Shining a light on students and friends of Ossia Musical Forum.
“I am so proud to have Carol as a violin student; her enthusiasm for the arts makes her a pure delight to teach. I sat down to interview her for a deeper look into her remarkable, accomplished life.” ~Nora Williams
Carol Kyros-Walker Answers 16 Questions
1. Do you have a formal music education?
I took courses in music history and appreciation from John Gibbons at the University of Chicago downtown campus, for continuing education at the Gleacher Center. One on Bach, another on the operas of Verdi, one on Chopin, and other topics or periods that I wanted to focus on.
2. What kind of music experience do you have?
I listen to classical music every day (WFMT is on constantly). I attend concerts as a subscriber to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera and Chicago Opera Theater, and enjoy hearing music on a more in a more intimate salon like setting. I genuinely enjoy amateur performances, like recitals, or a gathering of instruments in someone's living room. Street musicians, even the kids on makeshift drums banging out rhythms with all their hearts, delight me.
As for my own performance, I have played with small chamber groups or duets in the Ossia Musical Forum setting. I have twice participated in the InterHarmony International Music Festival, in Italy. Beyond listening to music, this meant active involvement with the violin; being taught, being coached, and playing with one or more other musicians.
3. How does your experience as a ballet dancer influence your violin playing?
As a dancer I had to be consciously aware of and responsive to music. I was told that I was musical. The ballet classes I attended always had live musical accompaniment, and I was blessed to have truly beautiful pianists accompanying classes at any school I went to. Of course the accompanist was at the mercy of the instructor, and I'm sure they felt their gifts compromised by being told slow this section down, accent that beat, repeat the first twenty four measures over and over as one group of dancers after another performed the exercise across the floor of the studio. At any time the instructor might clap her hands and the music had to stop and start over. The accompanists were saintly in their cooperation.
This formula of where the music belonged hierarchically changed for me when I began playing the violin. Now the accompanist morphed into the performer, and the musical score dictated everything. There was very little accommodation to the performer's needs. Then there was the matter of counting. I came to realize that counting music as a musician was not the same as counting as a dancer. In the ballet world we did things in 4s and 8s and phrases rather than individual measures. Three echappe saute and two changements would be “one and two and three and four and,” without any regard to how any notes to a measure.
To sum it up, then, my ballet experience was both an advantage and a disadvantage. Because I taught ballet for many more years than I performed, the sense I should dictate to an accompanist what I wanted to happen in the music was was well ingrained. It took a while to surrender to a musical score with all those quarter notes and half notes and sixteenth notes and measures that needed individual attention and would dominate me.
4. When and why did you start playing the violin?
I stared playing the violin much later in life than most musicians. It was after I had stopped teaching ballet, stopped being an English professor, stopped writing books and being a photographer. I probably thought it would replace all these things. It didn't. It just added to the pleasures I had had in other aspects of my life. I probably would never have embarked on this lovely journey if a friend who was moving out of her big house and needed to get rid of things hadn’t given me her grandfather’s fiddle as a gift (she had replaced it with a finer one for her playing). I decided to see how it works. Got the strings fixed by an expert recommended to me by a CSO violinist who lived in my building, and then I looked for a teacher.
5. What was the first tune(s) you learned?
Like everyone else, I learned Mozart's Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star" first and was thrilled by my accomplishment.
6. Is your family musical?
My sisters, much older than I am, played the piano. I listened to their lessons with great admiration. The teacher came to our house.
7. Which famous musicians do you admire? Why?
I have the sound of Jascha Heifetz, Yehudi Menuhin, and Fritz Kreisler in my head from my earliest appreciation of the violin. They remain standards of melody and style for me. Among trending violinists, there is no one favorite. I love Joshua Bell, Anne Sophie Mutter, Nicola Benedetti, Hilary Hahn, and closer to home, Rachel Barton Pine, and closer still, Pascuale Laurino.
8. Was Nora Williams your first music teacher? Talk about being her student since 2006. What (or who) are your musical influences?
Anthony Gilbert and David Yonan were my teachers before I started with Nora. Anthony came from a family of professional musicians and was a graduate student in Roosevelt's music department. He gave me my very first lessons, and painstakingly instructed me on how to hold the bow. Since he was very tall he had to get on his knees to put my fingers in the right position. We only worked together for one summer, after which he graduated and left the city. David Yonan, my second teacher, was a very gifted violinist from Germany, where he once again resides at t his point. He was doing a lot of performing as well as teaching and he was at that time in the Fine Arts Building, but didn't have a permanent studio. When he moved his teaching practice to Evanston, where he lived, I wanted to stay in the Fine Arts Building, and asked Lee Newcomer in Performers Music if he knew of one. He knew about Nora Williams and her fairly new studio down the hall. The rest is history. I have been the fortunate recipient of Nora’s excellent instruction and philosophical spirit ever since. Beyond learning the violin, I’ve made wonderful music friends through Nora and the Ossia Musical Forum.
9. What are your fondest musical memories?
My fondest memories are of hearing a piece of music come together after rehearsals, the crude beginnings, with all those errors, to the time of performance before an audience.
10. Who are your favorite musicians?
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I sit in the second row where I can observe Robert Chen and all the strings.
11. Have you ever performed in public? Describe those occasions? Concerts, radio, TV?
I performed by invitation in an art gallery of The School of the Art Institute with a faculty member and former colleague whose sabbatical show was opening. I played The Dance of the Blessed Spirits, by Gluck.
12. What advice would you give to beginners?
I would tell someone coming late to the violin experience (as I did) to trust that something amazing will come of your efforts, provided you make the right investment of your time and your heart.
13. How often and for how long do you practice?
I aim to practice for an hour a day, but that doesn't always happen. It sometimes has to be a short session. I'm not a professional musician, and life takes me in other necessary directions.
14. What do you practice (exercises, new tunes, hard tunes, etc.)?
I usually start with an etude, a little exercise that will improve some aspect of my technique. From there I turn to a piece of music I’m working on, often something that seems frustratingly difficult. At the moment it’s Mozart Sonata in E minor, but I try to keep something simple and beautiful on the music stand for instant gratification.
15. Talk about your career as a professor and an author. What book(s) have your written or contributed to?
For almost all my life I’ve had parallel and seemingly unconnected professions going. While I was in undergraduate and graduate school pursuing a degree (ultimately a Ph.D.), I was also performing as a ballet dancer. Or teaching ballet. I’m an English professor, retired. I taught in the City Colleges of Chicago, the Daley Campus. I taught ballet at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, part time, for almost the entire time I was teaching English. I choreographed pieces and collaborated with a colleague, a Jesuit who was also a drama teacher. As another layer to all of this, I published three books with Yale University Press having to do with an English Romantic poet and travels in Scotland. My three books are: Walking North with Keats (1992), Dorothy Wordsworth's Recollections of a Tour in Scotland (1997), and Breaking Away: Coleridge in Scotland (2002). These works also invoked my being a serious photographer and traveling myself. I had studied photography with an art photographer from the Art Institute, Carole Harmel. Carole and I traded our gifts. She took my ballet classes; I studied photography from her.
16. What are your other interests or activities?
In 2016 and 2017 I returned to England and Scotland to retrace Keats's tour, with the idea of producing an updated edition. I’m still working on that. Meanwhile I've been invited to present my work at St. Andrews University (the oldest university in Scotland) and to be a keynote speaker at a Bicenterary Conference at the Keats House, both in the month of May of 2018.
I said above that dance and the academic profession were seemingly unconnected. The truth is, doing both kept me balanced. And in this present phase of my life, the violin, though not a real substitue for dance, nevertheless, keeps me grounded and challenged.