Ariella Zeitlin Hoffman, Violinist - Keepin' It Real
By Jasmine Reese - Um, can you sing, dance, and play violin at the same time? Ariella Zeitlin-Hoffman does.
A dynamic performer, Ariella, however, is more than just a well-rounded musician. She follows the beat of her own drum; she keeps it real with her fans and followers. It's the new way of surviving in an Internet dominated world.
It's true. In an industry of fluff, audiences seek out authenticity more than ever before. Ariella understands their need, and she's made her career into a story and journey, sharing her struggles, her family life, and her successes.
In this interview, we delve into Ariella's world. We'll talk about creativity and staying true to oneself amidst an environment which constantly desires to mold and dictate the life of the artist.
When did your musical journey begin?
When I was around six, I started asking for violin lessons. My parents didn't want me playing actually; my grandfather -- Zvi Zeitlin -- was quite a well-known violinist, and they thought it was better if I had the freedom to not be under his watchful gaze. But, I just fell in love with the instrument and begged them.
They gave me lessons with a local Suzuki teacher when I was seven, and tried to keep it quiet for a while. When I was about nine, I [finally] played for [my grandfather] for the first time, and my grandparents took over my violin education, putting me into conservatory instead of the local teacher, and making sure I took theory and orchestra.
Basically, my whole life became violin playing from that point forward.
You trained in classical music. However, you seem to focus on other styles now. When and why did the shift in genres happen?
I don't know that the shift in genres has really actually happened. I still play Rode études, Galamian scales, and Paganini Caprices to warm up. I practice like a classical violinist when I have the time to practice like [one]!
When I am invited to perform, I build the program according to the audience and according to what I have time to prepare. I teach classical violin, and I am now going to be the department head of a college string department -- Ron Shulamit -- which is where Itzhak Perlman began his studies here in Israel. At the end of the day, I am a classical violinist. Couldn't take it out of a girl if you tried!
I have a hard time tying myself down, though, like loads of other creative people I know. And being a mom has meant that I need to be more flexible in what my options are.
When I was in school, I was practicing six hours a day -- with many more hours of rehearsals on top of that. I was in full-on beast mode. When you're inside of that, amazing things happen, but you are also living with classical music tunnel vision. 'This recital is coming up; I need to prepare this program.' There's not so much room for creativity in all of that. Although, as every violinist will tell you, just being in contact with the instrument is really fulfilling, and being in tip-top shape is one of the most rewarding things that we have in our lives.
See, I was never going to be an orchestra musician, it just wasn't my style. So, finishing my studies, and due to the lack of focused practice time, and juggling my family, teaching, performing and gigging, when I would have a little time to play, I started playing around with different ideas. I learned to chop from a Casey Driessen tutorial. I tried singing with the violin after seeing Morgan Weidinger do some cool stuff. I started focusing more on groove, bought a loop pedal, played around with it. It was all part of the creative process. I'm not exactly sure where it's going. Trying to create your own sound is complicated, and I really admire the people who are super decisive about their vision! I don't have such a set vision, which is why people see so many different types of things that I'm putting out, and I've taken a bit of a break over the summer from creating, so I could really think about what I want professionally, because I have been feeling like I'm pulled in too many directions.
I have goals and dreams, and I'm doing things that are different than what I want to be [doing] because it is cheaper to produce, or because someone volunteered, or had an idea, or because what I want to create simply costs more. But I look over all the things I have done, and there is just no comparison to creating something yourself and to producing a cover. I only have one original out, and it's in symphonic metal style -- Incandescence -- and I'm the most proud of that one. But I also love playing with effects and loops, and my voice is definitely not a metal voice!
So that's where I am right now -- a classical violinist who loves metal, singing, and effects pedals. Oh, and I love making people happy with my music.
You've become pretty popular with your violin covers, especially on Facebook. Your videos are getting hundreds of thousands of views. What do you think was the magic formula for catching the viral video bug?
First of all, I have to first thank my current musical partner, Liad Abraham. He works tirelessly to get the word out and to advertise our shows. He does the booking, and really all the behind the scenes work. He is just fabulous. When I started working with him I learned so much. So now, I'll talk about what I've learned, but I just want to say that he's really been a godsend.
I try to connect with my fans. Every comment, I answer; every message, I answer. I'm always there. I'm always looking for ways to connect. I talk about my kids; they're in my videos sometimes. I talk about trying to find the work-life balance, about trying to stay organized and scheduled, about not giving two hoots about not looking like a perfect model; I'm super real. I write songs about not sleeping enough, and I think people just see that I'm working hard, and trying to share beauty and life and fun. I hope that that's what they connect to.
I think making it today just means developing a relationship with the Internet. The magic formula -- hate to break it to you -- is spamming. Sending your music to all your friends, begging them to share, contacting relevant blogs, relevant Facebook pages, people who are connected to the industry, sharing in groups, posting teasers on Instagram, staying active on stories, tweeting, messaging, collaborating. It's the manual work of getting your music heard.
Figuring out who's your target market is also key. I actually imagine that if someone were more consistent than me about what they are producing, then hanging onto fans would be easier. It's not doing the research every time again and again on who would care about this.
