You’ve shared that there was an initial struggle with learning but said once you began studying with a teacher who was a good fit for you, it drastically helped you grow. Can you share your experience further and describe what kind of changes you noticed in your playing between teachers?
When I began learning violin at the age of five, my teacher had her work cut out for her. I was an extremely difficult student - I was moody, very difficult to work with and had an attention span shorter than ten seconds. She did not usually accept students as young as I was, but she made an exception for me. My personal setbacks combined with my teacher’s lack of experience teaching children as young as myself led to a difficult time for us both over the years that I studied with her.
After a number of years with my first teacher, we discussed the possibility of switching to a new violin instructor. Though the next closest violin teacher was almost two hours away from my home-town and lessons cost much more under his instruction, my parents decided that they would take me anyways after my first teacher agreed that it would be in my best interest. The results were absolutely phenomenal for me.
It wasn't until I began studying with my new teacher that I began completely understanding and absorbing the lessons that my first teacher had been trying to tell me all those years. It wasn't so much that my first teacher was teaching me the wrong techniques or lessons – it was that I needed to hear the same things said in multiple different contexts before I truly understood why I was doing the things that I was being told to do and began internalizing the lessons I was being taught.
Now that I have had the pleasure to study with several phenomenal instructors since my childhood, I've found that each teacher has led me to a deeper appreciation and understanding of what I have previously learned. These experiences and findings have led me to the conclusion that it is a vital part of our musical educations to receive input and feedback from many different sources – teachers and peers alike.
You’ve been involved in both solo and orchestral performances. Can you describe how private lessons and solo playing contribute to your performances as a member of an orchestra?
Solo and orchestral playing are very similar in some ways and extremely different in others. To properly function and contribute as a member of an orchestra, every member should have their music learned and prepared before the first rehearsal has even begun (to the best of their abilities). This requires that every member of the orchestra be self-sufficient musicians. When playing in an orchestra, you have the opposite goal of a soloist, which is to stick out – the goal is to blend in with everybody else in the context of the music being played – this requires constant attention and the ability to quickly change and adapt.
Every musician has two options to learn their music before their first rehearsal: seek the help from their teacher or study it themselves using their own understanding and experience. Since eventually every musician will move on from their violin teacher, in my opinion, it should be the goal of every teacher to teach each student how to further teach themselves. The goal of this taught independence to eventually render ourselves unnecessary to our students. Becoming a self-sufficient musician is a necessary element of becoming a good musician, and in my opinion, if one doesn't take private lessons from another musician who understands the concepts of self-sufficiency, the student will likely never understand all that is required to become a fully independent and functional musician in the real world.
Our faculty come to us with a lifetime of performances and competitions. Can you share your most memorable performance with us?
I have two very memorable, somewhat connected performances, for two very different reasons. The first is my first performance I ever played with my youth orchestra. I think I was about nine or ten years old – it was my first time performing from memory. About four minutes into my performance I completely forgot my music. I didn't realize it at the time but what I was experiencing in that moment was a panic attack – I completely froze and lost my ability to think rationally or move my muscles. After standing there for a while like a deer in headlights I eventually finished the piece with the help of sheet music. Looking on it years later, it was probably the most humbling moment of my childhood.
This experience traumatized me somewhat for years, from that point on I refused to play from memory and developed an extreme fear of performing. This persisted throughout my life as a form of severe anxiety, manifesting as shaky arms and legs, racing thoughts in my head, clenched firsts and unnecessary tension throughout my entire body.
This is where the second story begins to connect to the first. Despite all my dispositions, I persisted and made my way through my childhood to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. While I was preparing for my senior recital at the conservatory, one day I was reflecting on childhood and how I ended up where I was in that moment. I began thinking about that first botched performance and how it was a turning point for me, whether that was for the better or worse. I had come to a revelation...after all these years of crippling anxiety and fear...I was never actually afraid of performing, I was simply afraid of failing.
Once I made this connection I realized the easiest and most effective way to combat failure was to simply practice. With this revelation I began to truly enjoy practicing, and began experiencing a sense of security and pride instead of anxiety rooted in misconceived fear. Shortly after this experience was my senior recital at the conservatory, which turned out to be my most successful performance of my life - experiencing confidence and focus at levels I had never dreamed possible.
What is one of the most useful practice tips you use in your own playing that you believe our Opus 1 violin students, or all students, could also use to improve their own practicing?
I have two tips that are actually connected. Number one: “think more than you play!” And number two: “practice smarter, not harder!” These were golden tips given to me by my second violin teacher. We are often in such a rush, trying to practice and perfect our music as little time as possible that we often forget to sit back and reflect upon what we are actually trying to accomplish.
I have realized over the years that the more time we take to simply think about what we are trying to accomplish at any moment during our practice session, the faster we will internalize and learn what is actually on the page. I have also come to realize that you cannot truly learn a piece of music just by repeating the notes until they sound acceptable – we have to understand why the music was written the way it was, why it should sound the way it does and how we can accomplish that in the most effective means possible. These things cannot be understood or accomplished by repeating notes over and over, but only through focus and study of both music theory and music history.
When I practice, my own teacher recommends at my level that I practice about four hours per day when possible. I could mindlessly repeat my notes while thinking about what I would like for dinner and four hours later I would be “done” – but I wouldn't have accomplished much. A better alternative instead of that would be to practice for two hours (ideally split up in 30 minute segments), completely focusing on every moment, what I am trying to accomplish, how I can accomplish it, how I can improve my technique and how I can produce the best possible sound in general. I guarantee you will learn much more during that two hour practice session. “Practice smarter, not harder!”
As one of our newest teachers at Opus 1, what are you most looking forward to?
I am most looking forward to meeting and working with all of the brilliant young-minds studying at Opus 1 - helping them accomplish their goals to the absolute best of my abilities. I am also looking forward to further developing my skills to become the absolute best teacher I can be. Every single student I work with teaches me something about myself as a teacher and my own violin playing.
During the short period of time I have worked for Opus 1 I have had nothing but positive experiences with hard-working and dedicated young musicians – I'm extremely excited and look forward to all the future students and other teachers I will have the opportunity to work and grow with.