Electric Strings and Me
Before coming to UIUC, I had no idea about the electric strings program here (which is funny now, considering my best friend is an electric violin student here). I only knew about electric violin beforehand when Mark Wood performed in my school district when I was 12. We were in a rehearsal once and he asked me to play with him on stage because I had a great bow arm… it was the coolest experience ever and I had him sign my ½ size violin.
But I forgot about that until recently. I’ve been to a couple electric strings performances and masterclasses this semester and it has been a huge source of inspiration for me. It’s been so inspiring that I plan on getting myself an electric violin and taking lessons next semester!
I really love what Dr. Haken is doing with his students. There seems to be a focus on rock music (which I absolutely love), but also works specifically for electric violin. I currently take a class with Dr. Haken and I’ve learned that he is really open to whatever his students want to do. One person at the electric strings studio recital played a piece from a video game which was amazing!
I recently got back into songwriting after a long break and showed him a tune I’d want to perform on electric violin. I was nervous he might not think it was a worthwhile endeavor but he seems very excited about my ideas. I even want to show him more of the songs I’ve written next semester. A lot of these songs are many years old, and I think now is finally the time I can present them well. Keep an eye out because you just might see me performing my own compositions in a concert very soon!
During my undergraduate years, I was often too stressed or dealing with mental health issues to take full advantage of the events going on around me. I tried joining clubs, but they weren’t that welcoming. I always felt like an outsider. It wasn’t until my senior year that I started going to concerts that I wanted to go to. I went to faculty recitals, I saw Gil Shaham perform the works of Bach, and I got to hear Kelly Hall-Tompkins perform Wynton Marsalis’ Violin Concerto which was really special for me. I even saw some of my peers' recitals and that was really fun, too.
This semester, it’s almost difficult to pick and choose what to attend because there’s so much going on every week! I really appreciate the weekly music events email that goes out because I am quite forgetful. So far I’ve gone to the David Rosenboom Residency concert in October, an electric strings DMA recital, one Illini Strings concert, two electric strings masterclasses, the electric strings studio recital and an artist diploma student recital. I also got to see the Chicago Symphony perform in Krannert Center for Performing Arts which was incredible!
I’m constantly amazed at how many opportunities there are not only to see others perform but to participate in things as a musician. For example, I’m currently in Dr. Koo’s studio and I’m working on a composer collaboration where we get to learn a piece written by a composer and record it. This is just a great learning experience because I’ve never done anything like this before. I wish my previous school had stuff like this to do with their students!
And, in February, I’m performing in a faculty-student side by side performance of ALL of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. That is literally a dream of mine to play the Brandenburg Concertos at such a high level! All in all, I’m learning so much from attending these performances, seeing performers of all levels play vastly different kinds of music. It’s so inspiring for me and I can’t wait to see what next semester has to offer!
So you Had a Bad Lesson…
It’s the day of your lesson. You get into your professor’s room, you start to play through your difficult repertoire, and it all goes out the window. For some reason, even though you practiced all week, it’s not showing in your lesson.
I know how soul-crushing this can be. As a graduate student, I’ve had my fair share of “bad” lessons in the 14 years I’ve been playing violin. Here is my advice to anyone going through something like this:
First, let yourself feel whatever you feel. If you need to cry it out, then do it! If you need a break from the practice rooms, take the break. Try not to beat yourself up. As musicians, I think we forget that music and performing is hard. It’s a lot of intellectual work; figuring out minute changes in our posture to improve our performance, trying to deduce what fingering or bowing works where and why, and listening to recordings of yourself playing to analyze what worked and what didn’t... It takes a lot of time, effort and energy to be a musician.
Second, decide whether you want to involve your professor or not. It is totally up to you whether you want to talk about this with your professor, but I always recommend being open about things like this because at the end of the day, your professor is there to help you out. We are musicians, but we are also human; we can’t be motivated 24/7 to practice and get everything done.
Third, make a plan for the next lesson. What made it a ‘bad’ lesson? Did you not feel prepared for it? Is the music you are learning overwhelming you? Are you sick and not feeling well? Once you can pinpoint exactly what went wrong, you can make sure the next lesson goes well.
I spent way too much of my undergraduate years being afraid of my violin professor and my lessons. It took me two years into my undergraduate studies to realize that my professors are there to help me improve my technique, and not to make me feel bad if I make a mistake in the lesson. And once I realized this, I improved much faster because I was no longer stressed at every lesson.
It can be difficult to find motivation to practice, especially when the only available practice space is a ten minute walk through whatever horrible weather may be plaguing the outdoors, to then make your way up a few floors of the music building to the practice rooms.