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Young Petaluma musician follows classical path

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“I believe I was born with this music in my blood,” says Petaluma violinist Kyle Craft, 25, when asked about his affinity for the music of the Austrian composer Johann Strauss II, commonly known as the Waltz King. “Those waltzes and polkas are the childhood music of my grandmother, who came from Germany. And my great-grandmother used to sing those Strauss arias around the house.”

At age five, Craft attended a program of Strauss waltzes performed by the San Francisco Symphony. That experience sealed the deal.

“That was my inspiration to start playing violin,” he says. “I fell in love with this style of music.”

Today, Craft is a freelance violinist who plays everything from Elvis Presley to show tunes, but he holds a special place in his heart for the classical music of 19th-century Vienna, notably the Romantic-era dance music of Strauss.

Following a recent concert at the Aqus Café, at the Foundry Wharf along the Petaluma waterfront, Craft was asked by management to present a Christmas show, later this year. At the upcoming Dec. 12 event, Craft — accompanied by a pianist — will perform popular holiday tunes, such as “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night,” as well as the popular Strauss compositions “Blue Danube Waltz” and “Tales from the Vienna Woods.”

Craft, who speaks with a thick German accent and has studied the German language, is passionate about sharing his love of Viennese culture and Strauss’ music.

After graduating from Petaluma High School in 2012, Craft traveled with other members of the senior class to Vienna, Austria, for the first time.

“When I got to Vienna, I ran to Johann Strauss and for two hours sat on a bench across from his statue (in Stadpark) and listened to his music being piped in,” he recalls. “That night, in the Kursalon Hübner (the city’s ornate 19th-century Italian renaissance-style concert hall), they hold nightly concerts by the Viennese Salon Orchestra, which has been there for many years. I was invited to attend. My teacher told me it was more entertaining to watch me react to the concert than to watch the actual concert.”

Craft envisions himself someday going back to Vienna and giving a concert in front of Johann Strauss’ statue.

“That is one of my biggest dreams,” he says, adding that he’s been preparing himself for years to realize that ambition. Not only has he studied in the preparatory departments of the Marin and San Francisco music conservatories, but from 2007-2012, he was a member of the Santa Rosa Symphony youth ensemble. Currently, he is a student at the College of Marin and takes private violin lessons from Jay Zhong, a virtuoso concert violinist and instructor at Sonoma State University.

While he is not enrolled at SSU, Craft — who plays a 1909 Italian/German violin — is a member of the school’s orchestra.

“I bought (the violin) in 1909 when it turned 100 years old,” he says. “It fits me personally and the way they made them back then was just stunning.”

He has paired his antique violin with a hi-tech carbon-fiber violin bow made by Codabow.

Asked to elaborate on what it is about Strauss’ music that makes it so appealing to Craft, Craft has no difficulty cutting right to the point.

“The beautiful melodies,” he says, adding that when he plays Strauss waltzes, “People smile. They start to sway back and forth. Once, I had a couple waltzing up and down the street. I actually encourage that. I like it very much when the audience gets up and dances.”

Most days find Craft practicing those same waltzes and polkas.

“When I don’t play Strauss, I feel empty,” he says. “This music is a part of who I am.”

(Find out more about Kyle Craft at his website, Kylecraftviolinist.com)