Wayne resident and violinist Martha McDonnell won’t be able to accept her Bachelor of Music degree diploma in person on Sunday, June 15, when she graduates from Lawrence University in Wisconsin.
Instead, the 22-year-old fiddler will be performing with Sting in his new musical, “The Last Ship,” which opens Tuesday, June 10, at the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago.
Kane County reporter Eric Schelkopf had the chance to talk to McDonnell about auditioning for a spot in the musical.
Eric Schelkopf: I understand you won’t be able to accept your diploma personally because you will be in this new musical. Is that bittersweet?
Martha McDonnell: I’m going to be sad because I loved being here at Lawrence. However, this opportunity is great. I don’t think they are going to be too upset about it.
Schelkopf: How did the audition go? Was Sting at the audition?
McDonnell: Yeah, he was there. I actually played with him. He played his guitar and sang.
And so I accompanied him and played some of the music. It was really great.
Schelkopf: To be auditioning in front of Sting, was that nerve-wracking?
McDonnell: You know, I thought I was going to be really nervous, but it was really casual and informal. It ended up being a lot of fun.
It was pretty much a jam session, which I love doing and I am really used to that format.
It wasn’t the traditional setting, where people are sitting on a panel and you play for them. It was very collaborative.
Schelkopf: How many people auditioned then?
McDonnell: I was one of three for the violin part.
Schelkopf: Did they tell you why they picked you as opposed to someone else?
McDonnell: The music in this musical is really based off of Sting’s hometown, which is in northern England. It is a very specific style of fiddling.
I’ve grown up playing Scottish fiddle, which is very closely related. And there’s also a lot of classical music influences in it and a lot of improvisation and a lot of sort of jazz things in it, too.
They were looking for someone who could do all of those things.
Schelkopf: I understand you didn’t have a written out score for the audition.
McDonnell: No. They gave me chord charts and I listened to a recording from Sting’s album. Some of the songs were on his album.
But essentially, I had to write my part. I had to do a lot of improvisation. I went into the audition ready for anything.
Schelkopf: What did your classmates say about your whole experience?
McDonnell: They’re excited. Lawrence is a very supportive school.
Everybody has been really wonderful and really excited for me.
Schelkopf: You attended St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in St. Charles. Did you get your musical bug when you were young?
McDonnell: I was 5 1/2 or 6 years old when I started playing, and I started playing classical music. My parents were big classical music fans, and they were also big fiddle music fans.
I grew up listening to that music, and caught the bug early.
Schelkopf: What drew you to the fiddle in the first place?
McDonnell: From the age of 3 1/2 on, I kept saying to my parents that I wanted to play the violin. I loved listening to violin music.
And they were kind of confused because we don’t have any violinists in our family. So, I was just drawn to the fiddle music and the classical music at the same time.
Schelkopf: I understand that you might be going to New York as part of “The Last Ship.”
McDonnell: The thing is, I’m not sure at this point. They are going to see how the premiere of the show goes, and how the run in Chicago goes, and figure it out from there.
Schelkopf: Did Sting say anything to you before or after the audition?
McDonnell: Yes, he was very gracious, very nice. He was a reserved guy. He just said, “Thank you for coming.”
But I’m looking forward to working with him more in about a month.
Schelkopf: Do you think other doors might open up because of this opportunity?
McDonnell: I hope so. I’m excited to see what comes next.