Joshua Bell’s Insights for Teachers, Students: Part 1

March is Music In Our Schools Month® (MIOSM®), the time of year when music education becomes the focus of schools across the nation. Celebrate MIOSM in your school and community and raise awareness of the importance of school music!

MENC asked students and teachers to submit questions to ask violinist Joshua Bell. MENC member Sarah Lang, strings teacher at The Oakwood School in Greenville, NC, submitted these student questions. Here is Part 1 in the three-part interview with Joshua Bell.

Mr. Bell, when you were a kid, did you just want to play the violin? If you didn’t, what else did you want to play? — David Mehlhop, age 9

Joshua Bell: I was 4 years old when I started playing the violin. I don’t remember actually choosing the violin; I think my parents gave me the instrument. I definitely liked it right at the beginning and really took to the violin even though we had a piano in the house. I rarely went to the piano. The violin was my kind of instrument for some reason. I never looked back, you might say. Of course I didn’t always want to practice. I had plenty of fights with my mother about practicing, and she would practice with me as a kid and she kind of learned along with me. There were other times when I would love to practice. When I was a kid I didn’t think I would become a professional violinist. I was into a lot of other things such as sports and video games; I did all of those things as well.

How does the violin you use affect the way you play? Also, what type of violin do you prefer? — Matt Lopez, age 12

Joshua Bell: The violin you use does affect the way you play. I am very lucky because I have a very beautiful violin that’s worth probably about 8 million dollars. It took me many, many years in order to get it, but because of that it has a very beautiful sound. I think one of the most important things in playing music and the violin is to make a beautiful sound, and so it helps to have a good violin. When the violin makes a beautiful sound you want to practice more and you want to play–you actually enjoy practicing more. For me a great violin is like the Stradivarius that I play. I think of sounds as colors and textures. In music we need to use these colors and textures like a painter uses paint colors. Generally you make a more interesting painting if you have many colors to choose from. The same thing is with music, you can play a beautiful piece better if you can create different colors with sound.

Do you ever get nervous, Mr. Bell? — Alex Adler, age 8

Joshua Bell: I always get nervous, and that’s one of the things that I think all of us deal with. I still always get nervous but I have ways of combating that. Before I play a big concert I like to do a practice concert for my friends or parents which also gets me nervous. It’s good to practice being nervous before your big concert because then you know how you’re going to feel when you’re going to play. Everyone gets nervous and it’s not a bad thing to be nervous; in fact, I like getting nervous — it’s like getting on a roller coaster or an amusement park ride. You always get nervous going on it but yet its fun. That’s the way it feels to play at a concert for me.

Next Week: Part 2 of the interview will include questions from teachers.

Listen to Joshua Bell’s “Why Music?” PSA

— Nicole Springer. March 3, 2010.  © National Association for Music Education.