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Carnegie Hall: prepare for your next violinist

6/8/2014

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

STOCKTON -- There's this old joke: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice.

For 16-year-old Natalee Thomas, who aspires to be a professional violinist, practicing is second only to breathing.

Thomas practices at least three hours a day and has lessons with her instructor two or three times a week. She also limits doing other things in order to learn her craft, from camping trips to seeing friends to competing in sports.

"Being a musician, you have to be very selfless, because it is, first of all, a sacrifice," Thomas said. "Even when you're playing you have to, because when you're playing you have to tell something emotionally.

"It's a lot of giving, but it's very rewarding, too."

Thomas, one of eight children who are home-schooled, first started playing the piano when she was little. Her family lived in Beloit when at age nine Natalee joined the orchestra program in the school system and started the violin.

When her family moved to Stockton, Natalee's parents petitioned to allow her to play in the school band. She stopped playing in the band two years ago to focus on the violin.

"I really like playing in an orchestral setting," Thomas said. "That's what I've done the most."

Last month, Thomas performed her first two violin recitals, first in Hays and then once in Stockton.

"What she is doing today and tomorrow would be typical if she were a young, aspiring violinist in New York, Denver, Los Angeles, Seattle -- any major city," said Natalee's instructor, Matt Means, assistant professor of music at Fort Hays State University, before her first recital. "She probably would have done several of these already.

"For this part of the world, (its) very unusual. Because of our part of the world most students aren't allowed the luxury of specializing like she's been able to, because she's home-schooled."

Natalee is the daughter of Ward and Tanya Thomas, and her mother said her daughter didn't get her musical ability from her parents.

"I am not musically inclined at all," Tanya said. "Neither is my husband."

Natalee started out with a school-rental violin, then she started a paper route to save a thousand dollars to buy a violin. Her parents just recently bought her an even better violin.

"The violin we purchased for her right now should, we hope, carry her through graduate school," Tanya said.

"I love it," Natalee said of her violin. "This one is a much higher quality. The sound quality is much better. It's just amazing."

Since she started playing the violin at a later age than most other gifted students, Natalee is playing catch-up.

"Really, what it comes down to is where there's a will, there's a way," Means said. "If it is part of you, and really a calling, it's not so much work as a reward."

Means sees great potential in his student.

"She wouldn't be where she's at today if she didn't have potential," he said. "She wouldn't be doing this performance, which is quite a rare thing in our neck of the woods for a 16-year-old girl, if she didn't have the potential.

"How people end up in terms the end result once their schooling is done, it's kind of a magical blend of talent, intelligence, drive, work ethic, patience, discipline, organization. You have to put all those ingredients together, and then see what comes out of it. You really need to have all of those ingredients to make it work."

Natalee received scholarships for two music camps this summer. She was at one in Texas last week, and plans to go to one in Michigan next month.

"She's done several competitions this year," Tanya said. "She played in three orchestras, Really, this year we pushed hard to get her out there and exposed to many, many different things."

Natalee said she is considering FHSU for college.

"My teacher's here; he's incredible," she said. "He really pushed me, and he's taught me so much.

"Musically, I'm a really technical player. He's helped me with my musicality. He just really made me a whole new player, to be honest."

Natalee has her dream that she is pursuing.

"After college, I want to go to a conservatory," she said. "After that, I want to go into a professional orchestra."

How does she get there? Practice.