September 4, 2015
Last March, the Curtis Institute of Music violin faculty, of which I am a member, listened to over one hundred violinists from all over the world audition to become students at the school. There were only two or three openings for the next school year and many of the young violinists played remarkably well, which made our decisions extremely difficult.
As each student played, his or her application folder was passed around to the faculty. The application allowed us to learn such basic facts as the student’s birthplace, address, schools attended, teachers, repertoire learned, and letters of recommendation. Of course, this information meant little—if anything at all—in the decision-making process. Either a student played the violin well or not. Either the student was musical or not. Either the student had something personal and affecting to say, or not.
One section of the application form stood out, however. The heading was “Goals.” I assumed students would supply straightforward, one-sentence answers such as, “I want to become a brilliant concert violinist” or, “I hope to play in a great symphony orchestra” or, “I’d love to be part of a first-rate string quartet.” But the reality was surprising, even breathtakingly different. Student after student seized upon the “Goals” section to express their innermost feelings about music, its role in our lives, and the human condition itself. While listening to each violinist play their solo Bach, Mozart concerto, or Paganini Caprice, I would come across their personal, almost confessional goal that provided me for a brief moment with a moving counterpoint to the music itself.
Here are some examples of the auditioning students’ goals in no particular order:
There is nothing more personal than music. No one can tell another individual how one should feel or think when listening to music. Music paints a glorious picture and tells a story without words.
Music is freedom and it is necessary to master your instrument to get that absolute freedom.
My plan is to keep striving to reach my fullest potential and see what I can offer the world.
People love to go to music concerts and to the theatre because, for a brief period of time, they are transported to a magical world of beauty, drama, humor, grotesqueness, and love. My goal is to find the best way to create a dialogue with the audience through music.
I love the feeling of the sound of the violin I play. Anytime I pick it up I feel like I can’t put it down for hours.
I want to be a real musician, to be a person who plays for heart, mind, and spirit.
Honestly, some day I hope to light up peoples’ faces, fill their hearts with warmth, and let them forget about all the troubles in the world through music.
Did these young musicians, many of them still teenagers, seek out music as an outlet for their already astonishing range and depth of feeling, or did music find them, perhaps still innocent and untouched, and open up their hearts and minds as only music can?
When I entered Curtis as a teenager, there were no goals asked for on my application form, but what would I have written if there were? That I wanted to become a violinist because tears filled my eyes when I first heard the Beethoven Violin Concerto at age five? Or because of the life-altering moment at age ten when I heard Bach’s Chaconne for solo violin and was overwhelmed not only by the power of the music but also by the ability of a single violin to deeply stir the emotions?
My father, who loved music and had a good ear, often listened to me practice in those years just before I entered Curtis. “No, no. Not like that. You must make me cry when you play,” he would say when I was working on a particularly touching moment in the music. And then it happened. I had performed the Nigun by Ernest Bloch, a dramatic and highly charged work for violin and piano, and Dad came backstage smiling joyfully while tears ran down his cheeks.
I had made him cry, and it thrilled me and somewhat unnerved me at the same time, for I had an inkling of the power I might one day possess, with only a violin and bow in my hands, to affect people deeply
So what would I have written as my goal upon entering Curtis? Perhaps something not that different from the goal of one of the gifted young violinists who auditioned for our violin faculty last March:
“I want to be a real musician, to be a person who plays for heart, mind, and spirit.”
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You and your Guarneri colleagues made me cry on many occasions. Thank you for those experiences.
Thank you so much. I am the mother of a 46 year old violinist and your story brought
back the time of her long-ago auditioning times and great love for her instrument and it’s music.
I love your great quartet’s recordings, but your wonderful monthly stories on this site are now a delight of my old age. Again, thank you!
How about playing music that will not just liked by the audience but would provide an experience for them with goosebumps?
Not only are you an inspiration for the soul through your violin and your music, but you also reach the soul through your words and thoughts. I hope we will meet again someday soon.
And Mr. Steinhardt, listening to my mother’s LP of the Beethoven String quartets played by the Guarneri String Quartet was my inspiration for wanting to become a violinist as a youngster. It was my most favorite recording to listen to and I was so happy she owned it. Then in college, I bought my own copy of GSQ on CD format—and still listen to them to this day! Thank you for your beautiful playing!!
It’s touching to see that these young musicians take an idealistic attitude to music-making. May they keep this attitude their whole lives long; never become jaded.
My goal now is to have my little finger move freely and accurately. Having come to the fiddle late in life I realize that the world of music is united and bound by a common language and that we are all playing in the key of strawberry. In my case the accent is informed by Irish fiddle tunes as well as by the Pablo Casals’ master classes that I audited back in the early 60s.
Passion. It drives the heart to accomplish great things. Reading the students goals it is clear they have passion for their craft. Passion is wired in our dna, if one is fortunate enough to uncover and fuel that passion, oh the possibilities! I hazard a guess that those students that were not selected will continue to play, to inspire, to enjoy that which is their true passion, music.
For our passion to speak and shine through in our playing our skill set needs to be beyond reproach. I would hope that a student would let their playing speak for them. Thus, there would be no need in the goals section to emphasis their passion and humanity.
Thank you for this blog post, I was inspired and encouraged after reading it.
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