For our latest pied Piper concert, many of our musicians dressed up in appropriate attire. The concert was titled “Get Wild with the Nashville Symphony!”, and featured Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint Saens.
Monthly Archives: February 2016
My mom was interested in giving me something to do, so she started me in the Suzuki violin method when I was 6 years old. My older brother was doing many activities, and she wanted me to have my own niche. She was always interested in both our education and development, and music was a gift that she wanted to provide for both her children. My brother played piano. At that time, I really wanted to play ballet music. To me and my 6-year-old way of thinking, that meant I would play the violin.
As for the violin, I just liked it more than any other instrument. I like that I’m a lot closer to the instrument when I’m playing it because it’s smaller, and that it is at a higher register. If I wasn’t a violinist, I’d probably play the oboe or trumpet because I prefer higher-register instruments.
Who has had the greatest influence on you as a musician?
Another big reason why I ended up playing the violin was that I had a great teacher named Carol Dallinger. A childhood teacher can really make or break your development as a musician, and Carol was definitely a big influence on mine. I started studying the Suzuki method with her around the third grade; I now teach Suzuki myself, and Carol has even worked with some of my own students.
I was also fortunate enough to learn from Almita and Roland Vamos while I was studying at Oberlin. They’re both very well known and they have such a clear, defined way of teaching – they’ve pulled together various methods and refined them in their own way, and every student of theirs is very well-trained and disciplined, which is very important at the undergraduate level.
What are the unique challenges of playing the violin?
The violin can be very difficult to learn as a child because it’s unnatural and uncomfortable. When you grow up as a violin student, your hand develops in a different way with a distinct curvature, which takes awhile to get accustomed to. Even now, my hand pronates in a way that makes playing something like the guitar almost impossible.
As a professional, there are still challenges. You always have to be sensitive to intonation, and the instrument is much more physically demanding than people probably realize. We have to be in good shape, and it’s important to find the right balance between practicing on our own and giving ourselves the time needed to recover.
If you could meet one composer, living or dead, who would it be?
Brahms, Beethoven, and Bach are probably my three favorites. But if I could meet one, it would definitely be Brahms. He was such and eccentric, lovable, cute, and humble man. Brahms came from a lower-class family and had a very modest upbringing, but he overcame a lot thanks to his sheer love and need for music. He also had to follow in the footsteps of Beethoven, which had to be intimidating, and was apparently a little bit slovenly — he didn’t like to wear socks or ties. Plus, he had a beard, and I really like beards!
Which composer writes the best music for violin?
Shostakovich’s work is gratifying to play on violin. It is more forgiving in performance than Mozart, for example, which is like playing on glass (every note must be perfect). The Shostakovich Violin Sonata is one of my favorite pieces, and it isn’t performed nearly as much as it should be.
Can you explain the difference between first and second violins?
First violins tend to play the melodies, though that’s not always the case. Second violins don’t usually play the higher register and will have a lower voice in the case of a fugue. I do like playing first violin because it is a bit more challenging. First and second violin positions are simply determined by what is available at the time of auditions. It doesn’t mean one position is more or less talented than the other.
Describe what you’re thinking and feeling right before a concert begins.
That’s something that has changed over the years for me. I used to be focused a lot on the audience right before a concert, but now I’m more immersed in my parts and the music that we’re about to play. I think about the audience more now at the end of a performance, and I always hope that they get as much out of a concert as we all do.
I love sitting in the first violin section and really enjoy my colleagues. We all deeply care about our performance, and depending on the night, I can be pretty social with them onstage before we start performing.
How did you wind up auditioning for the Nashville Symphony?
My aunt (harp) and uncle (bass trombone) – who are the only members of my family who are also musicians – had both played with the Nashville Symphony, so I was certainly familiar with the orchestra and had visited before. I had been living in Brazil for about two-and-a-half years, but I was back in the States studying at a program in Chicago, and I actually won my audition here in Nashville while that program was still going on.
What’s the most memorable thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?
Once in Brazil – this was the absolute worst – I was late getting back onstage for the second half of the concert after intermission. Everyone was already seated and quiet, so when I walked onstage, everyone in the audience thought I was the conductor and started applauding! There had to be at least 1,000 people there, and they were all laughing once I took my seat in the tutti violin section.
You have been involved with the Suzuki violin program for some time now, first as a student and now as a teacher. Why do you believe so strongly in the Suzuki method?
