Interview with Kristen Nalecz: Violin Extraordinaire


Kristen is a SUNY Geneseo freshman and a Psychology and Music Performance double major.  She is beyond passionate about music, especially violin.  The following interview encompasses her musical inspirations, advice, and history.


Q: How old were you when you first began playing the violin?

A: I was six, almost seven.


Q: Why did you start playing?

A: It was mostly my parents who decided that I would start playing, and my sister started the same year as me, but I definitely wasn’t reluctant to play; I remember being excited to play. I was excited to learn to play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”.


Q: Who are your favorite composers?

A: Dvorak and Tchaikovsky.


Q: Is there a piece or movement that has a special place in your heart?

A: Symphony No. 9 in E minor “From the New World” by Tchaikovsky:  I played the last movement of this with a youth orchestra when I was a sophomore in high school, so I began listening to the entire symphony. I heard it played by R.P.O. Then, in 2015, I played it at Interlochen Summer Camp as a first violin, which was a big deal for me at the time. When I came to Geneseo, I had the opportunity to play the entire symphony as a first violin my first semester. I love the melodies and the emotions it portrays. The good thing about music is that you can take your love for a piece and bring it anywhere.

Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus by Vaughan Williams: It’s a shorter piece that I played in my high school youth orchestra as a junior. The main melody is beautiful: pretty and slow. Vaughan Williams takes the melody and changes it up and expands it throughout the piece. It’s only for strings, so it gives a very lush, thick sound. I remember a big night rehearsal before the concert in the hall at Eastman, and my friend (who plays the flute) told me how much she loved being able to listen to the piece, so it makes me think of her and our time together.


Q: What do you consider your biggest musical accomplishment?

A: The New York State School Music Association does a conference all-state program that I auditioned for and didn’t get into as a sophomore but got into as a junior and went to in the fall of my senior year; it was so many talented people and a really good experience. It was in my home city, so there were so many talented musicians going there from throughout the state, and I made a few good friends. We performed at Eastman Theater. My youth orchestra played at Carnegie Hall twice in eighth grade and my senior year. Going to Interlochen (my summer camp) was a big accomplishment for me to stay away from home for so long and especially to grow as a musician, learn new music and improve my skills; we played a concert every single week.


Q: You’ve played in Carnegie Hall, correct? Could you tell me about that experience?

A: I went there twice with my youth orchestra. The first time I did it I was an eighth grader and when we all walked onstage for the rehearsal, we were all so amazed and trying to take it all in. We’d seen it in pictures and movies, and it’s quite a hall. The second time during my senior year was with all of my best friends, and there was a lot of fun stuff on the trip besides playing. I knew that my family was in the audience, and they were enthralled. The last piece we played was just a hell of a good time (Marquez’s Danzón no. 2), upbeat, and a crowd pleaser. The violins were all moving so much and having a really good time playing. It was all just amazing.


Q: How many private instructors have you had?

A: Four, including summer camp and my current instructor at Geneseo (Andrew Bergevin).


Q: What do you think the best qualities in a teacher are?

A: A good teacher needs to have high expectations for their student because, when learning from a teacher, it’s important that they help motivate you by setting demands. Despite that, a good teacher has to be understanding and respectful of a student; know that students have a lot going on in their lives and be willing to compromise to help students learn in a way that is both effective and enjoyable. A teacher should not only be a teacher. Having a good relationship with your teacher is important. I think it can be really valuable to feel like you can talk to your teacher when you’re growing as a musician. I think it’s necessary that the teacher has to be passionate: in the music they play, the music they’re teaching, engaging with and teaching the student. Passion will bounce off the student. Seeing a teacher love what they’re doing allows a student to feel the same way.


Q: Who has been the biggest inspiration musically?

A: My sister, for being both talented and for her passion and expression as a listener, or my teacher, for being all of the best qualities a teacher should be.


Q: How do you handle mistakes during a performance?

A: I have improved how I’ve dealt with a performance. I always know when I make a mistake, if something’s out of tune or my fingers fumble. I used to react to it by changing my facial expression. Now, when I make a mistake, I don’t react facially. Reacting to your mistake cues your audience into it. You can have control over your audience in that respect. If you convince yourself that you didn’t mess up so badly, it’s easier to keep going. You just have to keep going and keep playing and not dwell on it.


Q: Have you had to learn to cope with nerves? How?

A: Definitely, yeah. I’m someone who gets nervous when I play in front of people. For me, I get nervous in front of both judges and big audiences or anyone who is watching who would be able to judge my playing. I haven’t overcome it, but it’s gotten better as I learn to deal with it more. I try to give myself enough time beforehand to relax, but I can’t have too much time or I’ll overthink; I try to find that balance. Deep breaths and warming up. Playing so that my fingers are ready. I still get nervous, though. I try to convince myself that it will be okay, but even when that doesn’t work, I do it anyway. I try to take the feelings of enjoyment and use that to overcome the nerves.


Q: Who has been your biggest support system?

A: All my friends and family, my teacher… but if I had to pick someone: my teacher. She is understanding despite her expectations about my situation. I feel like I could talk to her about anything. She’s supported me with all of my musical and audition struggles and even my issues into college.


Q: Do you play any other instruments?

A: I was a vocalist throughout high school. Ukulele and piano background, but not proficient. I learned flute for a year when I was young.


Q: What is the best thing about being a musician?

A: Being able to experience and express a variety of emotions. Music itself can portray basically any emotion and that’s reverberated through your experiences and struggles and the relationships formed through music.


Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring violinists, instrumentalists, or performers?

A: It’s important to realize that when you’re learning music, everything takes a lot of time, adjustment, and growth. You can’t expect anything. It’s in your control to be the musician that you want to be, but it takes time, practice, motivation, and throughout all that, you have to follow what you really want to do.


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