Ivy Marie Clarke
For senior violin performance major Bronwyn James, music runs in the family. Her parents and her sister are classical musicians, and her father is “rapidly becoming one of the most respected teachers in the country,” James said.
“We pretty much grew up at the symphony hall. The entire orchestra would come to our house for parties. They would come do barbecues and just show up and sight-read chamber music, which was always really fun for me as a kid,” she said.
James got her start in music at the age of four, when she accompanied her older sister to violin lessons.
“I would apparently start correcting her before the teacher would,” James said. “They were like, ‘Okay, well, might as well give her something to do.’”
James originally wanted to play the flute like her mother, but she said she wasn’t able to start playing wind instruments at such a young age. She turned to the violin instead. Amongst her inspirations, she names Leonidas Kavakos, James Ehnes and Augustin Hadelich, all of whom she has gotten the chance to meet through family connections.
For the past 18 years, James has been building a reputation for herself in the world of classical music.
“I’ve played concerts in Europe and in China and all across the country,” James said.
In addition, she’s participated in music festivals in Rome, Colorado and New York.
Out of all the places that she’s been around the world, James said Carnegie Hall remains her favorite venue.
“It has this incredible history. You’re playing on the same stage that music premiered on 200 years ago, but also people like the Beatles were there, and there’s pictures of Mark Twain and Einstein being there at the same time,” she said.
Rich history is also part of what drives James’s passion for the violin.
“Western classical music has been so politically relevant,” James said, reflecting on the past centuries of the violin’s existence. “One of my favorite, more contemporary composers from the 40s, (Dmitri) Shostakovich, a lot of his work was politically censored by the Russian government during the Soviet Union because it was not nationalistic. It was trying to express things and convey hardships and outcry and emotions.”
This expression is what James believes art should do.
“I think it’s an intentional pursuit to say something,” she said. “Whether you’re saying it to somebody that knows what you’re saying, whether you’re saying it to people that aren’t even listening or paying attention, or whether you’re just saying something for your own sake.”
While James said she doesn’t know what she wants to say in her own work just yet, she is excited to be adding to her artistic toolbelt.
“I have a main pursuit,” she said, “but also being able to do things like trying to design and make clothes and paint and cook—they’re all things that involve making something that you experience. I love that kind of thing, so I definitely plan to pursue all of it—at the same time—forever.”
While James continues developing her hobbies, her ultimate goal is that her “main pursuit” concludes with a career in an orchestra.
“I am really passionate about working with other people in the arts,” she said. “Usually string quartets are my favorite.”
In the meantime, James is looking forward to attending the Big Ears music festival in the spring, spending the semester painting in one of the McEachern Center’s art studios and auditioning for grad programs.