Carol Dallinger actually studied with Dr. Suzuki, so that obviously had a role in me pursuing it. But I chose the Suzuki method because it is so organic and well planned-out. The method is based on the way children learn to speak their native language, which makes assimilation easier so they can learn the instrument in the most natural way possible.
It’s a philosophy that really resonates with me. Suzuki students start at an early age, and the method stresses the power and importance of listening, practicing frequently, group and individual teaching, and heavy parental involvement, among other components. There are so many Suzuki teachers out there that I think it has led to a slightly inaccurate portrayal of the method – on the surface it may appear easy, but it’s definitely not all fun and games. Suzuki believed that every child has unlimited potential, and he was a demanding teacher who instilled incredible discipline in his students.
I am currently the secretary of the Middle Tennessee Suzuki Association, and I help organize the workshops and master classes that the organization provides for Suzuki students in the area. It’s also very exciting that I can now bring Carol in to teach some of my own Suzuki students as well.
What part of town do you live in?
I have lived in East Nashville since 2003, and I love it. It’s a great community full of diverse people who are proud to live there. There are so many good places to eat in East Nashville, and I like that it’s easy to get downtown.
I’ve been a core member of the Eastwood Ensemble since the group began in December of 2010. We were voted Best New Chamber Music Series of 2014 in the Nashville Scene. It has a very East Nashville vibe – our performances are diverse and include different performance partners each time, such as singer-songwriters, poetry reading, culinary artists, or groups like The Ukedelics. We are very laid-back. Our program is designed to draw all kinds of people, even those who may not be into classical music per se. We also do a series of concerts hosted by community members in their historic homes while sometimes serving light fare and wine.
What do you do when you’re not practicing, teaching or performing?
I don’t have all that much free time because of my busy teaching and performing schedule. But I’ve dabbled in crochet and beekeeping, and I’ve taken a few clogging and hip-hop lessons. Right now, I’m taking a class at the YMCA called Dance Blast, and I also love Netflix. When we were off this past summer, I crocheted a blanket while watching the entire first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which is such a funny show.
I’m often out dragging my old white dog around while jogging in the Rosebank area of East Nashville, and I’m hoping to start doing some 5K runs in the future. After hearing Erik Gratton play the Nielsen Flute Concerto here recently, I downloaded Nielsen’s Second Violin Sonata, which is something I’d like to play through for fun with a pianist. I can listen to the entire sonata two times through while running a 5K.
Do you enjoy listening to music for fun?
I like pretty much everything. I do enjoy a lot of the pop music that I hear on the radio, but I honestly can’t listen to anything like that consistently for too long. Lately though, I’ve been having a blast from the past, so to speak, and listening to the music I enjoyed in high school, including The Smiths, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Psychedelic Furs.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I have to be a musician, and I don’t know what I’d do without music. I suppose I would be OK with being another kind of artist, but I’d need to be involved in the arts one way or another.
Why should someone who has never attended a classical concert come to a performance by the Nashville Symphony?
I think everyone should come see a concert here, and more than one! People really need to experience Laura Turner Concert Hall and hear for themselves how an entire orchestra can bring this music to life. There’s so much history in the classical repertoire, and its longevity is truly remarkable. The concerts also give people the chance to learn about all the instruments we play, which strengthens the connection an audience member has to the performance.
What inspired you to become a musician – and what drew you to the violin?
As far back as I can remember, I was always fascinated with instruments. When I was 2, I got a tambourine and a record player for Christmas, and I would play that tambourine along with my records all the time! Originally, I wanted to play the trumpet, but my mother did not want a trumpet in the house, so I got a clarinet instead. She said that if I could teach myself how to play it and read music on my own, that I could then start taking clarinet lessons. So I did.
Then in fifth grade, one of my friends played cello in my school’s string section, and I really wanted to do the same. They didn’t have a cello my size since I was a bit smaller, so I was assigned to the violin instead. Once I started playing the violin, I wasn’t interested in anything else. I was so obsessed that my mother would have to force me to stop practicing to eat dinner.
I turned my clarinet into a lamp, which I still have to this day!
Who has had the greatest influence on you as a musician?
I’d have to say my college violin teacher, Elaine Richey. She really crafted my development and changed a lot of things about how I played, things that have stuck with me and have carried me to where I am now. She was a great musician herself and very much a mother figure to all of her students. My previous teachers were good too, but Elaine really polished and molded me into a better musician.
If you were given the chance to program an orchestra concert, which works would you select?
