Violin & Piano
Michael Shingo Crawford
I teach Violin, Piano. I’m a Philadelphia-based composer, violinist, and pianist who is passionate about telling stories through the music that I compose, arrange, and perform. My studies began in elementary school with the violin, and music has been a major part of my life ever since. I studied violin performance and composition at Emory University, where I took violin lessons from Shawn Pagliarini and composition lessons from Richard Prior and John Anthony Lennon. During this time, I was concertmaster of the Emory University Symphony Orchestra and won the 2015 Concerto and Aria Competition with my performance of the Barber Violin Concerto. In my senior year, I presented two recitals: a violin recital and a composition recital, where my music was performed by the Vega String Quartet and other Emory faculty and student musicians.
After beginning formal studies in composition during my undergraduate years, I realized that writing original music and producing something that I could call my own was what I really wanted to do. This brought me to Philadelphia to pursue my Masters in Music Composition at Temple University. Here, I studied with Emiliano Pardo-Tristan, Jan Krzywicki, and Adam Vidiksis and organized twenty-four premieres of my work over the course of two years. These compositions were presented by ensembles like the PRISM Quartet, Sound Energy Trio, and Philadelphia Orchestra Musicians. So far, I have received commissions from OWLchestra and the Network for New Music.
Now that I am finished with school, I am performing, teaching, and composing. I have had the opportunity to perform in Yerevan, Armenia as a member of the 2019 World Congress for Information Technology Orchestra. I also play with ENAensemble in exciting operatic new music shows that incorporate multi-media elements. I love to arrange anime music for violin and share my work on Youtube, where I have a growing audience.
In my teaching, I emphasize efficient, goal-oriented practice, and provide a strong technical foundation while always keeping musicality and expression in mind. I encourage my students to develop problem-solving skills that will ultimately allow them to create their own interpretations about a piece of music. I believe that each student has a different learning style, and, with this knowledge, I design a program of study specifically for them.
Learning music is all about tackling technical or musical problems in many different ways until we find an approach that works for you. As a multi-instrumentalist who also writes music, I can offer many different perspectives on a single issue and draw from a wide range of knowledge that serves me in my daily creative pursuits.
When did you begin playing Violin, and why?
When I was seven years old my mother asked me if I wanted to learn an instrument. There was something about the violin that appealed strongly to me, even at that young age, and I gave her an immediate yes. She got me started with violin lessons, studying with a local teacher in New York. I remember getting a lot of enjoyment out of playing at that time. I would practice every day and get a sense of exhilaration whenever I learned how to play a new note. My mother sat in on every lesson while learning alongside me, so I’m grateful to have had that support as I was starting out.
What other instruments do you play, and what is your experience with them?
My first violin teacher was also a pianist, and, a few years into violin lessons, he encouraged me to start piano. My lessons were one hour, with the first half devoted to violin and the second half reserved for piano. When my family moved from New York to Georgia, I had to switch teachers and was on my own in terms of piano. I had some piano lessons after that but was mostly self-taught. For many years, my goal was to play all of the most popular classical pieces. I had a huge obsession with the Romantic period virtuosos like Liszt and Chopin and worked up to a level where I could perform some of their works in public. Being self-taught gave me the freedom to explore other genres like film music, popular music, and anime music, which I continue to play to this day. There are a lot of people writing very challenging, high quality piano arrangements of music like this, and I thoroughly enjoyed working on them. This would later inspire my own arranging and composing activities.
What are your personal goals as a musician?
As a whole, I aim to always push myself to improve my skills and constantly put effort into creating a body of work that I can call my own. My musical activities are multi-faceted, consisting of performing on violin and piano, composing original music, arranging existing music, and recording and sharing that music with an audience. I want to become an established composer of contemporary classical music who has his works performed by musicians and ensembles around the world. While doing that, I want to keep performing new music and my own arrangements and compositions in live concerts as well as Youtube, where I have a growing audience.
Do you have a memory of a time when a musical concept or technique really clicked? Something you’ll remember forever?
As a student, vibrato was a technique that I struggled with for a long time. I got into the habit of practicing it incorrectly and I couldn’t produce a beautiful sound that way. At a certain point, I decided it was time to conquer this technique once and for all, so I did a lot of my own research and came up with a practice plan for myself. Over the course of the next month, I built up my vibrato from scratch and finally got the kind of lush and expressive sound that I had always wanted.
What is your favorite piece of advice from one of your past (or current) teachers?
My violin teacher in college taught me so much about technique, but I think one of the most important concepts that she instilled in me was being able to let go during a performance and focus on expressing the music. One pitfall that a lot of musicians run into is that, they’ve spent hours upon hours trying to perfect one piece of music, and when they need to perform it, they’re still stuck in the kind of practicing mindset that is extremely detail-oriented. The consequence of this is a performance that sounds focused on the technique required to play the notes but not on exploring the creative and emotional possibilities of what is on the page. A lot of strategies she taught me, like playing from memory, practicing in the dark (occasionally), and thinking of a story to tell through the music, have gone a long way in making me the performer I am today.
What was your most challenging moment learning an instrument?
Around fifth grade, I was working on Bach’s Concerto for 2 Violins in Suzuki Book 5, and I got stuck. I had been practicing that piece for months and couldn’t get it to a level where I was happy with it, or to a point where my teacher would let me move on. It was hard to find the motivation to practice during this time. This also happened to be the time when my family made the move down south and had to change teachers. My new teacher gave me a lot of different perspectives that helped me get unstuck and move on to the next book.
What is your biggest musical achievement?
One of the concerts I went to during my first couple of months of college was my university’s annual Concerto and Aria Competition. The best instrumentalists and singers from the school would compete, and the winner would get the chance to play their piece with the university’s symphony orchestra. That year, a violinist won with her performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, and I became very inspired. It was at that moment that I put my sights on winning the competition one day. Two years later, after months of intense preparation, I achieved one of the biggest goals of my college career and had the opportunity to play Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto accompanied by the orchestra.
Favorite thing about teaching?
My favorite moments in teaching are when a concept really clicks for my students. Sometimes, I’ll have my student working on a technique for a while, then I decide to reframe the approach or explain the technique in a different way. Then, suddenly, they get it. That moment is really satisfying.
What is a piece of advice you would like to share with anyone learning music?
Always remember what motivated you to start playing music, and consistently find sources of inspiration that keep you going. A musical journey is full of both fulfilling and challenging moments, and having that artistic input, whether it’s a performance by your favorite violinist, a live concert, or a museum visit, is essential to keep your creative juices flowing.
Personal music projects:
One of the most artistically fulfilling projects that I’ve been part of for the past two years is ENAensemble, a multi-media chamber opera company that performs new music and reimagines what’s possible for compositions that have been played hundreds of times. As a violinist in the group, I’ve had the chance to premiere several new operas and play enormously important works like Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. I am also passionate about arranging and recording anime music. I upload a new video every week to my Youtube channel, and it’s rewarding to reach a growing audience who is excited to see what I produce.