3 min

No second fiddle

Famed Donnie Deacon isn't bored by Ottawa

Credit: Capital Xtra files

Donnie Deacon was 10 years old when the Scottish government slapped a violin into his hands and told him he could play.

Unsure about his talent, but certain he wanted the free music lessons, the Glasgow native began to practice. Within a year, Deacon was invited to join the Royal Scottish Academy of Music to study violin, where he became the orchestra’s concertmaster by the unheard of age of 13.

Thousands of practice hours and numerous awards later, the 25-year-old has become one of the most well-respected young violinists in the world of contemporary classical music.

Deacon, who is openly gay, currently is the principal second violin with Ottawa’s National Arts Center Orchestra.

“It was all a total accident,” Deacon says of playing the violin. “But once I began [to play], it didn’t seem abnormal, it just seemed like a natural thing to do.”

According to Deacon, while the world of classical music is very hospitable to gays and lesbians, growing up a violin player in a working-class Glasgow neighborhood wasn’t always so easy.

“When I was in high school usually kids would get beat up for playing the violin, you know it was [considered] a very gay thing to do,” he explains. “I was really lucky, though, because I was protected by the school bully, so nobody ever screwed around with me.”

Deacon adds, however, that when he still lived at home in Glasgow his sexuality never was an issue – in his public or private life.

“I practiced so much I didn’t have time for sex,” he says.

But, when Deacon was 14 he left Scotland for boarding school. And it was there, he says, on his own for the first time, that he began to experiment and explore his homosexuality.

“When I was in school [in Glasgow] a lot of the older boys would say, ‘Oh look, here comes the poof.’ And, at that age, I didn’t really understand why they were saying that about me. I didn’t understand what [poof] was,” he says of the Scottish equivalent of fag. “And it wasn’t until I got to boarding school that I went, ‘Ah, that’s what they meant – this is fun.'”

After studying for a time at the Yehudi Menuhin School in London, Deacon left Great Britain to attend the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he completed his studies.

Ironically, while in Philadelphia, the violinist’s apartment was located next door to the local gay community center.

“I would go home at night and there would be these drag queens sitting on my steps, [saying] ‘Nice ass, Donnie.’ And that was a culture shock, because I’d never seen drag queens before I moved to America,” he says.

After leaving the City of Brotherly Love to join the NAC Orchestra three years ago, Deacon says that he has “really settled down in Ottawa.”

“I hear a lot of people complaining about Ottawa, ‘Oh it’s so boring’ and everything. But I really haven’t found it to be that way,” says Deacon.

In addition to his work with the NAC Orchestra, he is also a member of the highly-acclaimed Zukerman Chamber Players, a string ensemble that includes Pinchas Zukerman, one of the most revered concert violinists in the world.

The group currently is in the midst of a summer tour, which includes performances in Europe and North America. When he returns later this month, Deacon will begin preparation for two solo performances here in the capital.

And as for the future, Deacon says the only thing that he knows for sure is he will continue to pursue his passion for the beauty and perfection of the violin.

“As musicians, every time we get on stage our goal is to play as perfect as we can. When you are on stage you can’t make a mistake. I mean, you really just can’t. So basically every day is a new challenge,” he says. “And, that basically takes over from short-term or long-term plans. Every day is just a competition against yourself.”


Thirteen Strings Chamber Orchestra.

7pm. Sun, Sep 12.

Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.

Grant Cooper, Conductor.

St Andrews Church (corner of Wellington & Kent Sts).


Tickets: $22 advance/$25 door; student and senior discounts. Available at CD Warehouse, Compact Music, Leading Note or by phoning Thirteen Strings at 738-7888.

NACO Ovation Series.

NAC Southam Hall. 8pm. Wed & Thu, Sep 28 & 29.

Pinchas Zukerman, conductor.

Haydn Symphony No. 60 in C major, Il distratto.

Brahms Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98.


Tickets: on sale Sep 7 at the NAC Box Office or