Q&A with Raina Arnett, violin
This past summer the Bowdoin International Music Festival welcomed 255 student participants from 27 countries and 30 states, including 17 remarkable Festival Fellows. Sixty-five percent of these participants received scholarship funds from the Festival. In celebration of an incredible 2016 season and in anticipation of an even better 2017 season, we’ve reached out to last year’s participants to reflect on their experience at the Festival and their lives as musicians.
BIMF: What are some of your earliest musical memories?
Raina: Neither of my parents are musicians by trade, but my dad plays guitar as a hobby. When I was little, I remember going into a music store with him to pick up new strings and seeing a bright red, kid sized drum set in the middle of the room. I sat down and fell immediately in love. I must have spent a good 20 or 30 minutes banging away to my heart’s content until my dad took a hint from the annoyed cashier and dragged me out of the store.
BIMF: At what age did you start playing your instrument?
Raina: I started playing the violin when I was four years old. I remember parading around my house as a little kid grasping straws and pretending to play them like a violin.
BIMF: Does the instrument you play on have a story?
Raina: I play on an early 19th century German violin. That’s about all I know about it, because it doesn’t have a maker or anything printed on the inside. I bought it a few years ago at JR Judd Violins, a little shop in rural Pennsylvania close to where I grew up. I kind of like that the instrument has this air of mystery about it.
BIMF: What is the longest you’ve ever spent preparing a piece of music?
Raina: When I was auditioning for undergrad, I used two movements of solo Bach (the Sarabande and Gigue from the D minor partita) that I had learned the summer before my junior year of high school and reworked them for auditions starting in October of my senior year. That would be almost two years, with a break.
BIMF: If you could play with any musician who would it be?
Raina: This might be cheating, but I’d choose the whole Guarneri Quartet. I feel justified in picking four people and counting them as one musician because I’m drawn to the chemistry between them more so than any individual player. It would be amazing to play with any group of four people who are able to travel, rehearse, and perform together for 45 years, and not end up hating each other in the process!
BIMF: How would you explain your passion for chamber music to a non-musician?
Raina: A chamber music rehearsal is an intimate place. Rehearsing a piece of chamber music means entering into a lengthy discourse between multiple opinionated musicians about how a certain piece should be played. You have to come in with a strong conception of how you hear the music, while staying open to the equally strong opinions of your chamber music partners. It’s a very revealing and personal kind of environment, because you’re putting an important part of your personal identity, your musical beliefs, on the line. Because of this, though, you end up forming a special bond through the music and through the rehearsal process, which is a really powerful thing. It’s the ultimate social experiment, the ultimate compatibility test; when two personalities or musical approaches clash, the results can be disastrous. At the same time, when you find someone perfectly compatible, there’s limitless potential for great artistry and great music making. It’s all about finding and nourishing that connection within the group. Ultimately, the most important element is a sense of mutual respect for one another’s musicianship. You have to be able to trust everyone.
BIMF: How do you make a well-known piece of music your own?
Raina: I don’t think it matters so much how someone interprets a piece, as long as there’s a convincing reason behind why they make the decisions they do. Recordings are a good place to start because they help you solidify your own opinion about how a certain piece should be played. Then, going to the score is helpful because it holds all of the theoretical explanations as to why you want to hear something a certain way, and then after analyzing it you can use that as a means to further strengthen your interpretation. Beyond that, you should let your curiosity and imagination lead while still keeping your logical side engaged.
BIMF: What was one highlight of the 2016 Festival for you?
Raina: A definite highlight was rehearsing with my Bartok 2 quartet (myself on second violin, Andrew Ng on first violin, Allie Simpson on viola, and Henry Myers on cello). They are all incredibly talented and inspiring musicians, and I feel so lucky to have had the chance to work with them.
BIMF: What’s next for you after the Festival?
Raina: In the fall I started my sophomore year at the Eastman School of Music where I study with Renee Jolles, faculty and alumna of BIMF. I am unbelievably lucky to have her as my primary teacher. I remember having my first lesson with her the day before my audition at
Eastman, and walking out of her room thinking, “Oh my gosh. She’s perfect. I HAVE to study with her!” She’s incredibly committed to all of her students, and has done wonders for my playing in the past year.
BIMF: What advice would you offer to an aspiring musician?
- Always remember what brought you to music in the first place.
- Passion, hard work, and intelligence take you farther than raw talent.
- Never let someone tell you that you can’t do something.
- Embrace your life fully and completely.
- Be fueled by your intuition but powered by logic.
- Your attitude precedes you: let this be an asset, not a hindrance.
- Always work towards the next level, but allow yourself to be proud of what you accomplish.
- When performing, focus on conveying a message, not your technique.
- Take productive risks, in music and in life.
- Develop a positive internal dialogue, especially when practicing.
- Stress is unproductive.
- Never apologize for being passionate about something.
- Work hard and well, but never forget to give yourself time to be creative.
- Always be curious.
- Snacks make all rehearsals better!