Anna Lisa Hoepfinger
Hometown: Bourbonnais, IL
Member of the Nashville Symphony since 2002
What inspired you to become a musician – and what drew you to the violin?
My mom was interested in giving me something to do, so she started me in the Suzuki violin method when I was 6 years old. My older brother was doing many activities, and she wanted me to have my own niche. She was always interested in both our education and development, and music was a gift that she wanted to provide for both her children. My brother played piano. At that time, I really wanted to play ballet music. To me and my 6-year-old way of thinking, that meant I would play the violin.
As for the violin, I just liked it more than any other instrument. I like that I’m a lot closer to the instrument when I’m playing it because it’s smaller, and that it is at a higher register. If I wasn’t a violinist, I’d probably play the oboe or trumpet because I prefer higher-register instruments.
Who has had the greatest influence on you as a musician?
Another big reason why I ended up playing the violin was that I had a great teacher named Carol Dallinger. A childhood teacher can really make or break your development as a musician, and Carol was definitely a big influence on mine. I started studying the Suzuki method with her around the third grade; I now teach Suzuki myself, and Carol has even worked with some of my own students.
I was also fortunate enough to learn from Almita and Roland Vamos while I was studying at Oberlin. They’re both very well known and they have such a clear, defined way of teaching – they’ve pulled together various methods and refined them in their own way, and every student of theirs is very well-trained and disciplined, which is very important at the undergraduate level.
What are the unique challenges of playing the violin?
The violin can be very difficult to learn as a child because it’s unnatural and uncomfortable. When you grow up as a violin student, your hand develops in a different way with a distinct curvature, which takes awhile to get accustomed to. Even now, my hand pronates in a way that makes playing something like the guitar almost impossible.
As a professional, there are still challenges. You always have to be sensitive to intonation, and the instrument is much more physically demanding than people probably realize. We have to be in good shape, and it’s important to find the right balance between practicing on our own and giving ourselves the time needed to recover.
If you could meet one composer, living or dead, who would it be?
Brahms, Beethoven, and Bach are probably my three favorites. But if I could meet one, it would definitely be Brahms. He was such and eccentric, lovable, cute, and humble man. Brahms came from a lower-class family and had a very modest upbringing, but he overcame a lot thanks to his sheer love and need for music. He also had to follow in the footsteps of Beethoven, which had to be intimidating, and was apparently a little bit slovenly — he didn’t like to wear socks or ties. Plus, he had a beard, and I really like beards!
Which composer writes the best music for violin?
Shostakovich’s work is gratifying to play on violin. It is more forgiving in performance than Mozart, for example, which is like playing on glass (every note must be perfect). The Shostakovich Violin Sonata is one of my favorite pieces, and it isn’t performed nearly as much as it should be.
Can you explain the difference between first and second violins?
First violins tend to play the melodies, though that’s not always the case. Second violins don’t usually play the higher register and will have a lower voice in the case of a fugue. I do like playing first violin because it is a bit more challenging. First and second violin positions are simply determined by what is available at the time of auditions. It doesn’t mean one position is more or less talented than the other.
Describe what you’re thinking and feeling right before a concert begins.
That’s something that has changed over the years for me. I used to be focused a lot on the audience right before a concert, but now I’m more immersed in my parts and the music that we’re about to play. I think about the audience more now at the end of a performance, and I always hope that they get as much out of a concert as we all do.
I love sitting in the first violin section and really enjoy my colleagues. We all deeply care about our performance, and depending on the night, I can be pretty social with them onstage before we start performing.
How did you wind up auditioning for the Nashville Symphony?
My aunt (harp) and uncle (bass trombone) – who are the only members of my family who are also musicians – had both played with the Nashville Symphony, so I was certainly familiar with the orchestra and had visited before. I had been living in Brazil for about two-and-a-half years, but I was back in the States studying at a program in Chicago, and I actually won my audition here in Nashville while that program was still going on.
What’s the most memorable thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?
Once in Brazil – this was the absolute worst – I was late getting back onstage for the second half of the concert after intermission. Everyone was already seated and quiet, so when I walked onstage, everyone in the audience thought I was the conductor and started applauding! There had to be at least 1,000 people there, and they were all laughing once I took my seat in the tutti violin section.
You have been involved with the Suzuki violin program for some time now, first as a student and now as a teacher. Why do you believe so strongly in the Suzuki method?
Carol Dallinger actually studied with Dr. Suzuki, so that obviously had a role in me pursuing it. But I chose the Suzuki method because it is so organic and well planned-out. The method is based on the way children learn to speak their native language, which makes assimilation easier so they can learn the instrument in the most natural way possible.
It’s a philosophy that really resonates with me. Suzuki students start at an early age, and the method stresses the power and importance of listening, practicing frequently, group and individual teaching, and heavy parental involvement, among other components. There are so many Suzuki teachers out there that I think it has led to a slightly inaccurate portrayal of the method – on the surface it may appear easy, but it’s definitely not all fun and games. Suzuki believed that every child has unlimited potential, and he was a demanding teacher who instilled incredible discipline in his students.
I am currently the secretary of the Middle Tennessee Suzuki Association, and I help organize the workshops and master classes that the organization provides for Suzuki students in the area. It’s also very exciting that I can now bring Carol in to teach some of my own Suzuki students as well.
What part of town do you live in?
I have lived in East Nashville since 2003, and I love it. It’s a great community full of diverse people who are proud to live there. There are so many good places to eat in East Nashville, and I like that it’s easy to get downtown.
I’ve been a core member of the Eastwood Ensemble since the group began in December of 2010. We were voted Best New Chamber Music Series of 2014 in the Nashville Scene. It has a very East Nashville vibe – our performances are diverse and include different performance partners each time, such as singer-songwriters, poetry reading, culinary artists, or groups like The Ukedelics. We are very laid-back. Our program is designed to draw all kinds of people, even those who may not be into classical music per se. We also do a series of concerts hosted by community members in their historic homes while sometimes serving light fare and wine.
What do you do when you’re not practicing, teaching or performing?
I don’t have all that much free time because of my busy teaching and performing schedule. But I’ve dabbled in crochet and beekeeping, and I’ve taken a few clogging and hip-hop lessons. Right now, I’m taking a class at the YMCA called Dance Blast, and I also love Netflix. When we were off this past summer, I crocheted a blanket while watching the entire first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which is such a funny show.
I’m often out dragging my old white dog around while jogging in the Rosebank area of East Nashville, and I’m hoping to start doing some 5K runs in the future. After hearing Erik Gratton play the Nielsen Flute Concerto here recently, I downloaded Nielsen’s Second Violin Sonata, which is something I’d like to play through for fun with a pianist. I can listen to the entire sonata two times through while running a 5K.
Do you enjoy listening to music for fun?
I like pretty much everything. I do enjoy a lot of the pop music that I hear on the radio, but I honestly can’t listen to anything like that consistently for too long. Lately though, I’ve been having a blast from the past, so to speak, and listening to the music I enjoyed in high school, including The Smiths, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Psychedelic Furs.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I have to be a musician, and I don’t know what I’d do without music. I suppose I would be OK with being another kind of artist, but I’d need to be involved in the arts one way or another.
Why should someone who has never attended a classical concert come to a performance by the Nashville Symphony?
I think everyone should come see a concert here, and more than one! People really need to experience Laura Turner Concert Hall and hear for themselves how an entire orchestra can bring this music to life. There’s so much history in the classical repertoire, and its longevity is truly remarkable. The concerts also give people the chance to learn about all the instruments we play, which strengthens the connection an audience member has to the performance.