This month at Music and Arts Itasca, we had the honor of having Rachelle Puccini, an international concert violinist and Eastman performing artist, host our first official Masterclass. Rachelle is an active performer and teacher throughout the local Chicagoland Area. She has played with orchestras throughout the country and abroad, including the Santo Domingo Festival Orchestra in the Dominican Republic, Conciertos de la Villa de Santo Domingo, the Grand Rapids and the Kalamazoo Symphonies in Michigan, and most recently joined the Munich Symphony on their US tour.
At the Violin Masterclass, students in our own community got the unique chance to work directly with Rachelle, gaining valuable insight into how to improve their tone and learning new ways of refining their playing techniques. Rachelle covered everything from bow holds and shifting to violin placement and body relaxation, even working one-on-one with students on their solo pieces. It was very exciting to see how even within a short time period, students were able to see a dramatic improvement in their playing and became noticeably more comfortable with their instrument. It was definitely an invaluable opportunity for all our student violinists.
After the Masterclass, we had the chance to talk more in depth with Rachelle and learn a little bit about her own musical background and teaching philosophy:
M&A: First and most important question, what do you play on?
R: I play on a Samuel Zygmuntowicz, which is a maker in Brooklyn, New York. Right now I’m playing on a violin that’s loaned to me but mine will be made some time between July and September of this year...For me, he’s a pretty big deal and a lot of the great violinists have one of his violins. I can tell him exactly what I want and he listens and he knows who I am as a person-but really I’m just interested in his work because I admire his violins so much that I’m almost kind of putting myself on the backburner and going, “OK, just make me a violin that you think is awesome. You’re so great that this is what I want to play on!”. I’m very excited.
M&A: What made you choose strings and how did you get started with the violin in specifically?
R: I actually started on piano because my mom played piano, but the very first moment I saw a violin, my older cousin was playing and I was four years-old and I was hooked. I was like “That is for me! I want one immediately!” My parents didn’t take me too seriously at the time and said no, you’re going to play piano, we have a piano. And I was very insistent...I had piano lessons and all and I cried through all of it and I would try to go downstairs into my dad’s woodshop and actually make my own violin out of scrap wood and rubberbands. I just wanted it so bad. I was a stubborn child, and eventually I got to have violin lessons and ditched the piano...I was nine, which is a bit too late for where I wanted to go but I caught up. I made up for lost time and finally got some really good teachers. And there it was.
M&A: How would you describe your playing style and what kind of genres are you interested in?
R: I’m definitely a classical violinist. I experimented with some jazz in college and that was fun. I got to solo in front of a jazz band, and I kind of got all of that out of my system. And I admire gypsy styles and such but more so when they show up in classical music rather than the other way around. So I’m a classical violinist, I see myself doing that repertoire as a career. I do like new music, but I’m just a sucker for the classics.
M&A: How and when did you become involved as an Eastman performing artist?
R: That would be very recent. In December I met them, and my husband is actually a Shires artist, which has just been acquired by Eastman. His brass quintet plays on their instruments and so we met through that.
M&A: Lastly, what advice would you give to students who hope to become successful string players in the future?
R: Just don’t stop. Be as stubborn as possible with what you want and get good teachers. Get lessons. This is probably the most important thing. A good instrument is great...but really lessons are probably the most important -they are key. Lessons are expensive but honestly, if you can make a little bit of an adjustment here and there, it’s totally worth it. I think I would be nowhere without the teachers I have. I did a few years when I was kind of on my own and what I wouldn’t give to trade those in for quality times with teachers. And finding the right people that are for you. If the chemistry’s not right, going after someone who is really patient and encouraging is the most important. And someone who really enjoys teaching too is very good. And also, just do it all the time. Practice! There’s no substitution for countless hours in the practice room. It doesn’t come easy, but if you really want it, then it will come eventually.
We thank Rachelle again for joining us for our first Violin Masterclass, which proved to be not only beneficial for all the students involved, but a lot of fun as well. We look forward to having more Masterclasses at Music and Arts Itasca in the future. In April, we will also be holding the Strings Showcase, one of our largest sales of the year where we will have vendors providing an even wider selection of strings and strings accessories. Check out the event page HERE. Stay tuned, for more information. Until then, Happy Playing!
Angeline De Leon
Music and Arts Itasca