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Violinist vied in national string competition

Amy Lee
Amy Lee

Freshman Amy Lee is is an accomplished violinist who traveled to Salt Lake City last month as a national finalist in the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) collegiate string competition. She earned this opportunity after winning the Washington state competition and the northwest six-state division competition.

Lee, a native of Olympia, Wash., won the Grand Prize in the 2001 Capital Area Youth Symphony Association (CAYSA) 2001 Young Artists Competition in her hometown, which earned her a solo spot at their March 2 concert.

She plans to major in biology with a minor in music and biomedical engineering.

Lynn Heinemann of the Office of the Arts caught up with Lee on her return from Salt Lake City.

Q. How did you get started on the violin?

A. When I was four and a half, I watched my older sister take a violin lesson, and one of the teachers wanted me to try. Lessons were a combination of Suzuki and traditional methods.

Q. Do you get nervous before competing and/or performing?

A. I don't really get nervous when I play the violin. I think of it more as my version of "having fun." Music should never be a chore. When I play, I tend to forget what's going on around me, so I'm not very affected. The MTNA competition was a bit more challenging, because I had to play a 50-minute program, including a full concerto. The competitors are also required to play things of different genres, so I actually played pieces from the Romantic, early Baroque, classical and contemporary periods.

Q. Tell me about "The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto" by He Zhan Hao and Chen Kang, which you performed in your March 2 concert with CAYSA in Olympia, Wash.

A. It definitely is a very special piece to me. It's a rare type of piece, existing solely to tell a story, so it's not really cluttered up by musical acrobatics. It's pure beauty.

Q. How have you pursued your musical interests at MIT?

A. I was a member of the MIT Symphony Orchestra and the MIT Chamber Music Society. Last semester, under the CMS, I was in a baroque trio, with graduate student Ada Au (harpsichord) and freshman Marion Dumas (recorder), coached by lecturer Jean Rife. That was an amazing experience because during the past few years I've become very interested in the Baroque style, but back home I was never able to find people who play those instruments.

Q. Aren't you missing a lot of classes for these concerts and competitions?

A. It's a bit tough, but it's worth it. My professors and recitation teachers are fairly flexible. I missed two tests for MTNA nationals, so my profs allowed me to take makeup exams. And I've e-mailed scans of my problem sets to my recitation teachers to print out and turn in for me, so that's really very generous of them.

Q. How did you do in the competition?

A. I didn't place this time, but I think nationals is always an amazing experience. It's fun to see how much more competitive the music world gets each year. You can't ever stop practicing and trying to improve. And it's always interesting to see the look on people's faces when they hear I'm going to MIT, since it's viewed as such a computer science/tech kind of school.

I'm in many more music activities now at MIT than I was in high school. There are so many talented musicians at MIT that there are more opportunities to play with others.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 2, 2003.

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