First, I’m sorry but I’ve just got to ask, what is Quakerism?
[laughs] Hmm, I don’t think I can give that a concise summary. Quakerism is very self-defined. You could ask five different Quakers and get five different answers. The most important aspects to me are the social and ethical values. Universal respect and compassion are a big part of it.
I know there are something like nine Quakers on the Williams campus. It must be tough dealing with idiots like me with questions like “Does the fact that it’s called Quaker Oatmeal annoy you?”
No, I’m used to it. It really doesn’t bother me. My friends enjoy pretending to mistake Quakers for Amish people, asking why I have zippers on my pants and that sort of thing.
Some people are genuinely curious and want to know about Quakerism, and I certainly don’t mind that. It can be fun to explain it to someone who has no idea what it means.
No zippers? Didn’t know that about the Amish. Well, ok, anyway, let’s talk music. You’re involved with the Berkshire Symphony – what instruments do you play?
Violin is the only instrument I’m really serious about. I mess around with the guitar, but I’m not very good at it. I started playing classical violin when I was six, and starting playing fiddle music at 13.
With your family?
From 13 to 17, I played with a local contra dance band. Then when that band broke up our local contradance needed a house band, so my family volunteered, and we’ve been doing it since then.
My mom and dad play guitar, piano and electric bass, my brother (a sophomore at Oberlin) plays the guitar and piano and cello and my 14-year-old sister also plays fiddle.
Better than you?
Better than I was at her age.
Now, does your family have a CD out or anything?
My first band made a tape about seven years ago, but I think I lost it. Every January, though, my family band plays for our local dance. It’s a lot of fun to go home every year to do that.
What’s happening with the symphony this year to look forward to?
We’re doing the usual four-concert cycle. I don’t know the program for the whole year, but the first concert looks really good. We’re doing Brahms’ violin concerto, Strauss’ Fledermaus Overture and Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony.
Last year I think we played some really good concerts, and I’ve heard we have some very strong new players. Our new concertmaster, my violin teacher, is very good.
Now is music something that you’d seriously like to pursue after college?
Well, not professionally. I made money in high school playing fiddle and classical chamber music. Music will always be a part of my life, but I don’t plan on making a profession out of it.
I came to Williams expecting I’d double major in music and biology, but I realized that I’m not that interested in the academic side of music, I just love playing.
You do your own music?
I don’t compose my own songs, but I like improvising harmonies to fiddle music. My favorite example of that, actually, is a piece I played earlier this evening at the Goodrich open mic: the theme song to the Ken Burns Civil War film series. It’s fun to take a piece like that and to make it your own by building harmonies around it.
Do you often perform on your own?
Freshman year, I put on a couple of recitals. I didn’t perform much sophomore year except for orchestra concerts, but I played a lot of chamber music last year, small groups and some solo stuff. I’m hoping to do more of that this year.
Do you remember your first performance?
It was 1987; I was six, and I played “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” I was absolutely terrified.
Has that nervous excitement cooled off after so many years of performing?
No, the excitement of performing hasn’t changed. It’s more a matter of learning how to channel that excitement into constructive energy rather than tension. When you’re really into a performance, you can block out the audience to focus on playing, but there is still an adrenaline rush. Sometimes it makes playing harder, but the adrenaline is the fun part of performing.
Now, what about listening to music? What’s your taste in music like?
I like a lot of different types, but I mostly listen to classical. I’m usually doing something else when I listen to music, and I can focus on work better with classical music. Let’s see, I like rock up to a certain point, although after the seventies I generally lose interest. There’s not a lot of music that I actively dislike.
Do you have a favorite song? Hard question, I know.
No, actually for me it’s not. The Ashokan Farewell, that Civil War piece I mentioned earlier. It’s been my favorite since I was about ten. It’s simple, evocative and amazingly beautiful. I’ll often play it when I’ve been practicing for a while and just want to unwind a bit.