How did you first get into music?
I am a musician largely because of my parents and their love of classical music. My father was an amateur violinist and later took up the er-hu (a Chinese violin with two strings), and my mom was actually a piano performance major. She taught us the piano at home, which started for me around the age of 3, and throughout my childhood my mother, sister and I played piano trios — Mozart, Beethoven and later Brahms. That is where my deep love of chamber music started, and that’s helped me tremendously throughout my career. After all, what is an orchestra but a giant chamber ensemble when it is functioning at its best?
How did you choose the viola?
My sister, who is a year older, started violin in fifth grade, and I wanted to be just like her and play the same instrument by the time I got to middle school. Of course, she didn’t like that very much, so she took up the cello once I started violin. I actually didn’t switch to the viola until high school, when a new youth chamber orchestra needed viola players. I decided to give it a try, and once I did, that was it. There was no turning back! There are many jokes between musicians about why a viola is better than a violin, but for me, it was the instrument’s warm, deep and rich sound that I fell in love with. I much prefer the darker mezzo sound it creates; to me, it is the string instrument that sounds most like the human voice.
I also like the viola because it is more of a supporting instrument. I much prefer being in the background rather than the lead, and viola players provide the foundation and middle support in the orchestra. If a piece of music is a building, the viola section is the scaffolding.
Who would you consider your biggest musical inspiration?
My teacher at Indiana University and the former principal violist for The Cleveland Orchestra, Abraham Skernick, immediately comes to mind — not only a fantastic musician, but an amazing person. Many of my instructors on the faculty at Indiana were former Cleveland Orchestra players. They all had such a pure love and joy for music-making that really rubbed off on me.
What is it like to perform at the Schermerhorn? Describe how it feels on a concert night.
Concert nights are always fun for me to look around and enjoy the diversity of our audience. I am especially happy to see students and sometimes very young children who attend with their families. There is a warmth onstage that is really comforting for me. You feel surrounded by support when you look out and see the audience, and that’s truly an inspiration.
I recently got to experience a classical concert night as an audience member, which was a first for me. When we were doing Mahler’s Ninth, I came down with the flu and missed all of the rehearsals. I couldn’t perform, so I attended one of the concerts. It was a completely different experience for me — it literally blew me away and moved me to tears! It really reinforced that all of the hard work and preparation that goes on behind the scenes really shines through in the final performances. There is an intimacy that is inherent in the Schermerhorn that I hadn’t fully realized until I was an audience member that night. After that experience, I always try to look out and find someone to try to connect with and play to; it is so rewarding to see the smiles of enjoyment in the audience.
What is your fondest memory of playing with the Nashville Symphony?
We played Sibelius’ Second Symphony at Cheekwood with Kenneth Schermerhorn in the early 2000s, and it was incredible. Sibelius’ music is so vast, and maximizing the effect of that sound was part of Kenneth’s genius — he was actually awarded the Sibelius Medal in 1979 by the Finnish government for his outstanding performance of works by the composer. The No. 2 was the perfect piece to play outside, sending those notes and melodies out into a vast landscape with no bounce-back, exactly how that music is supposed to be played.
Do you perform or teach outside of your work with the orchestra?
Right now I’m teaching adjunct at Lipscomb University. Before I had my daughter, I taught more frequently at various schools throughout Nashville, but obviously there’s not as much time to do so when you’re a parent. I’ve played in a number of chamber groups outside the Nashville Symphony throughout the years, including most recently the Gateway Chamber Orchestra, and also do occasional session work and weddings.
What do you do when you’re not playing and teaching?
I have a 13-year-old daughter who is a trumpet player and a great one at that — she was recently the first chair trumpet player in the MTSBOA Mid-State Gold Band! Being a parent is actually a tough balancing act with the symphony schedule. Most people might not realize the backwards lifestyle we have, as we are always working when most people are off — i.e., weekends/evenings, which means some weeks, especially when we rehearse all week with the choir in the evenings, I hardly get to see my daughter at all.
I love anything outdoors — kayaking, hiking, biking. I love all of Nashville’s greenways and recently discovered the trails at Beaman Park. When I can, I try to catch up on some Netflix shows, including West Wing, House of Cards and Mad Men, to name a few. Also, I’ve been trying to slowly sample some of the many restaurants that are part of Nashville’s exploding culinary scene.
Do you listen to music on your own time?
I definitely need my fair share of quiet time at home after doing such a noisy job, but I love listening to jazz — Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and the like.
What would you like the public to know about the Nashville Symphony that they might not know?
It takes a tremendous sacrifice in a way to do our jobs, whether it is the time it takes to prepare the music, the physical demands of each individual instrument, or the weekends/evenings away from our families to play the concerts. I will also say that the Symphony’s financial crisis of a few years ago certainly made me rethink my entire outlook and my job. I’ve realized that getting to play in a world-class orchestra is not something to be taken for granted. Rather, it’s a real privilege and honor to be able to play with such an amazing group of musicians in an incredible concert hall and get to share our love of music with Nashville.