Samantha still striking at strings

This month, violinist Samantha Bennett will perform from Carnegie Hall on national television. As part of the PBS series “From the Top,” the members of the Ridere Quartet, of which Bennett is the 1st violinist, were invited as the nation’s top young musicians. Bennett’s list of national (and international) honors runs long: semi-finalist in the Johansen International Competition, runner-up in the 2007 American String Teachers Association Solo Competition, finalist in the 2005 Music Teachers National Association Competition, and winner of countless young artists’ competitions. Beginning high school at Ames High, she now resides in Evanston, Illinois, the home of Northwestern University. Now that she’s graduating, The WEB spoke to Bennett regarding her past years with violin and future aspirations. WEB: Like many others, you began Suzuki violin playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Where did you go from there? Bennett: I did Suzuki until book 8. Then I did my own thing just because it just wasn’t advanced enough, and it wouldn’t take me beyond a certain level. W: [Your teacher] describes you as “taking off” when you turned 14 [Tribune, April 2006]. Do you find that to be accurate? B: I think that’s accurate. That’s definitely when I started to take things more seriously, like, “Oh, I can do this in college and beyond,” and that’s when I really started practicing more and actually winning competitions. It wasn’t overnight, or anything; it was pretty gradual. But I think maybe it got exponentially greater. I just started practicing more then; instead of doing half an hour or an hour a day, I was doing two or three hours a day. And I had better teachers then, too. W: Which music schools did you audition for? B: I applied to five. To Juilliard, Curtis Institute of Music, Cleveland Institute of Music, New England Conservatory and Indiana University. W: Where do you see yourself, going into the future? What do you want to do a year from now? Five years from now? B: Hopefully, a year from now, I’ll be in a really amazing conservatory. But further in the future, I don’t know what to say. I really would love to play in an amazing orchestra, and someday I wish it would really be amazing to be concertmistress of a top, top orchestra. But I also love chamber music, so it would be really fun to play in a quartet. Obviously, if you can have a solo career, that’s awesome. Everybody wants that, so I can’t really predict. W: What instrument do you currently play on? B: Right now I’m playing on an old Italian instrument. It was made in 1763 by Tomaso Eberle. He was a student of a really famous violin maker in Gagliano. It was really amazing and I have my grandma to thank for that. It’s really hers, since she bought it; obviously, I’m playing on it. It makes such a difference if you have a good instrument. W: Is there a certain moment when you finally knew you had to become a musician and that you would succeed? B: I’m not sure that there was a specific moment, actually, and that I was like, “This is it.” …it wasn’t really until last year that it became a reality. I was applying for colleges. I don’t think I really considered myself, “This is what I’m doing.” It was really just the way everything fell into place, and I kept enjoying it. Obviously I enjoy all kinds of academic things, but the thing with music is that if you’re going to do it, you have to do it young. Maybe someday, if I wanted to, I could always go back to school and get some other kind of a degree, but right now, [music is] still something I want to actively pursue and spend my life doing. It was kind of a gradual realization. W: Many have asked, “Why are you so concerned about graduating from Ames High?” B: I just didn’t really want to move away and live so much away anyways. I really would like to have a high school diploma, in contrast to some of my friends that have just homeschool for the last couple years. They don’t actually have any diploma; they just take their GED [Graduate Equivalency Diploma]. Personally, I just feel better if I have that as a standard. I want to graduate from the high school I started at. I don’t want to do things too weird. I’m already doing things different enough from the average high school student. W: What general advice would you give to those of us that will just continue to play amateur music? B: Keep doing it, and keep practicing…I really admire anyone who plays, no matter what level, because I think it’s an amazing and enriching experience. I think no matter how good or bad you are, that as long as you enjoy it and it’s something that you really love to do, then give as much as you want. There are so many people that can’t play an instrument at any level and wish they could. Just enjoy it. W: Would you describe yourself as a virtuoso? B: That’s a funny question. No, because I know what real professionals are like. Well, I know that real professionals to an average person sounds pretty amazing, but I guess maybe some people would call me that. I’m trying to be one, that’s what I’d say.