Do you believe there is an ideal age for people to get started in music and begin honing their skills as an instrumentalist?
As music is a rich and complex form of communication, much like learning a foreign language, the earlier the better to start learning and studying to continue honing one’s skills like an artisan. My mother played a lot of music for me when she was pregnant with me, continued when I was a baby and finally, I began the violin at the ripe old age of 4. I like to tell students that I am still forever figuring out how to play this beautiful instrument. To be a perpetual student, full of curiosity and wonder is a humbling experience.
What is your daily regimen of practice and do you find it difficult to make an effort for self-care between practice and traveling?
I always try to be as efficient as possible when working. At times, especially with young children and travel, you wish there were more than 24 hours in a day.
You are a world-renowned violinist but I’m curious to know if you’ve ever experience nerves before a concert, or have they gone away over time?
I almost have a heightened sense of anticipation or excitement before a performance. It doesn’t matter if I am playing for my family or thousands of people. Performance is always different from practice. In concerts, a number of things can go wrong that are totally out of your control-this makes you extra-alert, to be able to think and act quickly and always strive to do your best, no matter what the circumstance.
Richmond, Virginia is an area of growing socioeconomic, racial and educational divides but music lessons have been used as a tool to encourage academic involvement and bridge social divides. From the perspective of a professional violinist, what makes the power of music so unique in its ability to gather people and act as a foundation to discussion deeper issues within a community?
Every time I get on a plane to travel to any city in the world, I usually do not speak the language, read the local paper or can even get myself a cup of coffee. Eight p.m. rolls around, I tuck the violin under my chin and the audience and my voice are sharing a very intense and direct experience together, being transported to another dimension.
This always puts me in complete awe of the power and depth that music has on one’s heart and soul. Memories can be unleashed, emotions expressed. One doesn’t need words to make oneself heard. It is unique, direct and powerful. It is also a time to put prejudices aside and enjoy an experience together making for a very pure sensation. Music has long been important for bring communities together and bridging cultural divides around the world. Early composers like Bach, Handel, Haydn, and Mozart were always composing for important events like weddings, births, funerals, coronations, etc.
During an NPR Interview with Morning Edition you explain that the reason you bought the The Vieuxtemps Guarneri, the oldest violin on Earth, was because of an “instant chemistry” and your belief that a violin carries a soul its own as well as its previous performers.
Have you always felt this deep connection to the violin – or was it an experimental experience before you found your passion and what age did you decide on the violin?
I began playing the violin when I was 4 and played a concerto from memory with the local community orchestra, when I was 7. It was also at this age, that I visited the Hollywood Bowl and heard the Tchaikovsky Concerto and thought, that’s what I want to be. A concert violinist.
I’m interested in your thoughts about whether or not a requirement for international recognition for the arts is dependent on receiving a high level educational training experience like the one you received at the famed Juilliard School in New York.
I think students should focus on developing as a musician and not on career development. I was very fortunate to study with amazing teachers throughout my life. I studied with Shirley Helmick in the middle of the Mojave Desert, Alice and Eleonore Schoenfeld at the Colburn School of Performing Arts in Los Angeles, California, Josef Gingold in Bloomington, Indiana and after sending a cassette to legendary teacher, Dorothy DeLay at the Juilliard School, she invited me to play for her at the Aspen Music Festival. At that time, I was 14 years old and she offered me a full scholarship to study at the Juilliard School in New York City. It was there that I studied with Masao Kawasaki, Felix Galimir and Ms.DeLay. The teachers brought me to the schools and things took off from there.
How would you define and describe your musical style? Do you believe it falls in the range of classical – or is it something a blend across various genres and influence?
As I love to explore many different genres of music (electronics, blues, jazz, rock, pop, classical), it forces me to think outside the normal conventional aspects of classical. Working with living composers makes one also so deeply appreciate the rich history of composers before our current time. Each genre is borne from the other. It all becomes a collective experience to appreciate the different aspects of musical genres as you start to see that every genre influences another.
VCU has a well-developed music and arts program and on Saturday Jan. 28 you performed at the W.E Singleton Center for the Performing Arts. Does the experience of performing on University campuses ever feel like a chance to influence a younger generation?
I had a wonderful experience bringing lots of new music to the Richmond audiences. Pieces with video installation, electronics, choral music arranged for violin/piano, and composers from our time were brought to Richmond. I also got to spend some more intimate time with the students at VCU via the masterclass. This was a wonderful opportunity to work with students and hopefully answer their many questions.
Last time I performed local Richmond composer, Mason Bates’s violin concerto with the Richmond Symphony and it makes one realize that all music was new at one time!
Siona is a senior majoring in political science with a concentration in international relations and a double minor in media studies and Arabic and Middle Eastern studies. She is heavily influenced by her family’s immigrant background and often writes about the intersection of politics with identity. Siona is an advocate for grassroots activism and political movements, and her dream job involves multimedia-based investigative journalism. She has a plethora of life goals but is only focusing on two right now: learning as many languages as possible and perfecting her Instagram aesthetic. firstname.lastname@example.org