But then, it's also listening to webinars and classes on promotion and branding. If you can pay someone to do it, you'll save yourself a lot of heartache, but since I don't, I have to learn it all myself. But I feel like it's all part of the process of becoming a complete artist in today's market.
Tell us about living in Israel.
I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community in America, and living in Israel wasn't really part of the narrative. I never really thought about it. But then, I came when I was about 16, and something just struck a chord with me. This is where I want to be, and this is where I want to live. So, I moved here when I was 17 and have only visited the States a handful of times.
My excitement and passion about the connection to our religious history actually inspired my entire family to come. Right now, besides my younger sister who is in Jerusalem, we are all living in a small town in the sprawling hills of central Israel, within a few blocks of each other.
You are a mom of two children, correct? How do you balance family life, violin practice, and your career in music? Do you get any sleep?
My motto is "You can do everything; you just can't do it all at once". There are times when you need to turn one thing off, and there are times when the opposite thing takes a larger chunk of your focus.
I spent this summer primarily with my family. My kids weren't in camp, and I just spent time staying close with them. And you can be sure that although I promised myself that I would practice once they got to sleep, that hasn't happened nearly enough. But I cut myself some slack because I know that as soon as September hits, we are all going to need to stay super organized and scheduled, because there is no way to get anything else done! The way I balance is by sticking to a pretty strict schedule. The hours when my kids are in school, those hours are my practice, rehearsal, and recording hours, and I only have one morning a week when I take adult students back-to-back.
But yes, I sleep! I think self-care takes precedence over anything else, because if you're not taking care of yourself, you won't be able to accomplish anything for long.
What are your current musical goals, and what projects are you working on?
My current goals are divided. I talked about this a little before. On the one hand, I love metal. On the other hand, I see people really connect to the idea of singing and playing and loops. On the other hand, I'm supposed to build a full program to play solo with orchestra at the college at the end of the year, and that's a LOT of work! Lots of things happening, and again, one step at a time. My hope is to do the metal album this year, to produce another song or two, and then to crowdfund for an album.
What have you accomplished that makes you proud of yourself?
I'm really proud that I have stood up for my beliefs against the pressures that are coming from all directions. That I haven't compromised on dress, even though I've been turned down for lots of well paying gigs because of it. I haven't compromised on keeping a positive body image, despite the negative messages that are coming from all directions to all women, especially moms!
Choosing to have kids, even though, I feel like there is a lot of stigma around having children and that ruining your career. That I haven't compromised and given up on having as high a standard of playing as I can. That I haven't compromised on my other religious beliefs, and that despite not being particularly athletic, I ran a marathon a few months ago.
What I see is that we are the most proud of the things that have been the hardest, and that's what's been the hardest for me. Sticking to my guns and being who I want to be gives me the most fulfillment and makes me really proud.
What have you overcome to get to the point you are at today?
I think being a human means that you have to overcome a mountain of emotions to accomplish anything. There's all these awful little bubbles exploding around your brain and releasing things that say 'Why should you...?', 'who are you to...?', 'really not a good idea', 'let's play it safe this time, shall we?', 'you should really do _____ instead', and 'bad timing.'
If I listen to those messages too much, I have no faith in myself whatsoever, and I just want to hide under my pillow and cry for a month about why life is so not worth living. So, in order to reach the point emotionally where you can put yourself on the Internet, and develop a relationship with fans, you have to have really strong, [positive] self-talk. I talk to myself (yes, out loud, since you were already thinkin' I was off my rocker), and I act like my own life coach. My inner life coach is one of those big bouncy yellow smiley faces, and sometimes I have to multiply them to go and smack the negative messages out of my brain with wooden bats. I get some mean comments, and then I employ my army of yellow smiley faces, and then it's a little better. But that's basically, what I've had to overcome emotionally to get to where I am.
Why is music important to you?
You know, there's so much poetry about music. So many feelings that people have about this crazy entity which can change everyone in a room in an instant and totally have control over you in a riveting way. I am super kinesthetic. I love to touch. I was also hyper kid. Like, if my parents weren't crazy hippies, I would have had really high dosages of Ritalin. I took some in college to get through it. But the point is, that being able to touch and feel and create music with my hands, especially since I wasn't so verbal, was like a dream. It was like suddenly having a voice. And that calmed me down. I could spend hours then, I could spend hours now. I could go and lock myself in a room for a month and not even know where the time went. That's how much I love this way of communicating. There's just something that you communicate through music that you can't communicate any other way. It's kind of like a shout of joy inside of your heart, like being at peace with everything. But the fact that it doesn't last is also a little bit magical. Like you only have it for this moment; I'm talking in a live setting. I love recording, really I do, but there's something about seeing a performer live that just moves you.
If you could utter in one sentence the reason why someone should pick up an instrument and play it, what would that one sentence be?
Music gives another dimension to your reality. Is that a good sentence? I might put that on my t-shirts. It's so true. Takes you to a new place.
Yes, that's a good sentence! Do you have any advice for a musician wanting to branch outside of the classical genre and move into a new genre?
Experiment. You have your own voice, you have to find it. It takes years, and you can do it. And what's the best part? Is that if you are different, then you are irreplaceable.
PHOTO CREDIT: Nathan Yakobovitch, first photo.