Since falling in love with violin at the age of four, native Savannahian Adrianne Munden-Dixon has been making a name for herself in the classical music world. A graduate of Savannah Arts Academy and SUNY Purchase, Munden-Dixon is currently finishing up her Masters at Carnegie Mellon University. Since she left Savannah for college, the young talent has created a tradition of bringing her group, Anderson Hill Trio, home for the holidays.
Alongside cellist Molly Aronson and pianist Naseer Ashraf, the animated and driven violinist is committed to bringing classical music out of the concert hall and into new audiences with the trio.
We chatted with Munden-Dixon about her growth as an artist, recently joining of the Savannah Philharmonic, and the transformative power of music.
So are you back in Savannah for a while, or is this still a homecoming gig?
Right now, I’m finishing up my Masters in Performance at Carnegie Mellon up in Pittsburgh—I graduate in May, so I’m looking to start a concert series here in Savannah similar to what I’ve been doing with my trio, starting with three concerts a year and building from there in a combination of spaces, kind of what we’re doing now, but playing churches, galleries, bars, even—not quite so formal all of the time, and mixing it up.
You played First Presbyterian and Non-Fiction Gallery last year; what’s it like playing in such different spaces?
I really love it! When a lot of older music was written, it wasn’t meant to just be performed in concert halls or churches. It was performed in cafes, or places where people were drinking, homes, salons, more intimate, smaller spaces. I really love that: you’re closer to the audience. It feels authentic in some way. I just want people to be enjoying themselves, so it’s not such a formal thing.
You’re from Savannah originally.
Born and raised! I’m at my parents’ house right now, practicing. I grew up in Ardsley Park, and the whole time I lived here. It’s nice to be back.
I’ve been playing with the Savannah Philharmonic since September, and I’ll be doing more concerts with them in February and March. That’s been a real treat! I grew up going to see the Savannah Symphony, so it’s really surreal to be with that group now.
What’s your background like?
I started playing at four with Kerri Sellman, a violin teacher who was with the Savannah Symphony. I stayed with her, played in the youth orchestra.
I went to [Savannah] Arts Academy for high school, and being in orchestra with my peers every day is really what helped me decide that this is what I want to do. I credit my time at SAA with helping me make that decision. Also, I played in Starlight Jazz Band on violin, and that was very formative in my enjoying music and growing.
What sparked your interest in violin to begin with?
It’s a funny story! I always watched Mr. Rogers growing up, and I was four years old watching an episode that had a father and son playing violin together. I don't know what it was, but I became captivated watching that episode and ran into my mom's room at 8 a.m., shaking her awake saying, 'I need a violin right now!'
It took a couple weeks of me badgering them to rent a violin, then they contacted the symphony and found a teacher for me. My parents aren’t musicians, but they’ve always been supportive of my music.
What’s it been like playing with the Philarharmonic as an adult, having grown up observing them?
The first rehearsal, I didn’t tell my teachers who are here that I was playing in the Philharmonic, and my teacher from high school was playing viola and he turned and was like, ‘What are you doing here?’
And my orchestra director was playing trombone and came over talked to me. It was really cool to get to play alongside people I looked up to as a kid. Very excited to continue playing with them. I was actually offered a position for all concerts beginning in September 2016!
Oh wow, congratulations! So would you be moving back down here?
I’ve been thinking about a lot—I have options here with that, and at this point, the Philharmonic isn’t full-time. So I talked to one of the managers about the possibility of me living elsewhere—either Atlanta or New York, where I have a lot of connections—and working with them, and he said that would be fine.
I’m leaning towards New York, because I had a lot of connections because I did my undergrad at SUNY Purchase, and the trio lives up there in New York. Still, we’ll see what happens by April or May!
How did trio come together initially?
We all went to SUNY Purchase together—the name comes from road where SUNY Purchase is located, Anderson Hill Road. The entrance is across street from PepsiCo headquarters; if you look on a Pepsi bottle, it says Anderson Hill Road!
We were all friends at Purchase, and me and Molly, the cellist, played a student composer recital one quarter together, and that was our first time playing together in small group. We really liked each other’s playing and worked well together.
And this time, we’re back with our original pianist Naseer Ashraf, who went to Purchase for his Masters. We’re really excited to be back with him. Due to scheduling conflicts, we played with several other pianists, and so we’re excited he’s here and can join us again because we have a really special connection together.
How did you select the program for these upcoming concerts?
It was partially artistic and partially practical—I’m living in Pittsburgh, they’re in New York in their own careers. I had to pick a program that was all music we were really passionate about but could pull together without months and months of rehearsal.
It’s still a challenge for us; it’s a huge piece, about 30 minutes long, and it’s very demanding for each player individually putting it together. There’s all this rhythmic stuff that’s very difficult to line up together. That’s what we’re focusing on in our rehearsals.
I love that I’m playing [Beethoven’s Violin Sonata] No. 10, which is one of my favorite violin sonatas.
I understand you’re interested outreach and bringing classical music into the community.
At this point, I’ve been working on contacting a lot of people throughout Georgia, especially correctional facilities, because I feel very passionately about that in particular. I have a family member who was in a correctional facility, and I hadn’t seen him for several years...I played some Bach, and he thought it was a great reminder...it made him feel more human again.
When I spoke with people, I explained the effect classical music has—even for veterans with PTSD, it touches them in a way that reminds them of their own humanity and what parts of them look like that are discouraged in a lot of ways.
That’s a really big goal of mine. If I’m able to start a concert series, half will be community work: playing for convicts, potentially starting music lessons in orphanages or for kids who can’t afford them.
You’re known for your modern takes on classical music. How do you get kids interested in classical music?
I haven’t worked as much with middle and high school students, but I think those ages are really critical. I’ve taught privately a bunch from age four to kids who are 12 or 13, and it’s mostly just making it relatable to them and making it fun. In terms of audiences, I think it’s really important to make it relatable and not so stuffy.
The thing about classical music I’m hoping and working to change is that it’s for everybody: it’s not just for rich white people. It’s for anyone, for all humans, and that’s what’s been meaningful to me; the music I choose, I feel like it’s still relevant. It’s still about the experience.
So I think my goal in my concert series is to bring it out of the concert hall and into the community and making it a living thing and talking to the audiences and engaging them, breaking down this wall between audience and performer. That’s a real mission of mine.