The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Meet violinist Valerie Clare Sanders — the fourth and final competitor in the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s “Final Forte” concert to be broadcast live tonight

March 16, 2011
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By Jacob Stockinger

Usually, Wednesdays are reserved for a datebook with the coming week’s concerts. But I am postponing that until tomorrow because I have the last interview to publish with violinist Valerie Clare Sanders, who is among the Final Forte competitors.

TONIGHT, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will perform with the Final Forte competitors.

The finalists (below in a photo below by James Gill) in the 2011 Bolz Young Artists Competition are (from left) pianist Ariela Bohrod, cellist Elliot Yang and violinists Leah Latorraca and Valerie Clare Sanders. (The last two days on this blog have featured interviews with three of the four.  Today is the fourth interview.)

Each finalist will perform a concerto excerpt with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) under the baton of Music Director John DeMain before a live audience in Overture Hall.

Bohrod will perform “Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22” by Camille Saint-Saëns. Yang will perform “Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major, Op. 107” by Dmitri Shostakovich. Latorraca will perform Concerto No. 2 by Béla Bartók and Sanders will perform “Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 77” by Dmitri Shostakovich.

The winner and runner-up will be featured as soloists with the MSO at the Spring Young People’s Concert. In addition, each student will receive a $2,000 scholarship; either the Marian Bolz Prize or the Steenbock Youth Music Award. Up to two Honorable Mention scholarships of $1,000 may be awarded.

The free concert, which will also determine the final order and prizes of the winners, will take place tonight in Overture Hall, at 6:45 p.m. Tickets are free but must be reserved.

The concert will be broadcast LIVE Wednesday night starting at 7 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio, 88.7 FM in the Madison area.

Wisconsin Public Television will broadcast the concert on Monday, March 28, at 8 p.m. and then on Saturday, April 3, at 3:30 p.m.

What a perfect use of public radio and television, The Ears says. Why would anyone want to defund such meritorious and deserving public services?

For more information about the Final Forte, visit:


Four high school students from around the state are the finalists. Today is the last of the four interviews with them.

What is your name? How old are you and when did you start studying music?

My name is Valerie Clare Sanders.  I am 18 years old, and I started studying violin when I was 3.

What grade are you in now and what school do you go to?

I am a high school senior, and I currently attend Divine Savior Holy Angels High School in Milwaukee.

What are your favorites subjects? Do you have other areas of interest (such as sports, theater, dancing, debating, chess – please be specific)

My favorite subjects in school include English, Latin, Science, and all of the fine arts elective classes that I’ve taken, including Theory, Playwriting and Dance.

In addition to my schoolwork and practicing, I am very active in the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra (MYSO, below).  Through that organization, I have been in a variety of orchestras, chamber ensembles, and extra collaborative performing projects, as well as competitions.

Outside of music and school, I also enjoy reading, writing (stories and poetry), theatre, attending ballets and concerts, being with friends and family, going running or walking outdoors, and creating costumes.

What are your plans for higher education and a career?

I plan to earn a degree in violin performance in college, and then beyond that perhaps a master’s and doctorate in some form of musical pursuit.  I would really love to teach in some way, whether that be in the form of a classroom music professor, a violin professor or private violin studio teacher, or a director of a youth orchestra program.  And of course, hopefully I will always be performing in some way at least once in a while.

Who is your music teacher?

I have quite a number of teachers who influence my musical education.

Currently, I study violin privately with Eugene Purdue, who teaches in Madison.  In the past, my violin teachers have been Jeanyi Kim, of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and Mary Ellen Meyer.

Additionally, I study piano with Stefanie Jacob at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, and have been studying with her for about 7 years now.

At school, my music teacher is Sam Grabow, and at MYSO, my directors include Carter Simmons, Margery Deutsch, and Shelby Keith Dixon.

Do you have a favorite composer and favorite pieces to listen to or to play?

I tend to enjoy Russian and Eastern European music – Shostakovich (below), Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Bartok.  I love its grittiness and intriguing harmonies.  I also like the music of Copland and Debussy.  Overall, however, I pretty much love all types of classical music.

Why is playing music important to you and what does playing music teach you?

Playing music is important to me because it keeps me sensitive and in touch with the details of everyday experience.  I love the abstract nature of music, as well as its paradox: music is simultaneously very tangible (we can all experience it with our physical senses) and highly intangible (the profound emotional power of music is invisible).

