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Joshua Bell Superstar Violinist
It’s the Peabody Auditorium on a Sunday afternoon. I’m walking backstage to talk with one of the greatest violinists in the world. The Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra is tuning up on stage and I hear a French horn go through a scale. But as I draw closer to the dressing rooms I hear an unmistakable violin playing, and I walk in to see Joshua Bell.
How are you doing?
A. “I’m good. Just arrived from the concert hall that I played at last night, have a concert in around a half an hour [here at Peabody] then I rush to New York - where I live.”
Q. “Growing up you went to public schools and was just a normal kid. Was that important to be “just a kid” and why was that important to you and your
A “ Well, yeah, I started playing violin when I was 4 which a lot of kids start young-which I think is a great thing and I’m so happy my parents started me on the music but they didn’t expect me to become a professional. So they wanted me to be a kid - do a lot of sports. I was a competitive tennis player, played a lot of video games.[he laughs]. I was addicted to video games in my teens - I would sneak out the back door of the University that I was supposed to spend practicing for 5 hours and I would sneak out the back door and play video games for 3 of those hours but my parents wanted me to be a kid. I had a little unusual childhood because I was a real professional violinist from the age of 14 so I was balancing doing that and studying at the university at a very young age and going to high school and balancing all those things. But my parents always wanted me to do other things- they didn’t just lock me up in a practice room all day long.
Q. “How many hours per day did you practice as a kid and how many hours do you practice now?”
A. “Well, you know, it really depends - I juggled homework and other things - I couldn’t always practice a lot but I learned how to make use of my time. I know some kids or people practiced 8 hours a day. I would die if I did that! I mean I physically wouldn’t be able to do that. I don’t think I could survive that but I learned to make the most of my time and be efficient. So I would practice 1 or 2 hours a day and there’s days that I do about the same. I practice 4 to 5 hours to cram something in for something I have to learn so every day is a little different.”
Q. “Kids have all kinds of obstacles to deal with and overcome to succeed. What obstacle did you have and how did you deal with it as a kid?”
A. “I have to say, I was pretty fortunate. I didn’t have that many obstacles. You know some people there parents discourage them from playing music and yet they persavier. In my case, my parents really encouraged me so I grew up in sort of a good environment for playing music so I can’t complain about not having much hardship. But of course there are times where I wanted to do other things or had to decide what to do if I go to college and I really would have liked to gone to a proper college..I mean I went to college and studied music and got a degree but I always wanted to study physics and science which was my great love as well- but you have to make choices . You can’t do everything fully and I know I picked the right thing. I think the most difficult is I couldn’t have taken every path I would have liked but that’s life. You only have only one life to live unfortunately!
Q. “How did it feel being 14 years old and getting national attention - and was it tough to stay grounded?”
A. “ I certainly enjoyed getting the opportunity to play. I was actually a very shy kid so I think I grew sort of used to it and now I have to give speeches and go on TV shows and do all those things and I would have been shy about early on but generally, I would be a shy kid but except on stage I loved it- making music and performing. I loved going on stage,so I enjoyed the attention..I enjoyed all that. As far as staying grounded, I think being in music you have to be your own worst critic anyway, you have to be very critical of yourself. Listening to a tape of myself playing keeps me grounded because I think I’m terrible [he laughs] but you have to be really hard on yourself to get better.”
Q. “The Washington Post Experiment was amazing - I’ve been a street performer and it’s always a humbling experience - but your really awsome so how did you feel - were you surprised?”
A. “For those who don’t know the Washington Post, a journalist asked me to play in the metro station and see what would happen because I was sort of an Established Musician that people pay a lot of money to see for tickets. So he wanted to know if I played in the metro would anyone notice but it’s not if they would recognize me, it’s if they would stop and notice something different…street performer etc. I played along for fun and it was certainly humbling having most people not even glance in my direction. I wasn’t used to that, but it was an interesting experience. I didn’t think that really proved anything. In music, You really need a captive audience. You need the concentration That’s the great thing about classical music..it engages your mind. in a classical music. Classical music you have to really concentrate when you listen..like watching a play and when you do that, and use your imagination..it’s incredibly rewarding.
It’s not something that playing in a metro station -that’s not something I’d want to do again but what I was most surprised about is the amount of attention it got afterwards. It’s spread around like an email virus! Everyone I know received it like ten times! So I guess that’s good publicity!
Q. “Your At home with friends album - how did you decide on who to have on the album?” like Sting or Kristin Chenoweth?”
A. “ One of the fun things is I get to meet all of these kinds of interesting people like you do. I saw the list of people you’ve interviewed - it’s fantastic! I also get to meet all kinds of great people I got to play for the President..I got to make a movie for film like The Red Violin, I got to meet a lot of actors that’s fun and in the music world over the years, I’ve met great musicians and worked with so many outside of the classical world..like Sting, or Kristin Chenoweth, or Josh Grobin and I invited them all on the album.: I thought it would be fun to put them all together. Sort of like what I like to do in my apartment in New York- I like to have house concerts and invite friends and have all kinds of people get up and play- it’s so much fun. So I did this album called “At Home with Friends,” and they all participated and that was really neat!”
7. You’re known for bringing kids into the classical music world - what’s probably been your most creative way of doing that?
A. “First of all, classical music- you don’t need to change it at all for kids to enjoy it. Kids are very artistic and open to using their imagination and that’s what you need for classical music. When people try to dumb it down somehow for the general audience or kids can understand it better I think it’s a mistake. You just have to introduce it to them in a way.. one of the best ways is to shed the images because it’s just not fair. The image that classical music is all old people, with long beards and white ties and tales is somehow boring. I abandoned that a long time ago so that helps. I’ve been on TV shows that kids would watch and they see and I go into schools and talk to kids and when they see when I play basketball and tennis, and video games , they think, oh I guess it’s not just for stuffy people -which it really isn’t- it’s just the “image” people have.” So after every concert, I see the kids and that’s the most fun thing I do. It’s very gratifying to see so many young people in the audience at the concert.
8. And any video games with your music?
A. [He laughs]. I’ve been working on it! Trying to find an idea to involve the violin in video games because that two thing I love and spend so many hours doing! I’m actually in the process of trying to figure out a good idea I’m not sure I know they did stuff with guitar hero so maybe they have something…I don’t want to give away any secrets![Laughing].
A. “well, I’m just finishing here today in Daytona beach, I have a glorious weekend off in New York City which is very unusual because I’m usually on the road and then I’m going to London, Italy and France and Moscow which is really fun things to do about my job. My concerts are booked to 2013 so at least I know I’ve got work!”
I usually don’t stay after interviewing an artist but this is one time I wish I could have, I had another appointment to get to and was envious but I promised to catch an upcoming