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Alumni Spotlight: Michelle Maruyama

1. How did you become interested in the violin and music? When did you know you wanted to make it a career?

When my brother was born, my parents made a big deal about my being a big sister. I had seen Itzhak Perlman on Sesame Street, and said, 'now that I'm two and a half, don't you think I should have a violin?' They bought me a plastic Mickey Mouse guitar for my third birthday, and I was so mad! It was NOT a violin! I kept asking and they signed me up for Suzuki violin lessons when I turned four. I just always loved it. I have a school assignment from kindergarten where I drew a picture of myself playing violin and wrote that I would be a violinist when I grew up.

2. How has music shaped your life? Do you look back at YMM as a (strong) influence?

Music has shaped my life because no matter what I do, I feel bad for not practicing enough and wish I was better at __fill-in-the-blank-violin-technique__! I am innately drawn to problem-solving and obsessive research, and playing music definitely taps into that. In practice and in performance, there is a sense of making constant tiny adjustments based on what is happening with you and your own instrument, what is happening with the players around you, and what is happening in the piece of music you are playing. It feels a little like driving in 3D! I had such a good time in YMM because the friends I made there shared my experience of the joys and challenges of music. But beyond the social aspect, playing in orchestra was so inspiring! I remember playing Tchaikovky's Fifth Symphony in the YMM Honors Orchestra for a side-by-side concert with the Monterey Symphony. Our music director, Vince Gomez, was so passionate about music and demanded that we put our heart into it. Playing the beautiful, soaring second movement of that symphony brought this unforgettable exhilaration. It was so glorious, and an affirmation of my desire to be a violinist for life! I was thrilled when a couple of years ago when Mr. Gomez found my number through the Musician's Union and called to ask if I would play along with a senior citizen's orchestra he was conducting. After more than 25 years, I performed again under the baton of Maestro Gomez, and it was a blast!

3. What are you up to these days? Some of your orchestras are performing during the pandemic. How different is it?

I saw a great quote from a musician during the pandemic saying something like, we aren't paid to play music, we are paid to be ABLE to play music! So, we musicians are trying our best to keep practicing. At first, the only "gigs" were recording cell phone videos with a "click" to be synced up in those Zoom video orchestras. It was great to do something, but so unsatisfying to have a click as an ensemble partner, instead of other musicians! Now, I am fortunate to have played several socially distant orchestral concerts. I don't know why, but playing with a mask on is a little disorienting and does seem to make it harder to hear. By far the biggest challenge however is being so physically spread out. In the strings, we aim to play in perfect unison with our sections. The added distance between players makes it harder to hear all around the section, and robs us of the physical awareness of adjacent colleagues we are so reliant on.

I had one performance recently which was livestreamed instead of pre-recorded. Even though the audience was at home on their computers, there was a real sense that it was a CONCERT, and that there was no stopping, or fixing anything before the recording was released... the energy in the room was palpable, and so was that feeling of all of us musicians relying on one another to make special moments happen. I didn't realize how different it would feel from a recorded concert, but it was really exciting and beautiful!!

From a logistical standpoint, there is no more carpooling or having lunch with friends in between rehearsals, and there is a baseline anxiety of 'was I safe enough?' every time we go to work now. It's more tiring and less fun for sure. I still love going to work but can't wait for a time when the priority can be music-making.

4. Any advice or words of wisdom to our current and future YMM members? Can be for high school, college, career choices, etc. Thank you!

Music is awesome because it is physical, mental, interpersonal and spiritual all at once and happens in the moment. Studying music is great practice for many things in life. My advice would be, find a good balance between practicing technique, practicing your music, studying your music and listening to as much music as possible. There are so many great performances and lessons available online now - take advantage of them! No matter what your goals are in playing music, the more you put into it, the more you will receive!


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