Meet a member 2019-2020
Los Angeles Baroque's Co-Artistic Director Lindsey Strand-Polyak talks to Managing Director Joan Lounsbery in November 2019, as LAB opens its fourth season:
When did your music education begin for you?
I grew up in Seattle. While my parents are not musicians (my dad proudly declares that he plays stereo) they value music education and intended to have me play piano. However, when I was four years old I saw Itzhak Perlman on Sesame Street talking about easy and hard… it was a moment that changed my life. I started asking my parents “Where’s my violin going to go?” They assumed I would grow out of this, but six months later I was still asking them that question. So, they acquiesced and bought me a violin. Over the years, they kept that first violin, a 1/8 sized instrument, and sent it to me recently. I was a Suzuki kid, learning through a method based on parental involvement. I learned by ear in the beginning and didn’t learn how to read notes until Book 2 of the Suzuki Method Books.
Until I was 13 I was convinced I was going to be a violin-playing paleontologist. But I gave up that idea and decided to camp exclusively in the world of music instead. This happened after I went to the Bravo! Summer Music Academy in Minnesota, studied with Sally O’Reilly and discovered I actually liked to practice four hours a day. It was a touching moment for me when recently I returned to the University of Minnesota and performed with Ensemble Bizarria in the same building and the same hall as my music camp.
I would love to hear about your university years.
I have always been a music nerd and a history nerd. I moved to LA to attend UCLA, study with Mark Kaplan and freelance. I was working on Bach in my junior year when Professor Kaplan invited me to try out a baroque bow. I loved it… it made sense to me immediately. Then I discovered musicology and minored in music history. Another of my professors, Susan McClary, told me I could go to graduate school in musicology. UCLA allowed me to keep up with private violin study as I began my PhD studies in musicology. I got into early music through musicology and I learned about seventeenth-century music through Professor McClary. I was fascinated with the repertoire and thought the music was the coolest thing I’d ever heard. While on a summer fellowship, I re-found the Baroque bow, and Professor McClary guided me through the repertoire week by week, including fabulous and quirky composers from Italy, England, Germany and France. Then I got interested in historical performance practices and that led me to Professor and cellist Elisabeth LeGuin. I started wondering why no one was playing all this music. Good chefs all have a suite of knives. And once I got my hands on a 17th-century English bow, it was like having the best chef’s knife in order to shape, ornament and figure this glorious literature. I ended up with two concurrent degrees at UCLA: a PhD in Musicology and an MM in Violin Performance.
Tell me a bit about your professional life outside of LAB.
My professional life is a variable mix of performing and teaching. I started teaching privately when I was 16… little ones. While in college I taught through the Young Musicians Foundation, and the UCLA Mentorship Program in Compton. I have also worked with Elemental Music, Education Through Music-Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Mira Costa High Schools. I was a teaching artist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic as well. Music Education is an important part of my portfolio. I have a private studio of violin and viola students. Also, I am an Adjunct Professor at Claremont Graduate University. As to my performing life, Alaska Airlines seems to see me more often than most as I hop around the country performing and teaching! I have started being invited to be artist-in-residence at several universities. I love introducing students to historical performance practice, artistic choices and artistic freedoms. I try to give them knowledge to make their own decisions in empowering ways. I do this with my high school students as well. It is always deeply satisfying to watch musicians own this process for themselves, at any age!
If a musician is reading this interview and is thinking about joining LAB, what would you say to this individual?
I would say: Join LAB! We started LAB four years ago because we see the value of learning from the old in order to experience all music, and LAB allows us to explore these connections. I never enjoyed playing in large orchestras and love playing in Baroque orchestras. Everyone here loves Baroque music and LAB gives people the experience of exploring music of a different place and time for the whole purpose of learning and having fun in an appropriately-sized orchestra. We learn how to do things in new ways.
I will say that we started LAB to give everyone a chance to experience this music hands-on, as it were. Doing, playing, the music was so important centuries ago… as important as listening. It was written for the performers. I think of Telemann… the jokes he puts in music to entertain the performers. We all got into this because we started playing this music and falling in love with it. Through LAB, my co-artistic director Alexa Haynes-Pilon and I want to provide a space for anyone in LA to experience the joy and the fun of playing Baroque music.
For more on Lindsey, go to her website at: strandpolyak.com