September 27, 2016

‘Stringing’ together a sound

Violist Eliana Haig teaches college students by day at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and Washington University in St. Louis.  In the afternoon, she is teaching at the Community Music School with children from pre-school to high school age. In her free time, she does freelance performing with her string quartet.

“It’s nice having a balance (of teaching and performing),” Haig said.

Music education

Haig has played the viola since she was eight.

Haig was a native of Rochester, N.Y. before coming to St. Louis. She said when she lived north of New York City, the music scene was very saturated.

“There’s a million Juilliard kids,” Haig said.

Haig said what helps make St. Louis stand out is it is not as saturated.  She said it’s big enough to have a constant musical presence, but small enough to “do your own thing.”  She and three other musicians started their own St. Louis-based string quartet.

Haig received her Master of Music in Performance from the Eastman School of Music and a Bachelor of Music with honors from Lawrence University.  She said she was more interested in the performance aspect of music when she was younger than she was in teaching.  That changed as she witnessed instructors in their practice.

“I got to see a lot of good teaching and saw what you could do with it,” Haig said.

Haig was involved with a string project when she was an undergraduate where she would go and teach at an after-school program through classes and private lessons. She started to do some teaching on the side and participating in pedagogy (the practice of teaching) classes.

Haig moved to St. Louis in August 2012 when her husband got a teaching position at Washington University. She had applied to schools around the area, one of them being the Community Music School. When she started, she had a private studio of six or seven students, which has grown since.  She has taught students from the age of five to 18.

Haig said a lot of people try to justify the importance of music education because it can help students with other aspects of life, such as academic performance.  However, while she said those benefits are important, she believes music should be a part of education in general.

Haig said if a universal education is about giving students the best of the culture, whether it be through language, math or science. She thinks music should be included in that conversation to help understand culture.

“Music is a really big part of being a human being,” Haig said.

Haig is a proponent of the Suzuki method of teaching.  Haig said the method is especially effective with young children because it is about breaking everything down. The first lesson would just be about holding the viola or pitch matching with the voice. Students may not even play on that first lesson.

“It might take six months to get to a song you kind of recognize from a CD, but kids don’t mind,” Haig said. “They don’t have these expectations of ‘why am I not playing as good as the others.’ They’re just sort of interested in the process and they like learning one new thing a week.”

The school’s Community Relations Coordinator Melissa Peterson said the Suzuki method is effective because it mimics the way children learn to read.  The children listen to the piece and then imitate the sounds orally before doing it through instruments.

“It’s great because it works naturally with the way that children learn,” Peterson said.

Performance 

Haig has performed in various orchestras in Rochester and St. Louis. A few of those include the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Chamber Project St. Louis, Metropolitan Orchestra of St. Louis and the Illinois Symphony Orchestra.

It was in Chamber Project St. Louis that she met fellow musicians Hannah Frey and Stephanie Hunt. They started talking about forming their own freelance project.

That project eventually became the Perseid String Quartet, consisting of Haig, Frey, Hunt and Manuela Kayamakanova, whom Frey knew.  The quartet was formed in 2013.

“In chamber music, it’s difficult to find a good rapport,” Haig said. “We’ve been really lucky that we all get along really well and have similar enough aesthetics.”

The quartet meets once a week to rehearse. Some of their performances include the Tavern of Fine Arts, the First Presbyterian Church in Edwardsville and the Schmidt Art Center at Southwestern Illinois College.

Haig said being a freelance musician is something she enjoys because it involves the challenge of having to learn music more quickly than usual.

“It’s not something you necessarily get in Conservatory where you have months and months before your orchestra concert,” Haig said.

Frey said she feels the goal of the group is to bring their love of music from the romantic period to an audience.

“We always tell them a little bit about the piece before we play so that they have kind of an idea either of what it is we like about it or why the composer wrote it or what’s interesting about it,” Frey said.

Frey also said playing in small venues helps the audience feel like they are a part of the performance. She said that everyone in the group gets along well because they always stay kind to one another.

“Even if you have a difference of opinion, everyone is very good, I think, at expressing it in a good way,” Frey said.

Melissa Peterson said having someone like Haig performing actively in St. Louis is important to helping children develop as musicians.  Peterson said instructors like Haig brings experience and expectations of performing live to her students.

“They [instructors] know what it’s like to be performing,” Peterson said.  “They know if a student is suffering from performance anxiety; they can relate to that.”

Peterson said Haig is an immensely qualified instructor because she brings enthusiasm to her students.

“She is a wonderful instructor,” Peterson said. “She is energetic. When her students perform, they’re very prepared.  They are wonderful players and they love working with her.”

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