Violin & Viola
I started playing the violin at two and a half years of age. At the time, my older brother and sister were both taking Suzuki Violin lessons through our church’s music program, and I was always at their lessons. I clearly remember asking Ms. Blair, “When is my lessons?” She asked me to take my sister’s violin and stand at attention, then to put the violin on my shoulder, and I followed all the steps I’d seen my brother and sister do during their lessons. I never stopped playing. (I also started piano lessons in kindergarten and had lessons until my junior year of high school)
We were Suzuki students until I was in third grade, when we went to visit family in Hong Kong and took a three-month break from lessons. When we returned from summer break, we found out that our Suzuki teacher had moved out of state. It was at that point when we switched from Suzuki lessons to “traditional” lessons with a non-Suzuki teacher. Throughout grade school I took lessons and played in our church’s orchestra, the city’s youth orchestra and in my school’s middle school and high school orchestras. As a Congress-Bundestag Student Ambassador, I was an exchange student to Germany and took lessons with a teacher in Hamburg and played in the Schleswig-Holstein Kammer Orkester. Texas has a very competitive high school music competition program and I always auditioned for Region and All-state orchestras and performed in the UIL Solo and Ensemble competitions. I continued my violin studies up through Undergrad. I went to the University of North Texas (UNT) where I studied both modern and baroque violin with two different teachers. I was a violin performance major for 3 years but eventually ended up with a BS in biochemistry, however I performed in all the ensembles UNT had to offer (I was principal second violin in the symphony, played in the chamber orchestra and played in the baroque orchestra where I was given leadership and solo opportunities).
When I was finished with my bachelor’s degree, I moved to Chicago for grad school and continued to take baroque violin lessons privately with a teacher there. As that portion of school ended, I met the chamber ensemble from Tempesta di Mare: Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra and was offered an audition, and eventually a full position with their orchestra, which is when I moved to Philadelphia. I lived and worked as a freelance violinist here in Philadelphia from 2009-2016 and taught students at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2016 I decided to go back to school and attended the Utrecht’s Conservatorium (HKU) in Utrecht, the Netherlands where I earned my master’s degree in Historical Violin. While at HKU, my master’s thesis research focused on historical clothing and how it should influence us as twenty-first century historical performers. After completing my master’s degree, I went on to complete an artist certificate at the Koninklijk Conservatorium den Haag (the Royal Conservatory of the Hague).
Through the years, I’ve been given various teaching opportunities. I was asked to travel to Ecuador to teach at an early music festival in Quito where I spent two weeks teaching high school students baroque violin and coached them in their orchestra. I’ve taught students at the University of Pennsylvania and have had teaching opportunities with the Amherst Early Music Festival Winter Workshop. I always knew I wanted to perform, but all the teaching opportunities I’ve had have shown me that I also have a true love and passion for teaching. I have completed Suzuki teacher training (which brought back a lot of fond memories from my time as a student in a Suzuki studio) and I like to teach younger students with a mix of Suzuki methods and non-Suzuki methods. I also love teaching about the history behind a lot of the music we learn when starting the violin (if you are learning a minuet, you should learn how to dance a minuet too… and I can teach you the basic minuet steps!).
I’ve also always had a curiosity for other forms of music, especially folk/traditional music, and when I was living in Chicago I studied celtic violin at the Irish American Heritage Center and played with a celtic group. While living in Chicago I also had the opportunity to compete in the Midwest Fleadh Cheoil where I competed in the large ensemble, trio and solo slow airs categories.
When did you begin playing Violin, and why?
I started at 2&1/2 years of age because my older brother and sister were playing violin, and I wanted to have my turn as well.
What other instruments do you play, and what is your experience with them?
I play baroque viola. My teacher for my master’s degree makes all of her students learn how to play historical viola because they’re in the same family of instruments and it’s important that we learn how to do both as historical musicians. Because of this, I can play both and often play both on concerts. I play keyboard instruments (piano and harpsichord). I took piano lessons from kindergarten through my junior year of high school and as a master’s student I took three years of basso continuo lessons where I was also required to learn harpsichord. As a grade school student I competed on piano but have not performed professionally as a keyboardist.
What are your personal goals as a musician?
My personal goals as a musician are to always move the listener. Whether that’s because they enjoyed what I did or because they found it unappealing. If we go back to the 18th century, the whole reason music was written was to inspire the listener (going back to ancient Greece and the idea of an orator using their speech to persuade their listener in one way or another). This might seem like an abstract concept, but if the listener is not moved in one way or another, I feel that there is no point to what we do.
Do you have a memory of a time when a musical concept or technique really clicked? Something you’ll remember forever?
When I was studying with my private baroque violin teacher in Chicago, he described playing the violin as manipulating time because we’re constantly striving to place each note, or attack of the bow in a very specific point, and as we zero in on those points we then manipulate time to suite what we need to do musically.
What is your favorite piece of advice from one of your past (or current) teachers?
What we do in the practice room is not so that we are at 100% in performance, it’s so that on our worst day we can at least do what we do in the practice room.
What was your most challenging moment learning an instrument?
As a high school student, I always assumed I would be good enough to make it from UIL’s Regional Solo and Ensemble to State Solo and Ensemble (which requires you to score a “1” on your solo performance). I had always been able to do that all through middle school and into my freshman year of high school. My sophomore year, however, I was working on a violin concerto that was harder than anything else I’d ever worked on and I earned a 2, which meant I wasn’t eligible to compete at UIL State Solo and Ensemble. I was the only student from my school who competed at region and didn’t progress on to state. It was the first time I can recall not achieving what I had set out to do and learning how to deal with that was a valuable experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
What is your biggest musical achievement?
Having a performing career has been my biggest musical achievement. I would also say returning to school as an adult and earning both my master’s degree and artist certificate are up there, as both accomplishments have only enhanced my teaching and performing careers.
Favorite thing about teaching?
Inspiring students to want to learn more and do better.
What is a piece of advice you would like to share with anyone learning music?
Always be open to learning new things from the musicians you encounter. Even if you think they don’t have anything to teach you, you will always learn something from them… it just might take some time for you to realize it.