Spotlight: Michelle Stern

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By Fiona Zheng and Madina Azizi, Staff Writers

Senior Michelle Stern has always been surrounded by music. As a dedicated violinist, Michelle’s mother taught at her own studio. However, when Michelle was born, she moved her teaching studio into their apartment. From the age of three, the violinists’ melodious symphonies caught Michelle’s ear, and she was constantly filled with feelings of fascination, only to find that she would still hold the same passion over a decade later.

Michelle’s background in violin is rooted in her family. She not only looks up to her mother, but also to Jascha Heifetz, a famous 20th century violinist who is also one of her ancestors from her mother’s side. “I started listening to him more and I really liked his playing,” Michelle said. “So I think you could say [that] a lot of my inspiration came from my family.”

Michelle’s family was not her only inspiration, however. She started taking courses at Julliard when she was in middle school and believes that her performances and interactions with other violinists helped enhance her memories with the violin and motivated her to continue playing. Michelle said, “I would always get along really well with my audiences there, and I would make friends that way, with people from all walks of life, so that was kind of what really kept it going for me.”

Schedule conflicts have been a common occurrence throughout Michelle’s musical career. “Sometimes people don’t really understand how much time I need to put into practicing,” Michelle said. “I always hated having to turn people down because I had responsibilities of the violin.” Despite this recurring obstacle, Michelle persisted and held her principles even more firmly. “I knew it would be worthwhile because it was something I really loved to do,” she said. “The three hours a day were worth it.”

One of the highlights of Michelle’s violin career stems from one of her past concerts’ attendees. When she was just nine years old, a little girl told her she was ‘ such an inspiration’ and that shewanted to be like her when she grew up.“When I heard that, I [thought],, ‘Wow, someone actually looks up to me for the hard work I did.’ It was a surreal moment for me to hear that from somebody,” Michelle said.

Since picking up the violin, Michelle has learned a variety of lessons as a musician. “Performing in general is something that teaches you to get out there a little bit more. You’re very vulnerable when you go up on the stage…That’s a lot of people you could potentially make a mistake in front of, and it’s kind of scary,” she said.

Like most adolescents, Michelle is not completely certain of what her future may look like in terms of a professional career. “All my life, I’ve always been a little bit torn about that, because I love a lot of the things I do academically, but, at the same time, I don’t want to abandon my music in the future,” Michelle said. “I’ve kind of lived a bit of a split life between those two things, but…I’ve started to see more and more [of] the correlations in between them. So, what I see myself doing in college, and in a future career, is something where I’m doing things in music, but I’m also doing things in academics.”

Reflecting on her musical career thus far, Michelle shared a piece of insightful advice she would give to her younger self. “Ever since I’ve been playing…[reaching] the bigger intervals on the instrument [has been] so much more of a struggle for me than it is for other people, because I have hands that are approximately comparable to most sixth graders or fifth graders,” she said. “I think the whole idea is…accepting what you have and just working with it. Because of that, my hands are really flexible now, so I think that’s pretty cool; I can do finger splits.”

For fellow musicians and anyone who wishes to start their music journey, Michelle said to “try [not] to compare your progress to other people’s. Everyone comes from a different background of playing music, everyone learns at different rates, and everyone understands music in their own different way.” “I feel like sometimes it’s easy to lose yourself, especially when you get into the competitive world,” Michelle said. “If the music you’re playing is making you happy, and you’re making other people happy with your playing, that’s one of the greatest accomplishments you can have. It’s not about being perfect all the time.”


Photo courtesy of Michelle Stern