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April 17, 2024

Amanda Mayo-Saalwaechter 

One of Cleveland’s newest residents, Amanda Mayo-Saalwaechter, is a dynamic personality and a captivating fusion of violinist, pageant queen, scientist and educator. Her journey from a childhood in Georgia to Mississippi is filled with notes of passion, resilience and dedication to both the arts and sciences. Mayo-Saalwaechter’s musical odyssey began at the age of three. While most of us were mastering eating with a spoon, she was learning to play the violin. Her mother and grandfather struck a deal, he would fund the lessons if her mother would take the role of chauffeur. Throughout her life, music has played a significant role, despite her admission that she did “quit” a few times. Although her definition of quitting is a bit different than most people, she explained that during these hiatus periods, she didn’t take any formal lessons, but still played. She was on one of these breaks when she experienced a traumatic brain injury, sustained during JROTC activities. Fortunately for audiences everywhere, the violin emerged as a therapeutic instrument, aiding her emotional recovery and fortifying her resilience, and she began playing regularly again. Her musical journey is marked by many significant milestones. Playing with a group for an audience of 1,000 at the age of three, and performing for the Japanese consulate at 10 both had a significant impact. Another highlight was at the Miss Tennessee Pageant, which was her first time playing on live television. Mayo-Saalwaechter earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Tennessee at Martin. She paid for her schooling with some unconventional funding sources, including a riflery team scholarship and scholarships from pageant participation. “I was literally guns ‘n roses in college,” she said proudly. The pageants that helped fund her education also played a major role in Mayo-Saalwaechter’s development as a performer. Playing her violin for the talent portions of the competitions, she discovered that playing for audiences was not just an artistic pursuit, but a transformative experience that “trained the shy out of her.” Following UT, Amanda received a master’s degree in geology from Mississippi State in Starkville. Never one to rest, she is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in STEM Education at the University of Southern Mississippi. Today, she plays individually at various events and venues and participates in a multitude of jam sessions around the Delta. She recently became a member of the Delta String Band. “We play Mississippi Deep Roots music and I really enjoy playing with the band at festivals,” she said. “People intentionally come to see us, instead of just being at an event where I happen to be playing.” Amanda’s musical arsenal includes three violins and a mandolin. Her primary instrument was given to her by a friend of her grandfather’s. “My sister and I were caroling and I was playing my trainer violin at Mr. Dorsey’s house. He said, ‘I have something for you.’ and he ripped this violin off the wall of his house, screws and all, and gave it to me!” she reminisced. “It’s not expensive, but it has a great sound and it’s my primary violin,” she said. “Of I’ve blinged it out since then!” While her training is in classical violin, it appears that her preference has become more toward the fiddle end of the spectrum. She explained the difference between a violin and a fiddle, is not in the hardware, but in the style of play. That and sometimes violinists use more expensive strings. “I’ve grown to like playing more as an adult because I can pick my own music,” she said. “The beauty of the violin is the versatility, you can play, classical, pop, bluegrass, anything.” Her playing has taken her to concert halls, stages, festivals, weddings and many other places. But one private concert holds a special place in her heart. She explained, “When I was in Starkville, I was contacted by a family who had their deceased great-grandfather’s fiddle. They wanted to hear it played again and asked if I would play for them.” She visited the family playing a selection of songs the patriarch had played, giving the family a much-treasured memory. As if performing and working toward a doctorate weren’t enough, Mayo-Saalwaechter is a math teacher at Bayou Academy and teaches private violin lessons. Currently, she’s teaching her husband. “There are some songs that need two violins,” she said. “Ashoken Farewell is a good example. It can be played with one, but it’s much more beautiful with two.” She has recently married and the couple moved to Cleveland in August for his job. She’s quickly fallen in love with the city and the Delta in general. “I love the live music scene, the food and the small-town life,” she said. In any spare time, there are game nights with a tight-knit group of friends and visits to her favorite store, Tractor Supply. As she performs throughout the region, from the Grammy Museum to the Blue Biscuit and festivals and venues throughout the Delta, her journey unfolds as a symphony of passion, resilience and unwavering commitment to both art and science.