Roddy Chong got to watch some great performances recently.
He was in London to see a friend, Chicago track athlete Evan Jager, compete in the 3,000- meter steeplechase at the Summer Olympics. While watching Jager, who just started competing in the event recently, Chong also got to see Usain Bolt's world-record-setting run in the 100 meters and South African double amputee Oscar Pistorius make his historic run in the 400- meter semifinals.
"I was freaking out the whole time just thinking, 'The man has no legs,'" Chong says of Pistorius. "He came in last, but what a performance.
"I love seeing a great performance live."
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Usually, Chong is the one giving the performance. He might be best known to music fans as a violinist for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, the group that plays at Rupp Arena almost annually and is known for a light show that can blow municipal power grids.
A recent visit to Lexington set the stage for a more modest appearance by Chong, who is playing and speaking Sunday at NorthEast Christian Church.
"We spent a few days off in Lexington, and I met some people from NorthEast Christian and this came together," Chong says from Chicago, shortly after returning home from London.
At the church, he will play his violin and tell his story about growing from a kid who was annoyed at his parents' mandate to practice the violin every day to a performing artist who has taken the instrument to places it is not usually seen or heard.
"My parents say I chose the instrument when I was 2, but I don't remember that," Chong says.
He took Suzuki violin lessons and recalls the "discomfort" of practicing while his friends were out playing, even on vacation, and being put on stage at church and in retirement homes to perform.
Through it all, he says, he learned a discipline that has helped propel him through the rest of his life.
"I don't have a child yet, but if I do, he or she will have to do some things they don't want to do because I can see how my parents' discipline has benefitted me," Chong says.
He went to Indiana University, which has one of the most prestigious music schools in the country. But he put down the violin to concentrate on singing, dancing and acting. He came out realizing that "my edge was I could play the violin" and was armed with a variety of ways to approach it.
Around that time, he noticed the Indiana band Jars of Clay was having a big hit with a song called Flood, which contained a violin part. Chong learned it and got his first gig touring with the band.
It was hardly the classical route most violinists take, and rock violin was just starting to get noticed with artists like the Dave Matthews Band's Boyd Tinsley. But touring with Jars got Chong noticed, and soon he was approached by a country siren who was just about to become a superstar.
He almost bowed out of his audition for Shania Twain, thinking the mixture of country music and a Chinese-American violinist didn't seem right, he said.
But it was, and Chong says, "Shania Twain blew the doors open for me."
As a motivational speaker, Chong says he talks about going off "the sheet music" to find your own path, something he says he has experienced in his performing career.
"By doing my own custom-made way of playing violin, I have made a career," says Chong, who also works with Kevin Costner and Modern West and has performed with Celine Dion, Kelly Clarkson and Elton John. "It's not about showing off. It's about doing an excellent job."
Of all those stages, he said he has most enjoyed Trans-Siberian.
"Whether it's the singer, the drummer or the narrator, everyone gets a moment to shine," Chong says of TSO performances.
He also likes the repetition TSO provides by doing 120 to 140 shows a year, so he has room to try different things that sometimes work and sometimes don't.
"It's a large production, but there is room in there to make every performance a little different, and I try to take advantage of that," he says.
TSO tends to have days off in Lexington, and Chong has gotten to know the town a little bit, even becoming a fan of restaurants such as Maxwell Street mainstay Joe Bologna's and regional chicken strip chain Raising Cane's, he said.
Chong speaks at churches regularly, and not as a representative of anyone he works for, he notes. His presentation, he says, "is going to be easily accessible to people that go to church regularly and people that don't.
"It's a combination of me playing and talking about how the principles of growing up in a Chinese-American Christian family have given me faith and perseverance to succeed."