Young Violinist is Passionate About Music

Mar 13, 2009

Every year, hundreds of young students go through intensive music training with the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra. Ann-Elise Henzl recently happened to hear one of them: a female violinist who played with confidence, in front of a crowd of local movers and shakers. Ann-Elise followed up to learn more about the eighth-grade Milwaukee Public School student, who's fallen in love with the violin.

Eighth grader Dailen Harris
Credit Ann-Elise Henzl

Thirteen-year-old Dailen Harris of Milwaukee is playing one of her favorite classical pieces. It's a selection by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana.

"In the beginning I like how it's really smooth and I can use my vibrato and the sound is really pretty, and it's flowy and mellow, and then it gets kind of loud and soft at the same time. It's really cool," Harris says.

Dailen started toying with the violin back in first grade, when one was brought into her classroom. But her love of the instrument didn't blossom until two years later. That's when her teacher recommended she join a group called Progressions, with the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra.

It's an introductory program designed to get more young, minority children involved in the youth symphony. They get a free instrument and subsidized tuition. The training is rigorous.

Dailen Harris: "It was one day for -- it was an hour practice for -- not one-on-one but your group, like violins and cellos and bass. And then you would have two other days of one hour orchestra."

Ann-Elise Henzl: "And you liked it right away even though that was a pretty busy, tough schedule for a pretty small kid?"

Harris: "Yeah. All my life I've loved being busy and just in to things, always in to things, and if I'm not, I'm just sitting at home bored, looking out the window. The littlest thing can distract me if I'm bored."

Since those early years, Dailen has stayed with the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra, also known as MYSO. She's moved on to an intermediate level, with other students her age. The 80 musicians get together to rehearse at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, just north of downtown.

The schedule of practices and performances has remained intense. And Dailen has added an extra activity to her schedule. She's started a business, performing at events such as weddings. She makes from about $50-$150 per gig. Dailen says not all of her friends understand how she chooses to spend her time. But she doesn't care. She loves the violin.

"It's kind of like my best friend, where I can go to it if I'm feeling mad or sad and I can just play, and it makes me feel better," Harris says.

Dailen's mom, Roxie Hentz, says it's a challenge to keep up with her daughter's schedule, as well as the growing cost of her musical education. While Dailen still gets some financial aid for her program, it doesn't cover all the costs.

"For MYSO, the tuition is $465 a year. But private lessons -- $75 a week. In addition to that, she participates in camps -- in addition to the uniform, and then the instrument, the music, all the little doo-dads that you need to go along with your instrument, so it is quite expensive," Hentz says.

But Hentz says the investment is worth it. Dailen is planning to study music therapy in college, or train to become a professional performer. Despite her early symphony experience, she might not specialize in classical music, which she says can sometimes be too "straight" and "strict."

"I look on the Internet and look for sheet music of hip hop violinists, or R&B songs, and pop songs that I like and I listen to and play them on the violin," Harris says. Songs like "No One," by R&B superstar Alicia Keys. Dailen even admits she plays tunes by the teen heartthrob group the Jonas Brothers. That makes her sound a bit more like a 13 year old, and less like a seasoned musician.

"Yes. Yeah. I love their songs," Dailen says with a laugh.