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Arts Toolkit

Arts Toolkit: Music

Kentuckians in Music

Violinist Nathan Cole
Chicago, IL

Who Nathan Cole is a member of the first violin section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Before his CSO appointment in 2002, he served for two seasons as principal second violin of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. This Lexington, KY native’s solo debut came at the age of 10 with the Louisville Orchestra. He received a Bachelor of Music from the Curtis Institute of Music, where his love for chamber music flourished. In 1998 he became the founding first violinist of the Grancino String Quartet, which won the 2000 Barnett Competition in Chicago and participated in the 2000 Isaac Stern Chamber Music Encounters in Jerusalem. The quartet made its New York debut in Carnegie’s Weill Hall in 2002. In the summer of 2004, Nathan won second prize at the International Violin Competition of Sion-Valais, also capturing the special prize for best performance of the commissioned work by Ludovic Thirvaudey. As a result, he presented concerts in Sion and Geneva with the Prague Philharmonia and Maestro Shlomo Mintz. He has appeared as guest concertmaster with the symphonies of Oregon and Seattle and the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa and as a soloist with the Lexington Philharmonic, the symphonies of Bremerton and Haddonfield, and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. In addition to performing, Nathan teaches at a private studio and is a regular coach for the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and the DePaul Symphony Orchestra.

Influences “My earliest musical memory is listening to our record player at home when I was 2 or 3 years old. Itzhak Perlman was most likely playing. Both my parents are flute teachers, so there was always music in the house. Through their influence as well as my first two teachers, Donna Wiehe and Daniel Mason, I decided at around 14 or 15 to become a professional performer.

“My main influences would really be my teachers, mentioned above. Mrs. Wiehe taught me from the beginning to age 10, laying the technical foundation and showing me that playing the violin should be fun and that steady work makes you better over time. Mr. Mason taught me through my teenage years, keeping me motivated without pushing too hard. During those years I expanded my knowledge and skills to a much more challenging repertoire and began to struggle with expressing myself on the instrument rather than just playing it.”

What “There are 110 musicians in the Chicago Symphony and one conductor each week. Together we rehearse and perform works from the 17th to 21st centuries. My biggest challenge is staying afloat in the sea of repertoire that we learn and perform. Each season I play about 150 works. All those notes need practicing!”

When “Most of my work takes place at the concert hall—the Symphony Center in Chicago. A typical day has me there for five hours or so, rehearsing with the orchestra, practicing by myself, and teaching or coaching students. Of course, everything revolves around the afternoon and evening performances. We perform three or four concerts a week, changing the repertoire each week.”

How “The most important tools I use are my violin and bow. The violin was made by Vincenzo Postiglione in Italy in 1910, and my bow is from the J.B. Vuillaume shop from 19th-century France. The resources I draw from are my colleagues and the guest artists that collaborate with the symphony.”

Why “The truly great performances make the practice worthwhile. Sometimes the music is so powerful that the audience’s reaction is just the icing on the cake. Other times the audience is an essential partner, uplifting the orchestra and transforming the night into something extraordinary.”

Getting There “Patience is key. Both while learning your instrument and as a professional, things don’t always happen when and how you would like. Be patient with yourself and others so that you maximize your own potential and, at the same time, act as a good colleague.

“You can start different instruments at different times, but generally piano and violin are the two that benefit the most from an early start. You need a teacher familiar with children to motivate and instruct you on the technical issues for your instrument. You need a home environment that lets you work every day. And you need to be organized enough to do good work even when there are other things happening in your life. Other than that, people of all different physical and mental abilities make great musicians.

“The most important factor to consider if you want to become a professional musician is your own desire. That means doing whatever you need to improve yourself and your craft, including seeking help early and often. In fact, your private teachers are likely to be the most important people in your musical development. Then seek out inspiration in the art of others—great performers of course, but also people your own age and artists in other disciplines. Without motivation, it’s hard to achieve any goal. But with the right motivation and personal drive, you can go further than you thought possible.”


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