Since I view it as a sort of intersection point between human experience and the deeper, indescribable truths about that experience, I see music as a kind of calling.  Not many people can say that they are able to make an audience cry, think deeply, or simply be touched in some way; and so I also view being a performing artist/musician as a form of serving others and enriching the community, which is obviously important.

Music has taught me too many things to count!  To name a few:

Music has fashioned my work ethic.  It has taught me how to focus my energy on any given task, and to persevere in pursuing my goals passionately no matter what happens.

It has taught me to be an assertive leader on many levels, including socially, physically, and verbally.

It has taught me how to be humble; it has taught me the importance of paying attention to detail, and the value of complexity and subtlety.  It has taught me the value and the meaning of community.  And it has made me a more sensitive individual.  All these things and more!

What different kinds of music do you listen to and like?

Most of the time, I listen to classical music, including ballets and operas.  Sometimes, I enjoy Christian or popular music if someone recommends it.  I am fond of many musicals.  Also, I love listening to Gregorian chant and other medieval or Renaissance styles.

Was there an Aha! Moment or turning point – perhaps a certain performer or piece — when you knew you wanted to be very serious about pursuing classical music?

When I was in 8th grade, I played the orchestral version of Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” ballet suite with the Milwaukee Youth Chamber Orchestra.  I remember feeling poignantly that the music was taking everyone in the room on a journey, and at the end of the performance, a perfect, nearly sublime sense of peace and tranquility pervaded the room.

Several of my fellow orchestra members, some audience members, and I were in tears as the piece came to a close, because the experience was just that beautiful and magical.  That was my first deep encounter with the indescribable power of music to touch human hearts and spirits, and from that point on I knew I would just have to keep playing.

What advice would you give others, students and adults, about studying music?

If you are serious about studying music, take advantage of as many opportunities as you can find.  Be assertive and get yourself out there, but be humble at the same time.  Never assume that there’s nothing more to learn, because when you’re a musician of any kind, there will ALWAYS be more to learn.

Be willing to choose to work ridiculously hard, and embrace every challenge as best you can.  Allow your teachers to expand your musical horizon beyond your comfort zones.  Take time to devote lots of energy to building relationships with your teachers and fellow musicians, since I think that helps music to become a more meaningful communal experience.  Most of all, remember to keep joy and a positive attitude a vital part of all your musical experiences.

For less serious learners, I would say generally the same – take advantage of as many opportunities as you can, like classes, performances, and lessons.  Do everything you can to understand the language of music, since this understanding and appreciation will undoubtedly continue to enrich many other areas of your life long after you’re “done” learning.  Continue enjoying music in your own life, and don’t be afraid to advocate for it within your community, especially among younger people.

How important do you think music education is in relation to other areas of education?

Music affects people’s brains in ways that absolutely no other discipline can.  It makes parts of the brain work together that don’t normally communicate with each other, and leads to a greater appreciation for abstract-ness and complexity.

It creates a healthy emotional environment, and perhaps a spiritual outlet for those who need it to be so.  It stimulates creative and collaborative thinking, encourages humility and respectful behavior, allows for individuality of expression, and promotes solid work ethic, self-discipline, and self-control.

I think part of the reason that music and fine arts are shortchanged or cut from our educational systems is that its benefits are not as tangible or measurable as those from other disciplines.

The value of music to those who learn it – or who are at least exposed to it in some way – is usually not statistically measurable or necessarily rewarding in the modern sense of success.  Yet, I think that is precisely why we need to keep it as a part of young people’s lives.

What does getting the chance to perform a concerto with an orchestra mean to you and why?

Certainly, it is a great honor. Working with professional musicians will be very eye-opening for me.  I also think it will be a challenge to grow as an amateur young musician, since I will be performing with people I’ve never met before.

Also, learning how to play a piece with many orchestra parts behind you is quite different from learning to play the same piece with a piano accompaniment – there’s a lot more going on with more people to keep track of!

Additionally, as I’ve been preparing for the concert, it’s been eye-opening to discover new ways to project my performance to such a large audience; suddenly, as a soloist, I have to figure out how to ‘magnify’ my playing so that the nuances and meanings of the piece are clear to both the orchestra and the audience.

And then I think the cherry on the top of the cake is the fact that my older sister Erica Sanders is a violinist in the Madison Symphony Orchetsra, so she’ll be playing with me – that just makes everything that much more exciting, endearing, and memorable!


Posted in Classical music

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