Tag Archives: Sarah Chang

An Interesting Idea — Apprenticeship

I am always looking up my favorite performers, and checking out their schedules to see if they’ll be in Santa Barbara any time soon. Joshua Bell is really nice, he invited our violin studio to his concerts and posed for photos with us, like this one taken by our professor, Yuval Yaron.


I’d sell my soul to have Joshua Bell teach me in a master class at the Granada before a show, but he’s not someone with a lot of time. In fact the only way to get a lot of time with a first rate performer would be to follow in his or her footsteps as an apprentice.

Wouldn’t that be awesome to travel with Joshua Bell or Hilary Hahn? It would be even better if there were an apprentice program that allowed me to play in the back of the violins at each of their concerts.

Playing the violin is one thing, figuring out how to get around airports, concert halls, and rental cars is quite another. So I guess an apprentice would have to be old enough to drive, and maybe even 21, just in case we needed to go into a club.  In my imaginary apprenticeship, the apprentice would be between the first and second year of a master’s program and she would have auditioned for an apprenticeship with the artist. And there would be a very large stipend. A girl can dream. Let’s see, I’m a third year Bachelor of Music major, so that’s two years until I’m ready to go!

Rather than the artist having to actually figure out any logistics, their agencies could take care of all of the details. If all of the agencies did something like this, it would become an accepted thing in the music world. Symphonies would make space for the apprentices without ever even thinking about it.

The apprentice system might also solve one of the fundamental problems with having a first rate teacher who still performs all over the globe. I am lucky that my UCSB professors and ensemble coaches are very dedicated, but I have heard that at some universities, the big name artist that draws the students to the school are often unable to keep lesson appointments because they are traveling. With an apprentice system, you could get your lessons on the road.

Imagine being on a ride-along with Sarah Chang and her mythical beast, Chewie. Right now, Chewie has to stay at home while Sarah goes off to play, but in my imaginary world, he’s be traveling with us.

Who else would be fun? Rachel Barton Pine is cool, and maybe she’d bring an extra Stradivarius from her foundation for me to play on. Or she could get me up to speed on the electric violin. She played a 6-string viper in Earthen Grave, now sadly disbanded.


I’d also love to travel with Itzhak Perlman. He’s going to play in Los Angeles on January 24, 2017, and I really want to see that concert. He’s going to be at Disney Hall. Maybe I could even sneak backstage and mention that he might be way more popular with a cute little apprentice.

Future apprentice with her own cute little doggie.

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The Amazing Sarah Chang

Sarah and Sara

Sarah and Sara


Sarah Chang and I have a lot in common. We both play the violin, we have the same name, we both started playing the violin when were really little, and we once stood together in the same place at the same time long enough to have a picture taken. We even share a love of our stuffed animals and sushi. But that’s where the similarity ends. Sarah is a superstar, and I am a student. Or as the New York Times would put it:

“Her gifts are at a level so removed from the rest of us that all we can do is feel the appropriate awe and then wonder on the mysteries of nature. The ancients would certainly have had Ms. Chang emerging fully formed from some Botticellian scallop shell.”

The next time I see Sarah, I am going to ask her how much of her talent was a “gift” exactly, and how much was just plain old hard work. When I was a little girl, I played the violin, but I also spent hours creating Sculpey™ animals and playing store in my back-yard play structure (I sold my mom’s herbs and flowers to her). I went to pre-school, and took classes in magic, ballet, karate, and forensic science. I only practiced on my 1/10 violin for about fifteen minutes a day, but I told my mom I’d practiced for an hour. When Sarah was a kid, she was practicing for four hours a everyday, and playing the violin well enough to attract the attentions of Dorothy DeLay. I wonder if she was really practicing for eight hours, and telling her mom it was only four.

On Sarah’s website, she posts an article with an adorable picture of herself at the age of twelve or so. According to the article, four years earlier at EIGHT years old, she was asked by Zubin Mehta to fill in for a cancellation at the New York Philharmonic. She played Paganini. At eighteen, I can almost play Paganini well enough that people don’t trample each other running for the exits.

While I really enjoy hearing Sarah play, I appreciate her kindness and generosity even more. Earlier this year, I was able to attend a benefit for Danielle Belen’s Center Stage Strings summer program where Sarah performed as the guest artist. She seemed genuinely happy to be playing with all the young musicians and spent a lot of time taking pictures after the concert with anybody who asked. And did I mention the cute pink gown she wore?

Benefits are really important, because there are many kids like me out there with college tuition and retired parents. We can either work or practice, and we need to practice or we’ll never work. Kind of a Catch-22! When new musicians perform there are a lot of expenses, and usually zero pay. We need transportation, concert wear, and a place to stay. We need long hours of private lessons, and have to find money for summer camps and festivals. We often pay for concert tickets so we will know what is happening in our chosen field, although fortunately, many performers generously offer their extra tickets to music students. Applying to several conservatories or universities is expensive, too. We have to travel to our auditions. The elephant in the room that most people don’t ever see is the cost of a violin, which can equal a year of university tuition or more. For the best of students, there are schools and other organizations that lend fine violins from their private collections. For the rest of us, it’s catch as catch can.

I’m hoping to see more of Sarah Chang, but she seems to be playing fewer concerts these days than she has in the past, and I know it’s not for want of opportunity. Life on the road must be incredibly demanding, and burn-out is a very real thing. I secretly hope she is taking a well-earned break, resting and taking care of herself, but a quick check of twitter tells me that she’s busier than ever, and has the cutest dog on Earth.

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