We’ve all seen the videos of tiny kids playing violins so beautifully it belies their age. Many learn through the Suzuki Method, which treats learning music like learning a language.
One of this area’s most successful Suzuki schools is marking its 20th anniversary this week with a homecoming concert by one of its most successful graduates.
Heather Braun grew up in Wauwatosa, participated in the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra, and went through the Barcel Suzuki String Academy. She received her Doctoral of Musical Arts from Boston University and is now co-concertmaster and soloist with the Orchestra of Emmanuel Music.
Braun started playing violin at the age of 3 using the Suzuki Method. It is based on the idea that the entire community, parents and family members are just as involved in learning the instrument as the students.
As such, Braun's three sisters learned the violin, and she and one sister went on to become professional players. But Braun says that's not the point of the method.
"It's not to create professional musicians," she says. "It's really to create a beautiful human, a beautiful soul. Nobody looks back and says, 'I wish I didn't know how to play the violin.'"
Braun first discovered that she wanted to pursue a violin performance career when she attended Boston University’s Tanglewood Institution, a program for high school musicians. There she had a teacher who first made her think about music as a career option.
"She was incredibly inspiring and just made me realize that this could be the life that I want," she says. "It doesn't make very much money, but I'm very happy with what I'm doing. I'm able to create what I love doing all the time every day, and I love to teach."
Today, Braun’s schedule as a freelance musician is packed. Her mornings start with quartet rehearsals, followed by teaching lessons in the afternoon, and she ends her day with ensemble rehearsals. But she values having such a flexible schedule because it allows her to be in charge of her own time and to travel with her ensembles.
Her freelance career also allows her to perform with a wide variety of ensembles, varying with repertoire and instrumentation, and to teach. Based on her students, Braun says classical music is still alive within the younger generation.
“I have a lot of students where I know they wouldn’t be taking lessons anymore if they didn’t love orchestra so much, or chamber music, or playing with others," she says. "They can see the progress. They see, day one, how terrible it sounds and it's just so hard, but then by the time they get to the concert, they are so happy...that kind of euphoria."
While being a freelance musician has its perks, Braun says she also has had to learn to promote herself - something she things all musicians today need to do. Luckily, she says there are many social media and advertising tools around now to do so.
Braun is back in Milwaukee to play a concert in honor of her other alma mater, Barcel Suzuki String Academy, on Saturday, November 16 at 7 PM.