Quick Q and A with Julia McKenzie

Julia McKenzie is the co-director of Eudaimonia, a purposeful period band from the greater Boston area. As her bio on the group’s website details, Julia is a most versatile musician and tastemaker in the Boston music scene. Notable associations are with the Handel and Haydn Society and Boston Baroque. One of her passions is taking part in Eudaimonia performances that are directly involved with various social action organizations that benefit underserved communities. This show will benefit Shelter Music Boston.

The upcoming Eudaimonia concert takes place on Saturday, January 28 and it is entitled “The Nightingale’s Unending Song” and is a unique evening of crossover cabaret de chambre” that brings together a variety of styles, instruments and eras. French women in love will be celebrated through the music of Pauline Viardot, Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, and Julie Pinel. Cabarets numbers, medieval ballads and Sandra Boynton’s hilarious “Chanson Profonde” will be played by Eudaimonia’s spirited members.

The concert takes place at Sanctuary, 82 Main Street in Maynard, MA. Tickets and additional information can be found here.

Julia McKenzie, co-director of Eudaimonia

Julia was kind enough to take the time to respond to some questions about her music career, Eudaimonia, and the concert on January 28.

I’m sure that you get asked this question a lot, but when and how did you first start playing the violin? Was the violin your first instrument?

I started learning the violin at age 10 in the public school of my small hometown, Napa, California, and played in a fun after-school string ensemble, too. Before the violin, I loved exploring our home piano, and haven’t stopped playing either instrument since!

What is it about the violin that brings you joy?

It’s been a constant companion, very much a friend to converse with, alive with vibration and resonating right over the heart, and responding with a huge range of expressions. The variety in its tonal colors and its versatility to adapt to any genre of music gives me endless entertainment, exploring and experimenting!

Do you have any favorite pieces to play?

So many favorites, but my latest source of fun is to play an excerpt of a Bach or Mozart or other composer’s melody, then break off into a variation or improvisation of it. I also turn to non-classical standards and Blues tunes to try my hand at improvising in the style of heroes like Stéphane Grappelli or wonderful Blues musicians.

You have been involved with many early music and classical ensembles in the Boston area.  What differentiates Eudaimonia from the others?

With an abundance of terrific period instrument ensembles already in Boston—many that I’ve been lucky to play with—Vivian (Montgomery, Eudaimonia’s other director) and I wanted to present a different kind of group that can serve additional good in our community by dedicating each program to a good cause. By using our concert platform for raising awareness of certain issues and highlighting the work that particular organizations are doing, we’ve created a different approach to music-making by designing meaningful programs with a purpose. In this unconventional concert model, we invite our social partners to speak at our concerts, where we and our audiences learn about the cause and can make a direct impact with collective heightened awareness and “Pay What You Decide” financial support. An eudaimonic experience for all involved! 

The diverse organizations we highlight inspire a wide variety of repertoire; since our members—who are made up of professionals, students, and amateurs alike— love all genres of music, and many of us play secondary instruments, we have a lot of fun exploring jazz, rock, folk, and musical theatre, in addition to lesser-known composers of past eras, and plenty of classical favorites.

How do you see Eudaimonia fitting into the local music scene? 

By offering a different concert experience. A concertgoer might hear a Baroque piece performed on period instruments followed by a non-classical piece on modern instruments in one of our themed programs, plus learn something about an amazing organization in our community who is doing some good 🙂

I’m interested in your musical dabbling with other genres like jazz and rock.  Do those genres give you more freedom of expression and experimentation?  Or do you find ways to break the boundaries in classical music as well?

Yes, more freedom in the non-classical genres, for sure! Having to abide by fewer rules allows personal decisions on more of the musical elements, including tempo, “groove,” choice of instrument, form, variation and improvisation, and even chord and harmony substitutions! We sometimes like to create new arrangements of classical pieces, too in Eudaimonia, by changing the instrumentation or altering the form, and perhaps adding improvisatory sections.

Your work with Shelter Music Boston should be applauded. I’ll bet that you have experienced some emotional moments playing for those going through some rough times. Do you feel that each time that you play live that you are bringing much needed solace to welcoming ears and hearts?

Yes, I am very grateful for the experiences of performing in shelters and treatment centers with SMB. I’ve learned so much about people’s varied lives and situations, mental health, and our state’s programs and medical professionals helping the homeless. It’s a wonderful concert setting that involves the audience by inviting everyone to talk about how the music makes them feel. Eudaimonic joy for sure for us musicians to be a regular presence at shelters—monthly for over 12 years now—to provide the therapeutic effect of music to all people, whether they have a home or not. In our next concert on January 28 we are excited to highlight Shelter Music Boston’s work and feature our wonderful colleague, violinist Julie Leven, founder of SMB!    

Enjoy this little teaser for the January 28 show.     


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