Close-Up Culture speak to violinist Emily Zwijack about her love of music, creating content, her proudest moment, and much more.
Hi Emily, welcome to Close-Up Culture. What are your earliest memories of falling in love with music and playing instruments?
I had an “unusual” journey to the violin. I had the choice to join band or orchestra in 4th grade. My older brother was in band with all his friends and was in percussion. I was always striving to be as good as him so I told myself I had to do band. I wanted to do flute but my family and the director said flute was really hard, so I went one step lower in terms of pitch, and played the clarinet for 3 years. When I was 12 I finally found my voice and spoke up about really wanting to play the violin. The violin was my voice, no one else’s. It was the time for me to do my own thing and I loved it from the start.
About a year into playing I my director told me careers in music exist (I don’t come from a musical family so I didn’t know they existed!), and I knew for sure I wanted to perform and teach. At this point I really loved practicing. I started my own practice log and kept finding more advanced music. I loved being alone and working on my own craft. Loving to practice has made my whole career so far very enjoyable!
How do you reflect on your musical education and what has shaped you as a musician?
My teachers have had the most profound impact on me both as a person and as a musician. I’ve been so fortunate to study with such nurturing and intense teachers. I still remember my first lesson with my teacher in high school. He made me order 7 technique books haha. I still use them to this day! My current teacher, Almita Vamos, really is a motivator to me during my undergrad. She has tons of students, and is still performing and supporting people by attending their concerts. She doesn’t have to teach, as she could retire, but she loves it and wants to give to others, and that inspires me to do the same.
Aside from my teachers, my undergrad curriculum has really changed how I approach music. The music theory, history, piano, orchestra excerpts, pedagogy, and methods classes has given me such great information to apply to my instrument. It is so very important to take your music classes seriously, as well as your practicing.
What do you love most about playing the violin?
I love how personal the violin is to the body. The sound is right under the ear, and the lower body of the violin comes quite literally from the heart. It makes performing and interpretation come from your heart.
You’ve had many honours already in your young career, including being selected for the prestigious Illinois Music Education Association District festival. What has been your proudest moment so far?
My proudest moment is between being selected for ILMEA and my acceptance to the Chicago College of Performing Arts. I auditioned for ILMEA as a freshman in high school, so I was the youngest in the pool of high schoolers. I was warned I likely wouldn’t make it and it was for the experience so I might make it my junior or senior year. 3 days after the audition I was carving a pumpkin for Halloween with a bread knife (don’t ask) and sliced 2 fingers on my bow hand. I ended up having surgery and a 3 month recovery ahead, no violin. But guess what? I made it into ILMEA as a freshman! I couldn’t attend the festival but making it and proving everyone wrong felt great.
My acceptance to CCPA was a huge moment as well. I got really sick my sophomore year of high school and my grades dropped. I was rejected from 3 schools prior because of my grades. One school out of state even cancelled my audition because my grades didn’t meet their requirement! Then in 1 day, I was accepted to 3 amazing schools. One of them being CCPA, my dream school with my dream teacher! Life can literally completely change in just a day!
You have lots of experience as a teacher. How have you found the experience of teaching, and what has it taught you about yourself?
Teaching can be just as effective as practicing. You may think you know how to do sautille, but when you teach you need to approach topics from so many angles with multimodal teaching, how/when you approach it, how to explain it, how to demonstrate it, repertoire that contains it, etc. Focusing on SEL (social emotional learning) in your lessons, really changes the way you talk to yourself in the practice room too.
I’ve learned that as soon as I’m frustrated, I put the violin down. If I’m practicing while frustrated and talking down to myself, I’m making myself prone to injuries, hurting my self-esteem, and not being productive. This is a big thing I teach my students. I also found that many things I kept telling my students to do in my lessons, I needed to do myself! How funny is it to realize you should follow your own teaching!
You have a wonderfully entertaining Instagram page. How do you find the challenge of creating content and connecting with people online?
My Instagram page started when I was in 8th grade, solely for the purpose of documenting my progress like Chloe Trevor. Once I got to high school I had met other musicians through there by DM and commenting on their posts, and I started to get more personal on my stories by sharing aspects of my life.
Currently I’m documenting my life as a musician journey in music school. I post practice videos, performances, teaching clips, instructional clips, covers, collabs with other instagram musicians, funny reels, and more! The biggest challenge is keeping up with the reels by finding funny audios, and posting on my story. Sometimes I want to take time off social media but I don’t like to leave for too long because I have a large audience.
What are your plans and ambitions for the future?
I have lots of interests for the future! I want to teach orchestra at the middle/high school level, continue private lessons instruction, in my evenings/Saturdays, play for weddings/church, perform in a regional orchestra, further my education with a masters, tutor/give music theory classes, and host my own podcast!
For more of Emily – Linktree