Everyone Deserves To Be Safe



World Premiere of THE ESCAPE on HBO

My song THE ESCAPE from my new album will be featured on HBO on November 7th as part of 24/7’s featured showcase of the upcoming Miguel Cotto vs. Canelo Alvarez world championship fight in Las Vegas, which will take place on November 21st.

Being that I’m a martial artist who has trained for many hours in boxing, I’m pretty excited to have my music provide a theme for this championship fight, and I’m honored to be included in HBO’s world class programming. Since my new album is not yet released, this was the television broadcast premiere of the song THE ESCAPE.

If you would like to watch the clip from the 24/7 episode, the music starts at 20:35. This video has over 800,000 views and counting!

You can also hear THE ESCAPE in its entirety from my performance with TEDxBoulder. It is the third song in the performance:



Detroit Flashbacks

Facebook just reminded me that five years ago today I gave a two-hour concert at the Detroit Institute of Arts in front of the stunning “Detroit Industry” mural by Diego Rivera. It was the first concert where I sold my debut CD ‘Vol. I: Battle Cry.’ This Detroit concert was always one of my favorite performance experiences, and I recall that I made up a song on the spot that was inspired by Diego Rivera’s mural — but I never recorded that song. I think I’ll revisit that song again and turn it into a recording soon.

Photo by Ryan Southen

Photography by Ryan Southen



Live at TEDxBoulder

On September 19th, I performed at TEDxBoulder. With 2,200 in attendance, TEDxBoulder is the largest TEDx event in the world. This year’s theme was “Empathy & Malice,” and I was honored to be one of the two musical performances of the night.

Here’s the full performance, which features three songs from my upcoming new album. Enjoy!

TEDxBoulder Full auditorium



Why the Viola?

Sometimes musical instruments choose you. For an unexplainable reason, a particular sound draws you in. At some young age, you hear a certain instrument or see a musician play and it hits you with total clarity — that is my instrument.

I knew it was the viola, and I was 6 years-old when it happened.

Here’s me at six!

It was a crisp fall evening in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio and my older brother — who also plays the viola — was practicing a song from Book 1 of the Suzuki Method with repetition, as we do when we practice and learn songs. I was sitting in the living room nearby, listening closely to what I have already heard a hundred times. And every time I heard him play this one particular part of the song, I had very strong opinions on how I wanted to hear the music. I wanted the passage to be a little slower, a little more drawn out. I craved more drama and expression, more tension and longing… in fact I didn’t even have the vocabulary to describe wanted, but I knew the feeling.

This desire to hear my brother play the music differently is not a critique of his skills. The boy was nine and had just started playing the viola, how much can one expect? What I was feeling and thinking didn’t have to do with him in fact; what I felt was discovery of the longing and curiosity inside of me to create and mold music. Suddenly I felt that I discovered a superpower or magician’s skill. There was a reservoir of music inside of me, and I could hear the notes clearly. And all I had to do to bring this sound inside to life was learn the viola.

And that’s when the obsession began. At six I knew with complete confidence that I could make the viola sound beautiful with enough practice. I was fascinated by the endless mystery and possibilities of sound, how it could make us feel certain emotions, and I started to listen to music with different ears. I can recall the moment where I realized that a single note can be manipulated with endless nuance, and as I listened to music I would ask myself, “How would I have played that part?”

I told my parents I wanted to play the viola, but they told me I had to wait a few years until I was in 4th grade so that there would be an orchestra program for me. Waiting years for this! At first it seemed impossible. But then I decided I would just keep listening to music and listen to my brother practice, until it was my turn.

Here’s a photo of me during those eager, waiting years:

It was a year later, and my brother was not practicing his viola in his bedroom per usual, but instead in the living room. At one point he took a break and put the viola down on the couch and left the room. No one was in sight. Not him, not my parents… I quietly walked over to the viola and stared at it. Then I touched a string. Oh how I wanted to try to play it! I looked around again for my parents or brother and still saw no one, so I picked up the viola and put it into the position I had watched my brother put it in. I put the bow on the strings. For a few moments I fished around on notes, and eventually I found the notes from a portion of the song he was working on, and played the notes. After going though the notes a few times and losing track of time, suddenly my brother was standing behind me.

“Hey! What are you doing?”

My heart jumped and I immediately thought I would get in trouble. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but I really wanted to try it. Don’t be mad.”

He stared at me for a moment and then said, “It’s not that I’m mad, it’s just… how did you know how to play that part?”

“Because I’ve been listening to you this whole time.” I answered. And he smiled.

The best thing about my brother is that he isn’t competitive, and never has been. He and I were both confused about how I could play the part, but he didn’t get mad at me. We just thought it was cool. Then he said, “Listen, don’t play my viola. Wait until you have your own.” And I listened to him.

And when 4th grade started, I was so excited. This was the year! This was my moment! And I’ll always vividly remember when they wheeled in the violin, viola and cello into the room on gray carts and told the class about the school orchestra. I was practically falling out of my seat. And when they asked who was interested, my hand shot up as fast as I could send it into the air. “What instrument are you interested in Christen?”

“Viola.”

The teachers asked me to come to the front of the room to be measured for the instrument. You see, not everyone can play the viola. Though one plays it on the left shoulder like a violin, violas are larger than a violins and one must have long fingers or big hands to make this happen. Perhaps this is why there are so many male violists. And when I tried it on for size, the teachers said, “Oh sweetie your hands are almost big enough, but not quite. How about you play the violin?”

“No. Viola.”

“But Christen, if you play the viola a lot and you have to stretch your hands so much, you might get tendonitis. Are you sure you won’t consider the violin?”

“No way. It goes too high. I like the low notes.” I pointed to the instrument. “Viola. I want to play the viola.”

“OK, you’re the boss.” And it was on!

That excitement, that curiosity and fascination with music, that confidence that I understood how and why a musical note can sound beautiful… it was all there immediately and unexplainably at 6-years-old, it was there in 4th grade when I officially became a violist. It’s something that I treasure and will respect forever with total humility. But it’s something that to this day that I don’t fully understand. How does a child know that there is music inside of them? How can it be explained that certain instruments undoubtedly call to certain people?

This experience is not unique to me by any means. I know dozens of musicians who play the instruments they desperately wanted to play as children. But I also know even more adults who did not play the instrument that they wanted to play as a child, and many of them have expressed sadness and regret about this with me in private. Why they didn’t play the instruments that called to them is different: parents’ opinions or desires, financial restraints, a lack of self-confidence or good ol’ fear… whatever the reason, they did not play the instrument they wanted. And for most, it is something that haunts them and never goes away.

It’s a fascinating mystery that I think we may never understand, yet should always trust and pursue: if you have a child who wants to play a certain instrument, no matter how bizarre the instrument, I deeply encourage you to let them chase this desire and see what happens. Just imagine if the parents of this little conductor-to-be creates the conditions to let his little soul fly with the music.

And if you’re one of those who secretly wanted to play an instrument when you were young but never did… for you I ask and wonder, is it too late? As long as we’re breathing, we are able to learn and create, right? Maybe take a chance and start to research where you can rent an instrument and take private lessons near you.

I now play other instruments beyond the viola in my compositions and performances, and my upcoming new LP will showcase these other instruments… but the viola will always be my musical main squeeze. Because after all, it chose me.

 






christen@itsnotaviolin.com

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