Teen violinist takes symphony's 1st chair
Recent comments by violinists about Russian composer Mikail Ivanovich Glinka's second opera, “Ruslan and Ludmila” (1842), range from “This is so hard to play” and “I have played this half as quickly and described it as ‘fast'” to “The tempo is insane” and “This speed … just blows me away.”
When Greensburg Salem senior Sarah Mica first played that piece, she admits to some trepidation.
“After I learned to play the piece with the Westmoreland Youth Symphony I grew to like and appreciate it,” she said. “Now it's one of my favorite pieces. Its pace is fast and exciting, and it's an exciting composition to play.”
When Mica discovered she was about to publicly play it a second time, she was “extremely excited.”
That occasion came in June 2011 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., when Mica, a rising junior, was selected for the National Youth Orchestra.
After her selection for the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association District and Regional orchestras as a sophomore, Mica advanced to the state orchestra, then on to the JFK Center. She achieved district and regional honors as a junior, but there was no statewide orchestra, as it is selected every other year. As a senior, she is ineligible.
“It has been an honor to be selected for the district, regional, state and national orchestras,” Mica said. “I've met musicians from all over the country and the directors have been fantastic.”
Mica, a member of the Westmoreland Youth Symphony in Greensburg since she was in the sixth grade, is in her first year as first-chair violinist.
“In the first chair, Sarah is the concertmaster, the leader of the string section,” said Morrie Brand, the symphony's music director.
“Sarah is a delightful young person and a wonderful violinist. She is a conscientious student and plays with a beautiful sound,” he said.”Sarah was second chair last year and has grown into this leadership role. She pays attention to detail. She is what you want in a leader.”
Mica began playing at age 6 when her grandmother presented her with the violin Mica's great-grandmother played.
“I tried it and started taking lessons,” Mica said. “I practiced a lot, but it was frustrating at first. Playing all these years, I've grown to like it. It's fun now. I started at the Suzuki School in Greensburg and now I am a volunteer there, helping beginner violinists with their music and performances.” In addition, she is a camp violin counselor at the school.
For the last four years Mica has studied under Ramona Coppage, violin II assistant principal with the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra and faculty member with the orchestra's Academy of Music.
“Sarah is a talented violinist and a very strong player... ,” Coppage said. “She works very hard to achieve her goals and when you produce, you accomplish those goals, as she has. It was a great opportunity and exciting that she was selected for the state and national youth orchestras. There are talented students from all over the country and the competition is very tough. The last couple years Sarah has come to enjoy the violin more than she did earlier. She has blossomed as a violinist. She also helps me with Suzuki classes, playing the harmony part for youth classes.”
Mica makes every attempt to practice at least an hour every day, she said, and sometimes more when she has some free time. She takes lessons on a weekly basis; more frequently when she has a performance.
In her second season as outside midfielder with the Greensburg Salem soccer team this year, there was less free time “but it was something else to do and another way to make friends,” she said.
She maintains a perfect 4.0 grade-point average. While she plans to continue playing the violin in college, she is undecided if music will be her career path.
Although Greensburg Salem does not have an orchestra program, band director Jaime West sponsors Mica for various district, regional and honors festivals.
“Sarah is a very talented and dedicated musician,” West said. “Her technical ability is really advanced, especially compared to other violinists her age. In watching and listening to her, she has become so much more expressive since I first started taking her to festivals. She has a really sweet sound with her violin.”
Mica did not let adversity stop her from developing that sound. She recalled a summer camp incident at Seton Hill University in Greensburg when she was a sixth-grader that made her smile.
“On the day of the concert we were on break,” she said. “I was sitting in my chair, got up, and my bow got caught in the chair and snapped in half. It was an extremely traumatic experience, especially for a sixth-grader. I had to borrow my teacher's bow. It was a little different from mine, but it all worked out and the concert was a success.”
And so is Mica.
Les Harvath is a freelance writer.