AN EXTENDED MUSICAL FAMILY

BY BILL THOMPSON | PHOTOGRAPH BY HOLGER OBENAUS

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These days, everyone from a football coach to your stockbroker insists their operation is a “family” affair. But for some, like Mary and Dr. Robert Taylor, the claim is not a cliché.

“We are really passionate about what we do,” says Rob Taylor, founding director of the Taylor Music Group (TMG), a nonprofit performance and educational association. “And we are family. We have really tried to cultivate that feeling in our organization. My whole life I’ve wanted to reproduce what my parents had in my home growing up, people being close and making music together.”

Rob, the son of a choir director, and Mary, a daughter of Irish immigrants, have been celebrated fixtures of the local music scene since migrating to Charleston from Arkansas in 1998. They are best known to general audiences for their annual, widely admired “Celtic Christmas” concert.

Both wear multiple hats. Mary is founding director of the Na Fidléirí [The Fiddlers] violin orchestra, the TMG’s youth component, and a principal violinist with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra (CSO). Rob, creator and artistic director of the professional Taylor Festival Choir (TFC), is director of both choral activities at the College of Charleston and the choral strand of the Master of Arts in Teaching in the Performing Arts program. He is also director of the CSO Chorus and the CSO Chamber Singers.

In keeping with the family emphasis, their daughter Kiri, a voice major at the college, is the lead singer for Na Fidléirí and involved in most everything her parents do.

Taylor Music Group presents five main performances a year at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and at Circular Church. Among them is its annual Piccolo Spoleto concert series. The TFC and Na Fidléirí don’t collaborate often, aside from “Celtic Christmas,” but the professionals admire Na Fidléirí’s accomplished teenager musicians. It is the intersection of classical and folk music traditions that distinguishes their work.

“I grew up in a household full of Irish music, but my father loved all kinds, particularly classical,” says Mary Taylor, who built the string program at Ashley Hall School and has served on the adjunct faculty of the College of Charleston and Charleston Southern University. “My first experience of music was listening to a classical violinist, a friend of my mother’s, playing Irish music.”

Rob’s father was an operatic tenor, who also sang from the jazz and Broadway canons, but old-time gospel was no interloper in the Taylor home.

“It seemed very natural that folk music and classical music would coexist in our lives and that Mary and I would develop a philosophy of music that embraced both,” he says. “Some were skeptical, but we knew we wanted TMG to be Celtic and classical from day one. But what it became was serendipitous in a lot of ways.”

He likens folk music to the recipes your mom or grandmother taught you to cook: regional, part of where one comes from. Classical is when a chef enters the kitchen.

“He can still cook from the local cuisine, but he brings layers of other traditions he learned from many other places. That’s us,” Rob says.

Apart from the concert schedule and educational outreach programs, the nationally recognized Taylor Festival Choir is the professional choir-in-residence at the College of Charleston. Na Fidléirí is the Irish Studies program’s performing group-in-residence.

The TMG has expanded its influence through Aurora TFC, an all-star collection of high school-age singers, and the Na Fidléirí Training Ensemble, although the latter is temporarily inactive.

Rob, a devotee of Bach and Renaissance music, and Mary, firmly attached to the baroque period, met in graduate school at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. They were best friends before they started dating. They still are.

And their family, an extended one, enjoys an influence that ripples outward, note by note. tmgcharleston.com

Bill Thompson covers the arts, film and books.