For Fiddlershop's Music is for Everyone blog series, I love to interview musicians who do not fit the conventional mold of professional, amateur and student musician. It's important to show people what's possible outside the boundaries of their imagination, perceptions, and traditions. Most importantly, it shows us that we should and can have music in our lives.
In 2004, Abraham began his journey on the violin at age 14 with no previous music lessons. From there, his passion evolved into an intense study, preparing for a career in music.
In fact, only two years later in 2006, Abraham was selected for extended learning at a tuition-free conservatory and commenced studies for a violin performance degree in 2009 at the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor. His track to a professional career in music was fast.
Sometimes all it takes to ignite our passions is a tiny spark. For Abraham, it appeared on a show called Sesame Street.
"I had grown up watching 'Shalom Sesame' -- Israel’s version of Sesame Street," Abraham explained. "The production is filmed in Itzhak Perlman’s hometown -- Tel Aviv, Israel. Perlman was a fairly regular program guest. In one episode, he performed Niccolo Paganini’s 14th Caprice in E-flat Major at the Colosseum. My impression was that it would be easy and awesome enough to learn myself -- only one of which proved to be correct. Regardless, I was inspired, and four and a half tenaciously-focused years after starting violin studies, Paganini’s 14th Caprice was among my undergraduate audition repertoire."
A non-musician may think, "14 is quite young. What's the big deal?" However, teens with professional ambitions do face unique challenges.
"Master time management," Abraham says.
And what he says is true. Teen starters must learn to prioritize daily practice with their standard academic responsibilities, family commitments, jobs, and other life-defining moments of the teen years.
Besides that, they must accept that the journey ahead is not a smooth and simple one. Put aside arrogance and pride.
Abraham says, "There is an immediate need for humility when associating with music students your age with the same goals, already owning a decade of guided experiences and training. Everyone has something to teach you, and everyone can help you if you are receptive. Arrogance is the number one blocker of progress. My first classmates were half my age, half my height, and commanded twice the skill."
With any dream, some sacrifices are required.
"After starting the violin, it became everything, and so I rarely hung out or partied as a teen," Abraham said. "I skipped every birthday, prom night, and even my high school graduation to rehearse with youth symphonies. Fortunately, my girlfriend at the time was also a serious music student, so I survived the prom ordeal. Still, this was difficult as a kid. While I met many people, the practice hours remain long and thereby isolating at times. Once starting undergrad at the University of Michigan, I quickly realized that it would require an even higher level of focus.
As a teen-starter, this is not to stand-out in any way at all, but just to keep up with a standard. Through three degrees in music, I can probably count on one hand the number of parties and sporting events I have attended. Referring back to time-management, not being passive regarding priorities is extremely important as a teen starter, and is probably the most difficult part to learn."
Now 26, Abraham only seems to get busier as time goes on. But that's a good sign.
"I am finishing a Doctorate in Violin Performance, publishing two string quartets which premiered in 2015 and 2017 as well as a string quintet," Abraham said about current projects. "Also, I am writing a critical edition of the Bach Ciaccona for solo violin and working closely with my administrators to keep The Violin Guild a connective platform for bowed string players all over the world."
As a teen starter myself, I wanted to ask Abraham some questions that reflect my feelings and experiences.
I often felt as if I was playing a game of trying to catch up with my peers. Did you ever feel the same?
Yes, I started this way, but not anymore. The need to improve certainly never leaves, but the self-imposed need to catch up is usually not a healthy motivator, in my experience. A healthier goal is to reach as high as you can at your current place in time.
The other reality is that everyone has something to learn from everyone else, no matter how small. In this way, everyone is a potential teacher, and student, to one another. Competing with peers hinders one’s ability to be receptive. The 'catch-up' is not with the peers in the end, but with oneself.
What would you like to see in the classical music world in regards to age and other demographics in the future?
Currently, there is a notion that if you start much after age seven-ish, you have -- more or less -- 'missed the boat' as far as a professional career or even a performance degree goes.
As a default, I would like for people to take one another’s aims and goals seriously and grant respect for any challenges they foresee rather than automatic skepticism. One's age, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, skin color, nationality, etc are not reasons to silently doubt us. When someone doubts us on account of demographics, we are already aware of the challenges ahead of us and have decided to push through and try to accomplish our dreams regardless. Of course, this is the short answer to an inquiry which extends very far beyond music.
What advice can you give to other teen starters out there?
At this point in our culture, teen starters aiming for a performance career must immediately take their goals seriously, because no one else initially will. The antidote for toxic self-doubt and the doubt of others is a passion for your music. I tell every student I meet not to shy away from being as passionate about their instrument as they may. That unconditional love may very well fuel all the focus you will ever need.
Do you know a professional, amateur, or student musician with an inspirational, funny, heartwarming, or unique story?
Recommend them for our Music is for Everyone Blog series. We'll interview them for the Fiddlershop Blog.
Contact us via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you! :)