Two weeks ago, our school was visited by a very special guest. Emily Schaad, a musician from the Hudson Valley of New York, came to mentor our strings programs, and give master classes to three of North Broward’s strings players: violinist Laura Gonzales, cellist Regina Garza, and violinist Lena Kalandjian. Before she left, I had the opportunity to interview her, where I learned more about her interests as a musician, what inspired her to become a musician, and what advice the accomplished violinist, violist, fiddler, teacher, and conductor could give to an aspiring musician.
To start this interview off, I’d like to ask when and why you started playing an instrument?
When I was a little kid, I was about five years old, and my mother passed a sign at a grocery store that said Suzuki violin lessons. And she had been thinking that she was ready to enroll me in a more serious activity. She told me it would be fun, that she played in high school, etc, but I did not want to do it. Then one of the kids in my class brought a violin into class for show and tell, and I went home and realized I had to have one of those.
I understand that now you mostly play viola, when did you make that transition from violin?
When I was sixteen, I wanted to start attending an extra school for music. Some of my friends went to a conservatory in New York City, Manhattan school of Music, for a Saturday high school program. I didn’t want to switch teachers, but I heard I could get a scholarship if I played viola. I had a great teacher there, and I got serious about it because my teacher really inspired me. I didn’t ever completely switch; I still do play violin, but I ended up studying viola in college because I had some wonderful people who were great leaders for me.
Do you play any other instruments other than viola and violin?
Although it may not be considered a different instrument, I do a lot of fiddling; it’s technically the same instrument as a violin but it’s really different. I also play a little banjo and guitar, and I used to play french horn in high school.
Are there any particular musicians or composers who have influenced you in your musical endeavors?
Definitely. People that I have felt really moved by are people like my teachers or that I had personal contact with. One of the first musicians for me that started me on a desire to pursue music as a career is named Alexander (Sascha) Schneider. He was an old Russian man; I met him when he was 82 shortly before he passed away. I met him at the audition for a program I was participating in at Carnegie Hall. He was just so full of life in the music (he conducted our chamber orchestra) and he was such an inspiring leader and it seemed really special to me that he was that old and had that much vitality in the music.
I understand you went to Juilliard and Curtis (which is very impressive), our school is very Juilliard oriented; we have the whole fine arts program based on a curriculum from them. We haven’t really learned as much about Curtis, could you describe your experiences there?
Curtis is a really small school. I graduated in a class of about thirty; it basically staffed enough students to fill a full orchestra, plus some pianists, organists, opera singers, and composers. It was all performance, all music, and the faculty there is all famous musicians who have made a mark in the music world. I got to work with some really wonderful conductors there, there was one who worked with us pretty regularly, and they also brought us several other symphony orchestra conductors. Playing in that orchestra was really special; they all really cared about orchestra, and people would completely learn their parts beforehand so when we showed up, rehearsal was all about making music and not about fixing things. The performances were absolutely breathtaking. It was amazing, and being around people who are that serious about their craft was a special experience. It’s neat following people from that school; I get a copy of the alumni magazine and it tells what people have accomplished. I love hearing that someone has won a grammy award, or has soloed at a famous orchestra, because you really think to yourself, wow, I knew that person.
Do you have any hobbies or aspirations other than music?
I sure do. I haven’t been able to pursue a lot of them recently because I’ve been really busy as a conductor lately. I like to throw pottery, I also like to play soccer. I’m not incredibly good at either one, but that’s why they call it a hobby! I also run, and I suppose that traditional music, as opposed to classical music, is a hobby for me also; it’s more of a thing where I go camping and play music with people in the woods, rather than on stage.
Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
To me, the best part of music was playing with other people. There’s two parts to that; number one is that any time you get to play music together with other people, especially when you get to make music when people are working hard, to really appreciate that opportunity. Especially in a large ensemble, you may not have opportunities to do that for your entire life. The other part is that you have the opportunity to bring everything you have to them. To look at not just having a good attitude and sitting there but thinking how can I contribute the best I possibly have to this situation? Because you’re not only making yourself learn more, you’re giving the best experience for everyone else. In orchestra, you’re sitting there and contributing to something that is what you make it. The product you come up with as a group is about what everybody puts into it, and that kind of specialness comes together when you access the unity and community of the group. If every player goes three inches beyond where they were going to go, you’ve got the opportunity to go somewhere completely different. When you feel that coming at the audience, it’s a special moment and a feeling that you can’t write on the page; when everyone comes together it’s a kind of wordless communication that everyone in the room can share.
Photo Credit: joyfulnoisecenter
What is your favorite kind of music? Why? If you play an instrument or vocalize, what is your favorite part about that experience?