Thank you so much for your time today. When we worked together for the Impulse New Music Festival with Brightwork, a few months back, I noticed that you have a really incredibly elaborate at-home studio setup. And is that something that you had put in place pre-COVID? Or is it something that you just had to make happen in order to continue working during this really bizarre time?
That was absolutely a side effect of COVID. About two weeks into lock down, the cellist in my quartet (the Lyris Quartet), Tim Loo contacted me. He said, we’re all getting set up to record from home, let’s get you on board as soon as we can so that we can continue working. We do a lot of work for composer Jeff Russo. He scores Star Trek Discovery, Fargo, other TV shows and movies. Jeff was ready to get us going remotely. Honestly, I was panicked at the beginning because I was also dealing with my son transitioning to remote school. That already seemed like such a huge thing. But luckily, Tim and Alyssa Park (the other violinist in our quartet) had already gotten set up. They were able to talk me through what equipment I needed to get. I had to buy a mic, a digital audio interface, and software. And it took some tweaking: the mic I initially bought, I ended up returning and getting a new one. We had to work with our engineer and kind of tweak things until we got the right setup. And then I had to learn how to use Logic, which is the software that I use for recording. Plus, this all happened within probably that last week of March, beginning of April, when all the stores were closed, and everything had to be ordered online.
Wow, that is crazy. You already touched on this a little bit, were there any other skills that you’ve picked up during quarantine, either related to your professional career or just hobby sort of skills?
Definitely learning the Logic software was the biggest one. It was completely brand new to me. I hadn’t ever worked in Garageband or any kind of recording software at all. I started on a very, very basic level, and over these last six months have added on incrementally to what I’m able to do. I just recorded my son last week for a project that he’s doing for his rock ensemble in school. I recorded him playing his marimba for the project, and that felt really good, to be able to use those skills to help him. It was nice to get to that point.
And I’ve called on so many different people to help me. Initially it was the audio engineers who were helping us with the scoring work, but Aron Kallay from Brightwork has helped me quite a bit as well. When we were doing our Impulse Music Festival recording, I came at it from a different angle and that gave me a couple other skills in that software.
In terms of non-music skills, it’s mostly been having more time to indulge in some of the things that I like to do, like cooking and working in my garden. I’ve taken on more in those areas because I’ve had the time and the luxury of that time to delve further into those things – doing more complicated cooking projects or learning to prune my roses myself.
The one new thing is that we got a brand new dog right at the beginning of lockdown. I actually started training him and teaching him some tricks and things like that. We‘re thinking about maybe getting some hoops for him to jump through in the backyard, and trying to train him to do that.
How fun! I’m glad that you have a new little furry friend. OK, going back to cooking: What’s your favorite thing to cook and where might someone find the ultimate recipe for that dish?
Well, that’s a great question. My family is from India, and my mom lives here in town – she lives in Burbank. I’ve been using her as a resource to explore cooking more Indian food, and specifically South Indian food because that’s where our family is from. It is not what you usually get in Indian restaurants. In America, most of the Indian food you eat in restaurants is North Indian food. South Indian food is very different. It uses more coconut milk sauces, more seafood, because Kerala where my family’s from is coastal. One of the things I’ve really been trying to learn are a couple of different breads that we eat. One is called dosa, and it’s made out of rice flour. That’s another thing – we use a lot more rice flour than wheat flour. The batter for dosa is fermented, but you don’t use yeast as an ingredient. Instead, you’re relying on wild yeast in the air to ferment your batter. It took me about three tries to get it right, finally! I use my mom as a recipe resource, and the internet, too. A cookbook called “Vibrant India” has a recipe for dosa that I love, but it is a complicated, multi-day recipe – it’s not for everyone.
Cooking during this time has been a joy for me. I really love to cook for our family. I even have a menu board in the kitchen where I plan out a week’s worth of menus. Another recipe I made, that I’m going to make again soon for my son’s birthday, is a paella on the grill. I love that recipe! It’s on the Splendid Table website. You need a big roasting pan, and you cook the paella over the grill. It’s super fun for warm weather, which we still have here in October.
Ah, that sounds amazing. Thank you. You already mentioned that you play with the Lyris Quartet, and of course you’re with Brightwork and you’ve played with the Varied Trio as well. And I wonder: what is it about chamber music that you really enjoy?
I think the smallness of chamber music is what I enjoy. I spent a lot of years playing in orchestras. I was in the New world Symphony in Miami for about two and a half seasons and then after that, my focus was to get an orchestra job because that’s what that training program is really about. I won a job in the Pacific Symphony out here in Orange County and played there for almost 10 seasons. I also played with Opera Pacific in Orange County until it folded, and took a lot of auditions for other orchestras. Playing in an orchestra was my focus for a long time.
