WEST LIBERTY — The National Symphony Orchestra's Kentucky Residency ended Friday afternoon with a little musical exchange in Eastern Kentucky.
Glenn Donnellan, an NSO violinist and traditional music enthusiast, went to Morehead State University's center in West Liberty to present some of his music, listen to local student musicians and jam with them for a grand finale of May the Circle be Unbroken and I Saw the Light.
"You don't expect someone who plays classical music to be so interested in mountain music, but he really was," banjo player and Morgan County High School senior Daxson Lewis said after the event. "I thought he was great, and the baseball bat was really cool."
The baseball bat was Donnellan's batolin, a Louisville Slugger converted into an electric violin. He used it to play a couple of numbers including Black Sabbath's Iron Man and The Star-Spangled Banner, which he has played at Washington Nationals baseball games.
Donnellan also showed the audience several other variations on the violin, including the Norwegian Hardanger violin and a Chinese stick fiddle he said he bought while the National Symphony Orchestra was on tour in China.
The beginning of the program was an abbreviated version of educational outreach programs Donnellan has presented around Kentucky during the National Symphony's Residency.
Kentucky was the 22nd state on the Symphony's American Residencies program in which the orchestra has an extended stay in a state performing full concerts, small ensemble events and educational outreach programs. The symphony landed in Louisville on Feb. 17 and performed concerts in every congressional district, including Lexington on Wednesday night and Somerset on Thursday.
The orchestra departed from Blue Grass Airport, but Donnellan stayed behind for the West Liberty event.
"I've been into old-time fiddling and that sound since I was a kid," Donnellan said to the audience after breaking the ice by playing a traditional classical excerpt that turned into a screaming fiddle jam in the spirit of Charlie Daniels.
During the Kentucky residency, Donnellan took several traditional music excursions, visiting the Salt Lick Bluegrass Festival in Shepherdsville and Bill Monroe's birthplace in Rosine.
"I played my fiddle in Bill Monroe's bedroom," Donnellan said. "It was amazing.
"Kentucky has such a rich musical heritage. It really has been a great trip."
Kentucky Arts Council communications and technology branch manager Salle Showalter, who has been helping facilitate the NSO residency, said Donnellan "has been excited about this all week. He's done education programs on the trip, but this is the first time he's really had a chance to interact with student musicians like this."
The Appalachian Heritage Alliance applied for the visit from an NSO musician.
"It was great for the students to see that even though he is a world-class orchestral musician, he appreciates and can play traditional music," Alliance volunteer David Musser said.
Backstage, as student musicians played onstage, Donnellan stood watching and plucking out the tunes on his violin. He talked to Rowan County High School junior and mandolin player Chelsea Mays about her singing style, marveled at 16-year-old Powell County High School student Alicia Wasson's bass playing and helped Cowan Elementary seventh-grader Autumn Dollarhide tune her fiddle.
Mount Carmel High School senior Derrek Lawson said, "He was a lot more than we expected."