Harmony School’s new strings teacher brings classical, fiddle styles to students
DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
MARBLE FALLS — Victoria Athmann first tried the piano at 8 and the cello at 9, but after picking up the violin at 11, she knew she had found something.
“It became my obsession,” Athmann said. “It was my first love. We just get each other.”
Now, years later with many hours of practice and performances behind her, Athmann hopes to instill that same love and passion she feels for the violin and its sister instruments, the viola and the cello, in her Harmony School of Creative Arts students.
“Victoria loves playing classical violin and the fiddle,” said Barbara Bend, the school’s executive director. “But the thing I really love about having her here is she really knows how to help people – students – get the most out of themselves.”
For almost 18 months, Harmony has felt the void of not having a strings teacher. Bend worked hard to locate somebody for the fine arts school. She knew it had to be someone who not only was a skilled musician and a great teacher but a person who understood the role the school and music plays in the life of a community.
She found it in Athmann.
“We really missed having a strings teacher and program,” Bend said. “I think people in the community missed it.”
Athmann, a native of Minnesota, studied music at St. Cloud State University and worked on her master’s degree at Mannes College of Music in New York City. After New York, she returned to Minnesota, where she regularly performed and taught. While Minnesota might not sound like a place a classical violinist, or even a fiddle player, could find lots of jobs, Athmann didn’t go long between performances and gigs.
But after enduring countless cold winters and other things, Athmann and a friend from Cleveland hit the road for Austin on, basically, a whim.
“I made a list of places I’d like to live, and two of the things I wanted was warm weather and palm trees,” Athmann said. “My friend said she was going to move to Austin, and I told her that’s on my list.”
As for Austin claiming palm-tree mecca status, Athmann laughed.
“It has more than Minnesota,” she said.
Now firmly established in Central Texas, Athmann works as a freelance musician, performing on other people’s albums or other projects. She’s a concert master for the Austin Philharmonic Orchestra. She also sits in with bands, with Athmann playing just about any genre on a violin and a fiddle.
Athmann also writes and performs her own music and songs.
Now, she’s added strings teacher to her selection.
“I love teaching,” she said. “I’m a very nurturing person, so I just love helping people get better at something. I know not everybody has professional goals, but just enjoy playing, but when I can help them realize they can get better, they are making progress, well, that’s a great feeling.”
When the idea of music lessons comes up, most people think about children. And while Athmann loves working with kids, she pointed out many of her students are adults.
“I see a lot of people who tried the violin or instrument years ago, maybe in high school, and just put it away. Now, they’re getting it out again,” she said. “I think that’s great. I also have some who are just starting. I can work with anybody, at any level.”
Her lessons typically last 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the student. Athmann starts new students with the basics: how to hold the instrument, how to read music and how to pluck. An Athmann student can expect several weeks or more plucking notes in lieu of using the bow. At first, her students feel a bit dismayed at the lack of bow use.
“But after plucking the strings for awhile, when they first pick up the bow, they understand why I do it that way,” she said.
Learning music or an instrument is considered a luxury in today’s society. After all, with the exception of professionals, music isn’t like reading or math, skills used regularly in our daily lives. But Athmann says music opens up the world to people unlike anything else.
“Music is all around us,” she said. “It’s part of what really makes us human. Learning an instrument, well, it does so much for a person. You can’t really explain it, you just have to experience it.”
Go to www.harmonyarts.org or call (830) 693-1791 for more information on lessons or other programs the school offers.