In the middle of all of this, I played a chamber music concert, and I really sensed how much my playing had been changed by all the orchestra playing, and auditions, and trying to put myself in this “orchestral violinist” box. And I really didn’t like it that much. Honestly, I did fine in orchestra auditions but I never went super far because I didn’t really fit into that box. At a certain point, I realized I prefer the freedom of chamber music, and particularly contemporary music, which has been part of my musical life since high school. With chamber music, I love the interaction with other people, and the ability to hear your own sound. Playing in an orchestra so much of the time, you don’t really hear your own sound – especially as a string player. You have to be thinking about blending into the section constantly, and there is a loss of individual identity. At a certain point, it stopped appealing to me and I decided to go the chamber music route. A few years after the Lyris Quartet was formed, I decided to leave the Pacific Symphony. I loved playing with that orchestra, and it is a great group of people, but leaving was the right decision for me at the time.
Thank you for sharing that. And I appreciate that perspective so much, as a wind player, to hear more about the orchestral string experience. Changing topics, I’m really fascinated about how musicians choose their instruments. And, do we choose instruments based on our personality, or do the instruments shape our personality? And I’m curious about how you came be introduced to the violin and what that was like and when you started playing.
I started playing I think I was four, almost five. No one in my family can remember if I chose the violin, or if my mom chose for me. I certainly can’t remember. I started with a Suzuki teacher in our neighborhood, who was just the most wonderful person. I have such happy memories of taking lessons with her. In fact, I loved her so much that I probably stayed with her a little longer than I should have. She he was like a “second mom” kind of person. She had a big group of kids in her studio, and we would do group concerts and things like that. And I just I really loved it.
Since we’re doing these series of interviews as a way to market and publicize this high school composer initiative that we have coming up, I think those students might be interested in hearing what their mentors were like in high school. Could you share a little bit about that?
High School was such a formative time for me as a musician. It was really when everything came together for me. I switched to a new violin teacher right before high school started. And he was really the man that inspired me and made me really love music and really engage with music in a different way. And the other person was my high school music director, who was just this crazy genius. He conducted the orchestra, ran the jazz band, ran the jazz choir – he just did everything and was so incredible. Those two teachers were such a huge part of why I became a musician, just because they made me really find a love for it. And my high school music director was willing to give me responsibility. He saw that I was wanting to become more of a leader, and eventually I became concert master of our orchestra. That was such an educational experience for me because I hadn’t had to do something like that – to lead in that way and make decisions and collaborate with other players. High school was the period of my life when music really came alive for me. I wanted everything in my life to be about music and I didn’t want to think or deal with anything else.
It’s interesting to think about my high school experiences while watching my own son, who has just started high school, and to think about these high school composers, and what they might be experiencing. My son has been playing instruments for a long time, but there is something that is jelling for him at this age. It’s like he has enough ability to go beyond what his teachers are telling him and just explore and play things that are interesting to him. Its really exciting to see. I feel like that’s a lot of what I experienced at that age, too: developing the first stages of independence as a musician, where you’re not just relying on your teachers, and what they tell you and what they asked you to do, but starting to think about what you want to do as a musician. And so for the high school composers in this program, I could see that that could really be at the stage where it’s a real jumping off point for them for their kind of creative future.
Yes, just nurturing that curiosity, for sure. And that’s so great to hear about your son, and that he has such a supportive mom, who’s able to encourage him in that way. Is there anything else that you would like to plug or promote, or any upcoming projects that you’re really excited about? Or hopeful or looking toward?
There’s not a lot on the calendar. But at this point, even the smallest things seem huge, because there has been so little happening for the last seven months. The quartet has a virtual concert coming up in March for Chamber Music in the South Bay. We’re going to record our whole performance in a church that we normally would have performed live in. And the Hear Now Festival, which will be coming up in the spring, is going to also pivot to virtual programming. So, that will involve both Lyris Quartet and Brightwork.
I think we’ll come out of this with a real appreciation for the things that we do that we really love. I feel like I’ve talked to so many people during this period who have said that having this space from everything has really made us all realize what’s important to us, in terms of not only our work, but our personal lives. I think that we’ll come back with a greater appreciation for all these concerts and groups that we play in and be so happy to be all back together again, eventually.
Yes, we will. We will look forward to that. And that’s a great note to end the interview on. It’s very hopeful.