There would be only one, and it would take up the entire program: Mahler’s Second, the Resurrection Symphony. If it is played well, the Second has this moment, when the orchestra is at full volume and the choir is singing and the organ is blasting, that is the closest thing to a truly spiritual experience in music that I know of. When we did the Second here, it was almost an out-of-body experience for me.
How did you end up at the Nashville Symphony?
I came here from Charleston. I had only been there for about eight months, and the orchestra just wasn’t a good fit for me. So I decided that the first audition I won — wherever it was — would be my next job. The Nashville Symphony turned out to be that audition.
I joined the orchestra thinking I would only be in Nashville for a few years. But I saw so much potential here, particularly in the caliber of musicians. So between that and the strong recording industry here, I decided to stay in Nashville and be a part of building this orchestra to prominence.
What’s been the highlight of your time performing with the Nashville Symphony?
As I mentioned earlier, Mahler’s Second was one of my favorite memories here. But another great moment was that first Carnegie Hall performance in 2000. It was such an exciting thing to be a part of, and there was this great energy in our orchestra. The second performance there, in 2012, was special too, of course. But you only get one first time at Carnegie Hall, and it gave all of us a taste of what an acoustically magnificent concert hall sounds like.
If you had the chance to meet any composer, living or dead, who would it be?
Mozart. He had such an interesting life, and I would love to meet the genius behind all of that spectacular music.
What’s the most unusual thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?
We were doing one of the Halloween Pied Piper concerts, and of course we were in costume for the occasion. One of my fellow violinists had dressed up as the solar system, which was really a great costume. Her head was the sun, and all the planets were hanging around her head in orbit.
Well, I was in the middle of a big solo, when suddenly the biggest of the planets on her costume fell off and started rolling right past my shoe. Here we are performing, and this bright-orange ball is rolling across the stage. Everyone onstage who saw it was laughing quietly, and it took every ounce of willpower I had to stay focused and not break out in laughter myself!
How have the city and the orchestra changed for you since you first arrived in 1991?
It’s amazing to me just how much Nashville has exploded with all of the building and development. I do like that the downtown area has really come to life, but I must admit I’m not a fan of the increased traffic!
For the Symphony, moving into the Schermerhorn has been the biggest and best change because it transformed the way we play. When the orchestra was at TPAC, we had to work so hard produce a balanced sound for the audience. Once we moved over here, it took all of us a year or two to readjust. The hall is an instrument itself, so we all needed to learn how to play to the acoustics. Now it feels more natural, and we don’t have to play as aggressively.
Watching our orchestra’s reputation and stature grow has also been very gratifying, and that goes back to why I ultimately decided to stay here. The Nashville Symphony has evolved from a medium-sized-city orchestra to one that gets to play in the big leagues now and is internationally recognized.
Do you teach, perform, or record outside of your work with the orchestra?
I used to teach, but I had to stop: Our work here has gotten so intensive that I needed to eliminate something if I wanted to have a life outside of my work. I have done, and continue to do, a lot of recording sessions in Christian and country music, and I’ve been fortunate to record with artists like Amy Grant and Vince Gill, Garth Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, and Sheryl Crow.
What are some of your favorite places in Nashville?
I love going out on the town with my friends, and I especially enjoy dining out. Union Common and Urban Grub are two of my current favorite restaurants, and I also like going to Etch and Trattoria Il Mulino after concerts.
What part of town do you live in?
About three years ago, I moved to a 12.5-acre farm out in Williamson County. I needed plenty of property to build a kennel for all of my dogs, and I also wanted to have the privacy that kind of land affords. The farm is great for all of my animals, and I also spend a lot of time working on my flower gardens there. I’ve always been into gardening, but it’s a much larger-scale thing now because I design all of my own flower gardens.
How many animals do you have on your farm?
So many! 12 dogs, three horses, six miniature donkeys, four llamas, two rescue pigs, and two alpacas. I used to be very involved in dog breeding and dog shows. I had a bullmastiff named Liam who was an award-winning, national dog show superstar. He was at the top of the circuit for almost three years before I retired him and started becoming more active with rescue dogs. Of the 14 dogs I have now, three are show dogs and the rest are all rescues.
There are a ton of coyotes out near my farm, so I got the llamas to help protect our other animals from them.
Do you own anything that you consider a “prized possession”?
I still have the baby blanket that my mother brought me home from the hospital in. It has these pink, blue, and yellow baby lambs on it, and I always keep it in a drawer. One time I thought I had lost it, and I absolutely freaked out. But it’s the one thing I have left to hang on to from that time in my life.