James Keene: New Haven Symphony Orchestra Fellow & Violin Phenom

Published March 9th, 2018

Interview performed by Acceptd Digital Marketing Coordinator, Amy Overturf.

Last week, we shared an interview with NHSO Fellowship recipient and viola player, Gabrielle Skinner. This week, we’d like to introduce you to James Keene, another New Haven Symphony Orchestra Harmony Fellowship recipient. James is a versatile soloist, chamber musician, and music pedagogue. After attending Interlochen Arts Academy, he received his B.M. from Rutgers University, and he received his Master’s Degree in Violin Performance from the San Francisco Conservatory. James currently works as a violin teacher & performer.

About James & The NHSO Fellowship

Acceptd: Congratulations, James! Can you describe the NHSO Fellowship in your own words?
James Keene: The fellowship is a wonderful opportunity to not only perform regularly with a professional symphony orchestra but also to address issues that orchestras are facing, such as dwindling attendance and an audience that is specific to an age group or demographic. The process of outreach as Harmony Fellows allows us to tackle those issues.

Acceptd: That sounds like very interesting work -- can you share with us how you first discovered your love of music? Do you have an early “musician memory” you can share with us?
James: I’ve loved music from the very beginning - it started with clarinet and flute, but once I found the violin I felt even more connected to the music. I started practicing obsessively, and my parents even had to tell me to stop when I was 10 or 11 because I wanted to practice 7-8 hours a day. I was homeschooled before attending Interlochen Arts Academy, so I had the opportunity to practice for hours a day and fell in love with it.

James Keene NHSO Fellow

Acceptd: What has been your proudest accomplishment as a musician?
James: When I was playing for the New Brunswick city music project, our string quartet was invited to play at a local bar. I wasn’t so sure about the opportunity -- I didn’t know how our music would be received at a bar. But it ended up being a wonderful success -- the regulars at the bar loved it and stayed all night listening to us play. I loved being able to bring classical music into a local venue and having it be so well received.

Acceptd: Why did you decide to apply to the NHSO Harmony Fellowship?
James: It seemed like a logical next step in my career. I’d started doing outreach work and have taught violin in Newark, New Jersey for local students whose lessons were subsidized by the government. I was excited by the combination of outreach, performance, and teaching - it seems like the perfect mixture of everything I’ve been doing thus far, and it will give me the opportunity to expand and learn even more.

Advice & Aspirations

Acceptd: What advice would you give to musicians who are considering applying to this fellowship or other similar programs?
James: Practice. Even more than you ever imagined you’d need to. You’ll want your playing to be in tip-top shape so that you can play effectively and with confidence in yourself. You should also be passionate about teaching. Many new conservatory grads have this vision that all they’ll do is perform, but there’s more to it than that. Anyone who is in the arts, whether it’s music, theatre, writing, or any other field -- we have the obligation to pass on the art we learned to the next generation.

Acceptd: What are your hopes, dreams, or goals for the outreach work you’re doing as a fellow?
James: My goal is to reach and engage new audiences with classical music and the use of classical music instruments. I hope to open up the symphony’s performances to different groups who might not normally attend. I’m so excited for the vitality and great ideas I’ve seen so far -- the mission of this fellowship will continue to grow and evolve.

James Keene NHSO Fellow

Acceptd: What would be your advice to young aspiring musicians? Particularly those who want to pursue music as a career or a major in music?
James: Imagine a great artist -- would they call themselves an artist if they didn’t spend at least a few hours a day in their studio? No. If you want to call yourself a violinist, you have to put in the work. A huge part of life as a professional musician is auditioning. And auditioning is basically the worst thing ever. You have months of build-up that amounts to 8-15 minutes of playing time. You will be nervous. Anticipate that. Teachers use lots of different techniques, such as running, yoga, or tai-chi. Find the method that works best for you. That way your mind is clear, and your adrenaline response isn’t as strong when you walk into the audition.

Acceptd: What are your long-term goals or dreams?
James: I consider myself to be a performer. Any performance I get is a triumph, and I’d like to continue down that path. Through the fellowship, I’d like to meet other members of the symphony and see how they’ve carved out their career paths. You have to perform, teach, and raise interest in what you’re doing in order to make it all work together, and I think the Harmony Fellowship will enable me to put all of these pieces in place.

Enrichment & Community

Learn more about the New Haven Symphony Orchestra fellowship here. Stream the NHSO playlist here:

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