In a world full of violinists, with a staggering amount of talent, violinist Searmi Park stands out.
Searmi (pronounced Say-ah-me) is the new concertmistress for the Eugene Symphony (Eugene, Oregon, USA) and was recently a featured soloist performing the Barber Violin Concerto in November 2014. Her incredible precision, focus and distinct style of expression leave a mark on all who get to experience her. She is a captivating artist and performer and the buzz of the town. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to do a short interview with Searmi to glean some insights for myself and my violin teaching studio and here is what I learned.
How Did You Learn to Express Yourself?
Searmi illustrated her philosophy with how she prepared for her recent performance of the Barber violin concerto. Although the opening of this concerto is one of the easiest technical parts of the piece to play, it was also one of the sections that she practiced the most in order to capture the desired expression she visioned.
As explained in the book *The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle, every skill falls into one of two categories: hard skills or soft skills. This is significant because hard and soft skills require different training and operate in different parts of the brain. In short, for violinists, hard skills are technique and soft skills are things such as performing and expression. As teachers, this is an important distinction for us to be aware of and balance in our studios.
When we teach the violin, we may neglect emphasizing training the soft skills of expression and performing because our instrument requires so much hard skill technique. The success of Searmi’s approach to practicing expressing herself and to practice performing reminded me of the need to include this in my teaching curriculum so that I can best help my students.
*The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle is an accompanying book to The Talent Code also by Daniel Coyle. The Little Book of Talent breaks down the ideas of The Talent Code into 52 concise explanations and applications.
Any of you who have read the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell or the above mentioned The Talent Code are aware of the 10,000 hours research. This research concludes that mastery of any skill needs at least 10,000 hours of practice to ingrain and synthesize patterns into the muscles and mind. Many professionals, like Searmi, estimate their actual practice time significantly higher than 10,000 hours.
Public Speaking Teaches Performing
“The violin is your voice”
Searmi feels that it is important for a musician to be able to speak well in public. Through the process of learning to speak in public a person gains skill for performing on their musical instrument and builds their confidence. She said that if she had a teaching studio, she would incorporate the component of public speaking as a part of the curriculum for her violin students to better learn how to present themselves in public.
On being a Yogi and Athlete:
In addition to pursing music, Searmi has deeply dedicated herself in other disciplines. Encouraged by her college violin teacher and mentor, Mark Kaplan, Searmi started practicing yoga in her early 20’s and has since completed yoga teacher training. She loves the mind-body awareness that it gives her. Yoga literally means “yoking together” the mind and body. As violinists, the body is our first instrument and establishing a relationship of awareness with the body is a way to optimize the way we play our violins and keep ourselves healthy. My first violin teacher always emphasized how special yoga was and famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin has also been a strong advocate for complementing violin playing with a yoga practice.
Searmi has also run a few marathons to date and is currently training for an ultramarathon in 2016. When asked about how yoga and running tie into her violin playing she remarked that she likes to take something as far as it can go with everything she commits to. These activities provide balance in her life and running and yoga are like practicing violin she says - “a mental game.”
She shared how when working on the Barber Violin Concerto, she began at quarter note = 90 and metronome crawled her way to 192. This is the same way an athlete would train and the same way a beginner learns a new piece of music. It is a fundament to the work we do as educators and musicians and even those at the concert artist level.
Advice for younger musicians:
“You can learn to say anything with your playing at any level, but the harder you work the more you can express yourself.”
I loved that Searmi kept coming back to the same message of emphasizing the importance of hard work and that it is thru one’s personal effort that we achieve our results. We know thru recent developmental psychology how important it is to praise the effort (i.e. the hard work) and not the result since this gives children a mindset for success that they can carry with them their whole lives on all things that they pursue.
Searmi also emphasized that “violin playing is hard but it is so rewarding” which I believe is also an important message for our children. Many things in life are of value for the meaning and self awareness they bring to us and I believe that playing music falls into this category.
Searmi does not classify herself as a strict parent but teaches her children that they can do whatever they want with their lives and emphasized that children learn by example. Her consistent modeling of discipline in preparing for performances and maintaining her health and well being thru her yoga practice and long distance running set a clear example for her children of what is possible to do with one’s life. She also consistently came back to the same message in this interview that there is no secret to talent but that achievements are the result of hard work.
Searmi walks her talk and has a relationship with her life that holds the boundaries of human potential as exciting, possible and rewarding. She has used her discipline and years of hard work to achieve her dreams and an incredible level of greatness in multiple realms. We wish her continued success in all areas of her life and are grateful for her insights here and the gifts she brings to this world.
Hi! It's me, Heather. I absolutely love working on the Music for Young Violinists project and all the many facets: blogging, website, music, teaching materials, freebies, videos, newsletter and giveaway contests. The best part is connecting with you so feel free to drop me a line. You can learn more about me on the "ABOUT" page. Thanks!