Good morning and welcome to our Artist of the Week Feature. Our guest today is Laura Giz, violinist extraordinaire, teacher, and Virginia resident!
Dan: Laura, welcome to the show!
Laura: Thank you, it’s nice to be here!
Dan: We have known you for about five years now when you and your mother and grandmother started coming to Manassas Baptist Church. You were quite a striking group of ladies so we became aware of you as talented and delightful individuals early on. Where did you come from and what are your backgrounds?
Laura: My mom and her family lived in Miami, FL for many years, which is where I was born. We moved to the Seattle, WA area when I was about eight, and lived there until I went to college. About five years ago, my mom decided to move to Virginia to live closer to her brother and his family. It also helped to have more family around with the care of my grandmother. We’ve been here ever since!
Dan: You play violin like an angel. We’ve heard you play at church and as part of an orchestra for the Manassas Chorale. What would you say about playing for these services and concerts?
Laura: Thank you! Yes, they’ve been very enjoyable. It’s been neat to see your wife grow the program, and to see the choir start performing in the Hylton Center. I’m used to playing for weddings or symphony orchestras, so it’s been fun to put string parts with choir and play in that unique setting. The members of the choir have always been very nice and welcoming.
Dan: How did you get started playing?
Laura: I started violin when I was ten years old. It’s an interesting story, because I was set on playing flute at the time. My mom made me play the recorder for a few months to make sure I was willing to practice before she’d rent a real flute for me. I did practice every day, and proved myself ready. However, apparently during this time, I heard a violin concert, and was convinced I now wanted to play that instead. When we went to the store to rent my first real instrument, we ended up renting a violin instead of a flute.
Although most public school programs start children on stringed instruments in the fifth grade, I was in a private school at the time where they started kids around first grade. I joined the orchestra class but was quite behind, and wanted very much to be in the intermediate/advanced class. I practiced hard and the orchestra teacher would often pull me out of class and give me extra coaching. I also started private lessons with another teacher and joined the youth symphony shortly after. All of this really helped push me forward, and the rest is history!
Dan: Where did you go to college and how did that advance your playing?
Laura: Growing up, I played with the Seattle Youth Symphony from ages 11-16, and the Tacoma Youth Symphony at ages 17 and 18. We had weekly rehearsals, and I also joined chamber music groups during the course of playing with both organizations. In addition to this, I took weekly private lessons, and played with my school orchestra.
I had other opportunities to advance my playing, for example, I also played in All -State Orchestra and All-Northwest Orchestra several times throughout high school. We also had Solo-Ensemble Contest, which was a yearly competition for each district in which each student received ratings and comments from a judge. I played solos every year, and did duets occasionally. I was able to go to the state competition my senior year, which was a lot of fun. My private violin teachers would also have recitals. Because my family was really supportive, I was able to make the most of opportunities presented to me, which greatly helped with my playing.
I have a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Cincinnati: College-Conservatory of Music. I greatly enjoyed my time there, and it was a great fit of a school for me.
Dan: You have an interesting story about playing during the summer as a summer job in Seattle. Would you tell us about that?
Laura: I had some good friends who were either in school orchestra or youth symphony with me, and played violin, viola, and cello. We purchased yearly permits, and played at Pike Place Market on street corners as a string quartet or trio for our summer job. Not only did this give us a lot of practice and playing time together, but we also made more money than we would have at a normal summer job. We’d frequently get wedding or other playing jobs from this, and were able to save up some spending money for college at the same time.
Dan: A couple of years ago the Washington Post published an article about renowned violinist Joshua Bell who played in a Metro station with few people noticing him. The conclusion of the article was basically that people in this area, with a few exceptions, are Yahoos without culture or too busy to take a few minutes to appreciate true artistry. You had a different take on that experiment. Would you share that with us, please?
Laura: First, I want to say I thought that was a very interesting experiment. After reading the article, I thought immediately about my experiences playing at Pike Place Market, because I can relate to playing in that sort of environment. I had a few thoughts on the experiment though–first, because Joshua Bell was playing in a Metro station, it didn’t surprise me that he wasn’t able to draw a big crowd, as people are often in a hurry and on a strict time schedule. From my experience, I noticed that certain spots in Pike Place Market would draw a crowd, and others wouldn’t, even though we could have the same group of musicians and play the same music. I’d be curious to see if the results would be the same if they had him play in several different spots, and/or experimented with playing in a flea market setting versus a Metro setting.
