OCEAN CITY — There are countless musicians in Ocean City who play cover songs, but it’s pretty safe to assume that none of them are enlightening listeners to the works of Bach, Beethoven, or Mendelssohn in their nightly set lists.
With that said, two Romanian students changed all that this past summer.
When Fager’s Island General Manager Kevin Myers interviewed Vlad Stoicescu and Ioana Ionesu, a Romanian couple hired as seasonal employees to work at the restaurant doing seemingly menial jobs, he realized they were not just your average foreign students living at an American beach for the summer.
“I try to interview all the incoming staff before they start, and I found out that they were a longtime couple who were traveling together, but my ears perked up when they told me that they were classically trained violinists at their respective universities in Europe,” said Myers. “I thought it might be worth having them play for our guests here sometime.”
Myers’ hunch turned into a reality when the two were asked to play a set during Everett Spells’ set break at Fager’s Island’s popular Sunday brunch. More than one person in the audience that day liked what he heard, but more importantly, the ears that they impressed most belonged to the owner.
“We had brought our violins with us just so we could practice for next years’ schooling, but we didn’t expect to be playing anywhere,” said Stoicescu, “but we played during Everett’s break and John Fager was there and he apparently loved us and asked us to play at the Atlantic Hotel in Berlin one day a week.”
As a result, the Romanian couple spent the majority of their time at Fager’s Island doing a number of jobs in the restaurant, helping out in housekeeping and even held second jobs at The Olive Tree and Connor’s Beach Café, but one day a week, they played at the historic landmark hotel on Berlin’s Main Street for very welcoming but probably very surprised audiences.
“I think people were surprised because you don’t usually hear violin in this area from what I understand,” said Stoicescu, “but I think they were also impressed by us playing jazz and blues on the violin in addition to classical, which is even more rare. It was nice to see people turning around and actually listening to us, so in that way, it kind of gave us a sense of home.”
As many local musicians play the so-called American classics, the Beatles, The Stones, Van Morrison, and Bob Dylan, Stoicescu and Ionesu stuck to the music that they were passionate about, and what is technically considered to be the classics – Mozart, Paganini, Bach, Beethoven and others.
Their rendition of Astor Piazzola’s “The Tango Project (Por Una Cabeza)”, which is commonly known as the background music played in the popular Al Pacino film “Scent of a Woman”, was always a crowd favorite, according to the duo.
Stoicescu said that the experience was a pleasant surprise, and one that made the trip memorable, but he noted that he was also very surprised with his misconceptions about Americans in general.
“Everybody was just so nice to us, and Americans in general seemed to be very nice,” said Stoicescu, “Many Europeans don’t really have a very good opinion of Americans, because quite frankly, American’s don’t have very good opinions of Europeans. When you mention the French, people say, ‘oh, screw the French’, so unfortunately, that’s the type of attitude that some Europeans have toward Americans.”
The duo were not only praised for their musical abilities but also for their work ethic as well, as Myers noted that foreign students are a big part of the success of a busy summertime establishment in Ocean City.
“That’s kind of the norm with the foreign students is that they work incredibly hard, and they are just so happy to be here, and want to soak in the whole American experience,” said Myers. “The fact that they were a couple living here and working here, and traveling through America together, and have such great talent as musicians, is a real testament to the amount of intelligent, hardworking and well rounded people that come to work in Ocean City.”
Ionesu plays in a philharmonic orchestra in Europe and will commence with her studies when she returns to Europe, and Stoicescu plans to finish his classical studies as well, but he doesn’t see himself doing it full time.
“I’m more into musical production,” he said. “In Europe, if you want to go play in an orchestra, especially in the western countries, it’s very difficult because it’s so selective. Here it was very fun because people are so open to different kinds of music where Europeans are much more conservative and often critical of what they like.”
The duo are on the cusp of leaving town to fulfill the “travel” part of the “work and travel exchange program” that brought them to Ocean City through their university.
They plan to visit Washington DC, Niagara Falls and New York City before taking the 12-hour plane ride back to Romania after a quick stop in Rome, Italy.
“Honestly, we chose Ocean City because it was right in the middle of five major cities, and that was probably the only reason at first,” said Stoicescu, “but when we were offered the job at Fager’s and we looked online at the restaurant, we knew we should try living at the beach, and I think we will probably be back next year.”