ArtSmart mentor Cheryl Cain brings a wealth of vocal expertise to the ArtSmart studio, but also experience as an accomplished violinist.

When I was in preschool, I cut out a picture of a cellist from a magazine, pasted it on some construction paper, and told my teacher that was what I wanted to be. Unfortunately I had to wait a few years, until I was ten, for my family to be able to start me on violin lessons. The deal was, I had to earn straight A’s at school to get those lessons. All of a sudden I went from a mediocre student to a 4.0.

While I was taking violin lessons in middle school, I sang here and there, in school choirs and at Girl Scout camp. When I was a sophomore at Lowell High School, I used to mess around singing songs with a friend who was studying voice at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She invited me to sing a duet with her at a concert. Her teacher, then the director of the voice department at the Conservatory, invited me to come study with him. He was to become my greatest cheerleader and advocate at the Conservatory.

By my junior year, I was concertmistress of the Lowell orchestra and singing solos with them as well. I started studying violin with a member of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. This teacher, Doris, became not only my violin teacher, but my mentor and my rock for the rest of my high school and undergraduate years. All through the ups and downs of those years, through breakups and family fights and college applications, she was there for me. “Why are you playing it that way? You wouldn’t sing it that way! Sing this line for me!” And so I’d sing a line of a violin concerto.

I had to decide at a certain point whether to major as a violinist or a singer. (Being a music major in college was never a doubt for me.) I loved violin, the melodies, the music, playing with orchestras and other groups. But as a singer…as a singer, I could not only sing beautiful melodies, but I ALSO got to dress up in beautiful costumes, act, dance, express beautiful poetry, and study foreign languages… you get the picture. My choice was clear.

And so, I became a voice major at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. However, that wasn’t the end of my violin career. I played with the Conservatory Orchestra. I continued playing with the Early Music Ensemble at Manhattan School of Music where I did my Master’s degree, and to this day I still play violin for various gigs and with a few local ensembles.

What does it mean to be both a violinist and a singer? It means I have a very tactile sense of notes when sight-singing music. In fact, you can sometimes see my left hand fingers wiggling around when I sing a lot of fast notes like in Bach or Handel repertoire. The time I spent studying baroque violin changed how I sing baroque music, how I breathe and how I phrase when singing. And my singing has changed my violin playing too – remembering to tell a story even if I only have a melody, and remembering to breathe and phrase like a singer.

What remains the same is the love I have of music, the ability it has to transport me to another world, and to help me express emotions I couldn’t otherwise. Now, as a teacher, it is my honor to share this love and passion with the next generation of musicians.

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By Cheryl Cain  |  Published on 11/06/2020