By Kristina Yoder
When I was 6 years old, my father brought home a 1/4 size violin. It was a little big for me at the time, but I enjoyed trying to play it.
My parents insisted that I needed a teacher in order to learn properly, so I started taking violin lessons through the Suzuki program at our local music conservatory. My mother would take me each week to my lessons along with my doll who enjoyed going, too.
Though neither of my parents was a musician, they thought it was important that each of us play an instrument. I would practice at home in our living room with the door shut (I liked making mistakes in private) and our sleeping and supportive cat, Lucky, would keep me company. I usually didn’t mind practicing; however, there were times when I felt I was missing out on playing outside with my friends.
I also played piano for most of elementary school until I decided to focus on the violin.
When I was 12, I won the opportunity to play the Accolay Concerto with the KC Youth Symphony. I remember being very surprised; I didn’t think I would be good enough to win!
My teacher then was Kathy Haid Berry, Assistant Principal Second Violin, Kansas City Symphony. Not only was she an amazing teacher, she was also like a mother to me and we still keep in touch today. She taught me a lot about phrasing and artistry. When I started going to summer music festivals by myself at age 15, Kathy was there to make sure I was thriving both musically and emotionally.
In high school, I began studying with Kathy’s husband, Ben Sayevich, an excellent Russian violin teacher, who gave me so much of his time and energy. He taught me the major solo violin repertoire and helped me develop a beautiful sound. I was very excited to perform the Wieniawski concerto with the Kansas City Symphony when I was 16. I remember also feeling quite anxious about playing with a professional orchestra. I was fortunate that Kathy was so supportive; she reassured me that it was perfectly normal to feel so nervous. I still remember how proud she was after my performances, and I was very happy that they went well!
I worked hard to prepare for college auditions and visited five music schools. When I visited Juilliard, I had a sleepless night because of all the city noise, not to mention that I was anxious about my audition the following day. Luckily, I still played well enough to be accepted and completed my bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Juilliard.
I was in New York City on 9/11, a day I’ll never forget. We all had to evacuate the school and stay in the Juilliard Theater for most of the day. The view out my dorm window was black dust for days. I will never forget the sadness and complete devastation, but also how the city pulled together and persevered.
Now, I am so grateful to be a member of the First Violin section of the PSO. What an honor it is the play with one of the best orchestras in the world!