A Brief Violin Family History

This is a story of the musical tradition I grew up in, the enduring professional role models in my life and a great example of just how small the music world really can be.

Once upon a time I was a little girl living in Seattle. One summer, when I was about 4 or 5 there was a block party held on out street and a young violinist played. It was awesome. I remember watching her and marveling at how cool it sounded. I was immediately enamored with the instrument. Legend has it (according to my mom, because I don't really remember what happened next) that I would not stop talking about playing the violin for months. I wanted to do it! I wanted to be that cool girl at the block party playing awesome music and impressing everyone! Wow - Ego much? So flash forward to the next summer when the same super cool violinist came back and played at our block party again. My mom finally caved and approached the girl's family about pursuing violin lessons.

For the next several years I took lessons in the Suzuki Method. My teacher was the best. I can't actually tell you what we did in lessons but I do remember laughing really hard, enjoying my lessons and teacher, and striving to do better. By the time I was 9 I was in book 6. La Folia by Corelli was my jam. I could play it, and often used it to show off at my new school because finally I felt like a violin star.

From ages 9-14 I lived in England. Culturally this was great. I did cool stuff my American friends couldn't do like visit castles on the weekend, drink tea at fancy tea shops, and play netball (a sport few people outside of Great Britain have even heard of) but it was not a hot time for my violin skills. I LOVED my first teacher and none of the teachers in England were stacking up well in her shadow. I was new to the British social norms that exist between teacher and student and was not excelling in that tradition. I was supposed to strive for greatness regardless of my interactions with my teacher and I found this rather boring. Another curve ball was the lack of Suzuki teachers - I was plunged into the traditional British system that emphasizes note reading, sight reading, and music theory and requires an examination in order to pass on to the next level. It was so different, and it was tough. I'm sure that these teachers were actually really great but to a pre teen with as much moxie as I had it wasn't necessarily a good fit. My fancy violin skills began to tarnish and fade but in my little heart of hearts I still wanted it.

My family moved to Michigan after that and I attended Interlochen Center for the Arts throughout High School. I rubbed shoulders with some very popular and successful artists, performers and musicians. Even now, I regularly see someone I went to high school with modeling in a magazine, acting in the hottest new movie or performing on the world's greatest stages. I loved boarding school and the rigorous environment. It truly was a creative and exciting place and has had a lasting impact on how I approach education, learning, practicing, expectations and goals. My teacher had a huge personality and was much easier for me to form a working relationship with then any of my teachers in England. It was certainly a step in the right direction.

Upon graduating from Interlochen I moved to Minneapolis to attend the University of Minnesota and study with Sally O'Reilly. She is still a major influence in my life. I turn to her advice when struggling with professional relationships, learning new repertoire, teaching my own students and most importantly when making big decisions (like buying a new instrument, applying for graduate school, and acquiring letters of recommendation). I still use the technique books we worked on together, and still put myself back in her bootcamp routines periodically. She motivated me to work hard and use my technique to express myself fully on the violin. Lessons were really productive yet pleasant. Don't get me wrong - she is very demanding and her expectations are high. I was definitely not a stranger to the practice room in those days. She did not try to change my individual nature, only to nurture it and organize it violinistically. She is funny - like hilariously funny. She even has a Facebook page devoted to her quotes called 'The Incredibly quotable Ms. O'Reilly' - check it out, there are some real gems on there.

Cool right? Here is a quick history of my life - who cares? Ready for the the plot twist? My very first violin teacher and her daughter, the awesome violinist at the block party both studied with Sally O'Reilly!!!!! 

It was like the stars had aligned from the very beginning. My first teacher was Janai Fuller, and she is now the director of The Suzuki Institute of Seattle. You can read her brief bio here. Her daughter, the reason I wanted to play violin in the first place is Angie Fuller. The following is Angie's professional bio copied directly from the Dallas Symphony website:

Violinist Angela Fuller Heyde joined the Dallas Symphony Orchestra as principal second violin in September of 2009. Previously, she served as concertmaster of the Houston Symphony and as a first violinist of the Minnesota Orchestra, and has been a guest concertmaster with the orchestras of Atlanta, Bergen (NORWAY), Indianapolis and Seattle. Fuller Heyde made her Houston Symphony concerto debut in September of 2007 with critically acclaimed performances of the Bruch concerto. An avid chamber musician, she was a member of the celebrated Prospect Park Players in Minneapolis with conductor/pianist William Eddins and Milwaukee Symphony principal cellist, Joseph Johnson. She has collaborated with such artists as Janos Starker, William Preucil, Charles Castleman and Andrew Litton. A champion of new music, Fuller Heyde gave the Texas premiere of Hilary Tann's Here the Cliffs with the East Texas Symphony in Tyler, TX, and performed that work again with California's Monterey Symphony. Other solo appearances have included the concerti of Brahms and Sibelius with the Minnesota Orchestra. Fuller Heyde began violin studies at the age of three with her mother, Janai. Her teachers include Camilla Wicks, Sally O'Reilly and William Preucil at the Cleveland Institute of Music. She was the 2000 winner of the Irving M. Klein International String Competition held in San Francisco, as well as the winner of the 1998 Minnesota Orchestra's WAMSO competition. In addition to frequent appearances at the Minnesota Orchestra's Sommerfest, she has performed at the music festivals of Aspen, Grand Teton, Tanglewood, San Diego's Mainly Mozart Festival, the Chautauqua Institution and the Olympic Music Festival. A dedicated teacher, Fuller Heyde has served on the faculty of Rice University's Shepherd School of Music and has given master classes throughout the United States.

Do I have good taste or what!? Let me just spell this out one more time for you - the violinist who first inspired me to play is now a principal player in a major symphony, AND she is the winner of several international competitions. I know talent when I see it, even at the age of 4!

So now what? - Well, I correspond fairly regularly with Sally O'Reilly. I called her to discuss the final year of my Doctorate and my last degree recital program several months ago and she immediately suggested I go to Dallas to have lessons with Angie. Angie had performed Tzigane recently with the Dallas Symphony and regularly performs the other repertoire on my program. So off I went - Spring break became perhaps the most epic professional/personal reunion I have ever experienced. My entire violin life came full circle. To  learn from the person who had first inspired me to play violin was freaky, and awesome. To share more than just one teacher from our past is wild and certainly makes me feel extremely honored and very privileged (it also makes me want to practice like crazy because, you know, these are some major players in the violin world and I really don't want to be the bad seed/black sheep/epic failure in this lineage).

And how was the lesson? Honestly? I'd have to say it was one of the best lessons I've had in years...There is a reason Angie is so successful! It was full of the great tips and tricks, sound advice, musical wisdom, and a few clues into how she maintains her awesome violin skills. Angie is a great communicator - funny, dynamic, clear, encouraging and demanding - just like someone else we both studied with. I definitely walked out of our lessons feeling like I had a ton of work to do but also that I had a plan it was not an impossible road ahead of me and I was excited to get to work. Just the way I like it.

I wish I had a photo of us from way back in the early 1990s in Seattle - maybe my mom has one hidden away somewhere? If I find one I'll make sure to update this post.

Me and Angie in Dallas, March 2015. After a great lesson - and I'm still smiling (and so is she!). Ignore the pants - my mom says they make me look like I have Gangrene. She doubts my yoga-chic fashion choices all of the time.

Me and Angie in Dallas, March 2015. After a great lesson - and I'm still smiling (and so is she!). Ignore the pants - my mom says they make me look like I have Gangrene. She doubts my yoga-chic fashion choices all of the time.