berklee world strings

I finished my first year at Berklee and found myself back on the west coast in the blink of an eye. I spent a lot of time in the practice rooms at my old college in Vancouver in those first couple of weeks off, it took me a while to remember how to be a non-student.

My experience last semester revolved around working under Eugene Friesen in the Berklee World Strings. We had a condensed group of 17 string players working with an incredibly diverse and exciting repertoire, including a lot of material written or arranged by members of the group.

We undertook a couple of crazy projects outside of the program we were developing – first, we flew to Kentucky to perform and accompany Darol Anger on his inspired and uncompromisingly difficult suite of music, Three Places In America. Just two weeks after that we teamed up with composer Eren Basbug and an expanded orchestra to play with legendary prog-metal juggernaut Dream Theater at the Boston Opera House. Eren went way beyond the usual orchestration techniques for rock music and integrated us completely into the pieces, adapting drum and guitar lines for the orchestra and setting every one of us to the task of really playing metal. Learning to play John Petrucci’s guitar leads on viola was an education in itself. One of the pieces we did had 108 time signature changes. I shouldn’t have counted. We had an intense time of daily rehearsals and nightly shedding, and the show was a glorious explosion of sound. During soundcheck tiny flakes of plaster were drifting down from the ornate ceiling at the opera house….

The whole show will be released as a live Dream Theater DVD. Here’s a picture of dress rehearsal with the band at House Of Blues. Rock.


We had the opportunity to play our own repertoire around New England throughout the spring, and bassist Nathaniel Sabat arranged a pair of Norwegian and Swedish tunes that we’d been playing together on bass and hardingfele for the whole group. I think I’m still high on the feeling of playing those tunes with him supported on a swelling cloud of beautiful strings. Whoa.

Video from our show at a theatre in Rockport will surface one day, but for now I’d love to show you this groovy tune written by the New York Gypsy All-Stars and arranged by members of the group – it involves Mairi Chaimbeul being a total badass and tuning the upper register of her Scottish harp to play quarter-tones, and ends with a heartbreaking cello solo from Naseem Alatrash.

Crosswinds from Jeff McCaffrey on Vimeo.

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