Q&A with Shaina Graff – Pownal violinist crosses musical boundaries


POWNAL – Shaina Graff hasn’t been in Maine very long, but she likes what she sees.

Graff, 30, a violinist originally from Illinois, recently moved to Pownal with her boyfriend, and in the short time she has been in the area, she has been working to get involved in the local music scene.

A classically trained musician who first picked up the violin at the age of 3, Graff has played with orchestras throughout the country and has also worked to share her gift by running a teaching studio, something she is working toward doing in Maine. While she works on establishing her new studio, Graff is still performing and offering private lessons to anyone is interested.

Graff recently took some time to speak with the Tri-Town Weekly about her career and her future plans now that she is settled in Maine.

Q: What brought you to Maine?

A: My sweetheart brought me to Maine last year to share Thanksgiving with his family and I was hooked.

Q: What kind of training do you have?

A: My studies have been diverse. (The) Suzuki method emphasized early education and my parents were interested in the developmental benefits that method would have upon my character and education. I continued with different teachers with Suzuki training, master classes and workshops but then expanded to more traditional string pedagogy. I was privileged to start playing in the university orchestra as the youngest member and some wonderful musicians took me under their wing and opened doors for me. I studied with great instructors from Europe and Russia and with Hungarian violinist and professor, Michael Barta, whom I continued to study with through my graduate work. I have truly enjoyed each step of my formal education but it is an unending process! That’s the beauty of it.

Q: With your training, do you stick to classical pieces?

A: Occasionally, I have observed a misconception regarding classical training and that it is perceived as rigid or confined, but it is truly the opposite. If one has the proper training, with a strong foundation and accurate technique, the possibilities are limitless. It provides the tools to express freely and uninhibited, accentuates one’s creativity and fulfills the freedom through knowledge and capability.

Q: What styles of music do you play and what are some of your favorite pieces to play?

A: Although I am a classical violinist, I enjoy playing music of all genres-Celtic, blues, jazz, musicals, pop, bluegrass – there is no limit. I played in a punk rock band, a lovely café jazz group and even in a southern rock band opening for Ricky Van Shelton in Tennessee. The violin is so versatile and gives us the luxury of crossing boundaries.

I have a great passion for chamber music and playing in string quartets. There is such an intimate conversation between the players and connecting with the audience. I have always had true enjoyment and been involved with this aspect.

Q: What orchestras/symphonies have you played with during your career?

A: The Illinois Symphony, Chicago Chamber, Tulsa Opera Company, Tulsa Symphony, Paducah Symphony Orchestra, Union Avenue Opera, Fayetteville Symphony and the St. Louis New Opera.

Q: Have you played with any notable musicians or conductors?

A: Emanuel Ax, Marvin Hamlisch, Christine Brewer, Eroica Trio, Mark O’Connor, David Kim, to name a few.

Q: What is your initial impression of the local music scene here in Maine?

A: I think it is wonderful. There are so many venues and private schools with music programs and even strings. I look forward to being involved.

Q: How do you hope to make a contribution to the local music/arts scene?

A: First, I am excited to open my studio and teach aspiring violinists of all ages. Next, I have always maintained an active performing career, which brings great joy in my life and I plan to keep performing in Maine. And finally, I hope to help an already fantastic music scene in southern Maine continue to grow. I look forward to playing with the great musicians in Maine and to teach the future ones.

Q: Do you plan on trying to play with local groups, such as the Portland Symphony Orchestra?

A: Absolutely, Portland Symphony Orchestra is an excellent orchestra and I look forward to the opportunity to be a part of it.

Q: Have you taught music in the past? What age groups?

A: I have been teaching for over a decade and worked with students of all ages. I do not believe in a “cookie cutter” method of teaching, as each student is unique. This in mind, I enjoy the challenge of relating to each individual and helping to develop, grow, and unlock their own unlimited potential.

Q: Are you looking to teach music here in Maine?

A: Absolutely. Having just arrived to the area, I will be teaching in Freeport and surrounding communities while continuing to become more familiar with the area. I would love some feedback/ideas from the readers.

Q: How do you want to teach? Are you hoping to open a studio, or give private lessons?

A: My immediate goal is to create a thriving music studio in the greater Portland area soon. Again, I am open to all possibilities since I have taught in all forms: university, college, middle school via strings classes and private. Currently, I offer private lessons and will combine (those) with group lessons to enhance musicianship.

Q: Are you available to play for private events?

A: Yes most definitely. With the holiday season approaching, it is wonderful time to play for parties, dinners, as well as weddings. Live music brings a special and more personal touch to any event year round.

“I am excited to open my studio and teach aspiring violinists of all ages,” says violinist Shaina Graff, who lives in Pownal.