Second, I know that the piece of music performed and the type of ensemble makes a difference in drawing a crowd. For example, solos often would not do as well as a duet or string quartet. The Bach “Chaccone”, which is the piece Joshua Bell played, is one of the most famous pieces for solo violin of all time. However, I think it would be hard to appreciate that piece in that setting. If he played “Eine Kleine Nacht Musik” with a string quartet, for example, I wonder if he would have gotten a difference response. All things to ponder, but definitely an interesting experiment!
Dan: Tell us, if you would, about some of the “gigs” (music talk) you’ve had. I know there are some great stories there.
Laura: Sure. Well, as I mentioned earlier, I play a lot of weddings and orchestra concerts. I think some of the more memorable jobs have been where things went really well, or didn’t go quite as planned. I played a wedding a few years ago that was during the big snow storm, and after playing, I got stuck at a friend’s house for several days. I’ve had other weddings where it’s rained or wind has nearly knocked us over during the jobs. Over the years, I’ve worked out some kinks in my contracts, so I no longer will play outdoors under certain hazardous conditions, but when I first started playing jobs, I wasn’t as prepared for all the things that could happen!
I’ve been blessed to play at many amazing locations with other talented musicians. I’ve played at celebrity weddings, for Supreme Court justices, at a number of the embassies in D.C., and most concert halls in the state of Virginia. Many of the wedding sites are also beautiful, so it would be hard to name just one!
Dan: Tell us about your family. I know your mother is a music teacher with Prince William County Public Schools, and your grandmother was a delightful older lady who passed away recently.
Laura: Yes, my mom is a music teacher at Penn Elementary School, and is a pianist. She used to accompany me growing up. My grandmother wasn’t a musician, but was an avid gardener, and was head of the Beautification Committee for many years in Miami. She and my grandfather planted over 900 trees for the city of Miami.
Dan: What’s the oddest experience you’ve ever had as a player? The best?
Laura: The oddest experience(s) I think I’ve had is listening to certain sermons at the weddings I’ve played. I always find it funny when the pastor talks about divorce during most of the wedding sermon, or gives a really embarrassing story that I’m sure the couple would have rather not shared.
All of my best playing experiences have been connected to playing with great groups. One that stands out in particular was when I was able to play in the All-Northwest Orchestra during high school. Judges made an orchestra out of about 40 violinists from 6 states, and it was the highest level group I’d ever played with. It was really inspiring and something I’ll always remember. Professionally, some of the concerts I’ve played with Richmond and Virginia Symphony have been very memorable for me.
Dan: I know people are so affected by your playing. What are some things people have said to you about your music?
Laura: I think my favorite comment is when people say the music touched them for whatever reason. That’s the whole point of playing: to make an impression on your audience and to take them into the world of the composer. I like when I’m able to do that for someone.
Dan: What do you like to do when you’re not playing, teaching, or practicing?
Laura: At first I thought, “What do you mean, not ‘playing or teaching?!’ ” There usually isn’t a whole lot of time left after I’m done with those things, but I think mostly visit with family or friends, or read. Although I don’t watch a lot of regular TV, I enjoy learning, so get involved in watching documentaries or informational programs (this last month has been about religious history and physics). I usually have some project I’m working on, or most of the time have multiple jobs at once, so I’m always practicing something.
Dan: What do your plans for the future include?
Laura: I teach Suzuki violin lessons, so I plan to continue training at least yearly in that. I have about 20 students right now, but want to continue growing a studio and make it better each year. I also would like to go back to school and get a master’s degree in violin eventually.
Dan: I should mention here that Laura works for Washington Celebrations and is available thought them for weddings (http://www.washingtoncelebrations.com).
Laura, it has been a delight talking with you today. Thank you for sharing with us, and thank you for being on the show. I wish you well with your playing and whatever the future holds for you. You‘ve been a wonderful guest, and we’d love to have you back sometime.
Laura: Thank you for having me! It’s been a pleasure.
Dan: …I have one final question. If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be? I would be a Brazilian rosewood tree because they are beautiful and their wood is used in high-end guitars.
Laura: Hmm…well, this isn’t for a very deep reason, but probably a Mt. Fuji Cherry Tree, because we used to have one in our back yard in Seattle, and I loved seeing it flower every year. It was the prettiest tree in our yard.
Dan: I like that! Take care and keep playing!
We’ve been talking with Laura Giz, violin virtuoso, local resident and one of the sweetest people I know.
This is Dan Verner, bidding you a fond adieu until next time when we’ll talk with another local artist.