By Jennifer Way Zemp
Gifted Music School Alumnus Shenae Anderson, violinist, reflects on her musical journey.
Those are the words of wisdom Shenae Anderson offers to struggling musicians. At only 21 years old, Shenae’s lifetime practice hours have already reached well into the tens of thousands. “It’s hard to be a violinist – it’s emotionally demanding, physically demanding, and I almost quit right before I went to Juilliard in 2015.” Fortunately for her fans, she didn’t quit, and her passion rings through loud and clear as she says, “Persevere! It’s worth it! Your music is a way you can make the world a better place, and it’s worth the work.”
I spoke to Shenae recently in between her classes at Yale University, where she’s pursuing a Master’s degree in violin performance. She will soon start a prestigious residency with The London Symphony Orchestra, but before she does, she’ll return to Utah to solo at Gifted Music School’s 10th Anniversary Gala at Abravanel Hall. She chatted with me about the path that’s led her here.
Shenae’s musical journey began at age 3. “My mom had read that music was great for braindevelopment, so she put all her kids into lessons. I looked up to my older sisters so much; I wanted to play just like them,” she says. Shenae started her studies with renowned Suzuki violin teacher Deborah Moench.
“By preschool, I was already telling people I wanted to be a concert violinist. I think my parents wondered when I’d grow out of it, but I never did,” she recalls with a laugh. She says she latched onto the violin and never wanted to let go.
In 2009, Ms. Moench recommended Shenae join the new Gifted Music School Conservatory Orchestra. She was 10 years old – the second-youngest musician there. Shenae began studying privately with GMS Co-Founder, Eugene Watanabe.
“When Shenae came to me, she was already recognized as a sort of local superstar….soon there was absolutely nothing she couldn’t play with ease” recalls Mr. Watanabe. ‘Ease,’ however, meant increasing her practice regimen to 6 hours a day, plus orchestra rehearsals, where she tackled some of the hardest music in the repertory.
Shenae remembers, “One of the first pieces we worked on mastering was Vivaldi’s ‘Summer,’” a piece that challenges the world’s finest orchestras. She says, “We practiced it SO SLOWLY. I can’t even describe how slowly we practiced it. We would play the first note, and we wouldn’t move on until it was perfectly in tune and perfectly balanced. Then we’d move on to the second note, and so on.”
Shenae says she looks back at the YouTube videos from the first performances of that piece. Even after earning a degree from Juilliard, playing with some of the finest orchestras and winning competitions the world over, she’s still impressed. “We sounded good! We were just kids playing a killer piece, and we were together!”
Shenae credits much of her success now to that excellent training. “Even now, I’m constantly told how good my foundational technique is. That’s because of Debbie and Eugene and Gifted Music School…I’m so grateful to the school and especially Eugene for all they’ve done for me.”
And even though she’s always wanted to be a concert violinist, she’s quick to encourage music in many forms. She says, “You don’t have to be on the concert stage to touch people with your music. Music has no boundaries. I’ve played for people from the most diverse backgrounds you can imagine – 90-year-olds with Alzheimer’s, little kids, people with mental illness… it doesn’t matter who they are – everyone can be uplifted by music.”
See Shenae Anderson solo at Gifted Music School’s 10th Anniversary Gala on May 18, 2020 at Abravanel Hall. Tickets available HERE.