit. She attended a live performance of Jean-Luc Ponty, a famous french jazz violinist.

"He is one of the pioneers of jazz violin," Hood says. "And that performance really inspired me to experiment with different genres of music. And I was an '80s kid, so that's where it fell for me."

Hood and her rock-inspired jazz style have graced several of the most famous stages in music, such as Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. She has also played at countless music festivals in Memphis and across the country with her band, and released her debut album, The Blue Violin, in 2009.

But one of the most significant concert performances for her will take place on Saturday at Buckman Arts Center at St. Mary's Episcopal School in her hometown of Memphis.

It's the same stage where she teaches nearly 40 musicians the violin through her Blue Violin Foundation.

Since 2001, Hood has taught the young and young at heart how to play the violin. Her mission for the last 11 years has been to give underprivileged children access to the arts to help broaden their worldview.

When Hood moved back to Memphis in 2001, she went to area schools to teach the students music. And when the Buckman offered her space to teach formal lessons, her students from all over the city and surrounding area followed her for discounted lessons.

Along with lessons at the Buckman, Hood is the orchestra director for Hutchison School, where she has several more students.

Part of the proceeds from Hood's concert, which will feature her band, will go toward a trip to Washington for 21 of her intermediate students. The group will perform at Howard University, several monuments such as the Lincoln Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and some of the city's public schools.

Hood says she also is negotiating a performance at the White House for President Barack Obama.

"We are very hopeful that the opportunity will be approved because it would be a dream come true for the kids," she says.

Hood's philosophy on teaching all ages is based on the premise that talent is learned, not inherited.

Her teaching method and devotion to her craft inspired one of her first students, Prentiss Mouton, to develop his own musical talents.

Referred to as Hood's first success story, Mouton took piano and voice lessons with Hood when he was 12 years old.

"At such a young age, I had never seen an African-American person take on classical music like Lila did," Mouton says.

Now at 20, he is entering his sophomore year at Louisiana State University studying vocal music performance, specifically focused on opera.

"I don't think I would have discovered I liked classical music if it weren't for Lila," he says. "Her versatile approach to teaching and her patience and willingness to find what works for her students made all the difference."

Hood has also inspired some older adults musically.

Anne Dugan, 57, always thought that the violin would be a great instrument to play. After her first group violin lesson with Hood last September, Dugan knew her lifelong hunch was right.

"I don't think I'm ever going to be a symphony musician, but to be able to have this group in my life gives me a great individual and social reward," Dugan says.

Cindi Younker, director of the Buckman Arts Center, says of the many different programs offered there at the center, Hood's program is one of the most beloved.

"Lila is such a dynamic teacher, so encouraging and motivating. I can't even get my own daughter into her class," Younker says with a laugh. "Her students and Memphis just love her."

‘Lila Live at the Buckman’

The concert is at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at Buckman Performing Arts Center at St. Mary’s Episcopal School, 60 Perkins Ext. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at buckmanartscenter.com or at the door. For more information about the Blue Violin Foundation’s lessons or on making a donation to the Washington trip, e-mail theblueviolin@gmail.com or call 901-605-3438.

© 2012 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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