The violin’s ability to stand prominent among other instruments while successfully executing rapid and difficult note sequences makes it an admirable instrument to master. We may be used to the presence of the violin through hip-hop and jazz tracks, but its origins rest in the classical genre.
Without question, Chicagoan and violinist Tai Murray, 30, is currently one of the brightest acclaimed stars in the classical music realm.
Born and raised in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, and also in Bloomington Indiana, Ms. Murray, a former BBC New Generation Artist three years running (2008-2010), is a graduate of Indiana University and the prestigious Julliard School of Music.
Since the age of five, Murray has been tackling and perfecting the strings of her instrument, with her talents leading to performances all over the world, including Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, New York’s Carnegie Hall, The Barbican, and Wigmore Hall in London, to name a few.
She’s worked with famous conductors Martin Alsop and Alan Gilbert and alongside pianists Richard Goode and Mitsuko Uchida, and has performed in orchestras such as Deutsche Operam Rhien in Frankfurt, The BBC Scottish Orchestra, and the BBC Symphony, among others.
Tai credits her supportive family for her many successes and driven path. “I started playing when I was five and the interest started some years before then. Fortunately, I had a family that was very supportive and was capable of steering me in the right way once I started,” she says.
For Tai, the violin has always been the instrument that spoke to her.
“As far as I know, it was always the violin,” she expresses. “It was a sort of tunnel vision. It just felt right.”
Living The Classical Life
The history of the violin extends to the classical genre of music. Unlike most would assume, instead of going the traditional route of lending her skill to the hip hop or jazz aura, Tai’s comfort always identified with the initial origin of her instrument.
“That is the precedent and history of the violin,” she begins. “I understand that the violin could be used for any form of music, but since the history of the violin is deeply rooted in classical music, that’s what always appealed to me,” she says.
That connection has been deeply rooted. Tai shares that it’s a personal and spiritual relationship in which classic music speaks to her. There was no choice involved, rather an organic introduction to what she simply enjoys as it relates to music.
She shares, “One of the first recordings that I even listened to right before I started playing was a recording of the Beethoven violin concerto performed by David Oistrakh, a very famous recording, which I had on a cassette tape. I played that tape so many times over the years that I broke it!
“And it wasn’t a choice that I’m not deciding to do something else, it was a choice that I am deciding to do this. I can’t say why exactly, but it has just been my focus.”
Tai believes that it could have a lot to do with her attraction to the violin, “in that it fits into the realm of classical music in such a beautiful way,” she explains.
Tai recalls an experience that stands out to her the most. She was performing in Caracas, Venezuela with the Sibelius Violin Concerto led by conductor Eduardo Martutet and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra.
“I’ve played with many orchestras and in most of the musical experiences I’ve had, everyone plays with heart. As a musician you have to,” she begins.
“But there was something that stood out with the Simon Bolivar about the way they approached the music, how they approached their instruments, their love for what they were doing because their work was so much tied to how much their instruments had taken them from whatever individual situations they all were in because of that extraordinary El Sistema music program in that country.
“It was breathtaking!”
Being involved with the violin as an African American, it could be assumed that during Tai’s upbringing, she had to deal with nonsense from her peers making fun of her by saying that she wasn’t “Black enough” because of her love for classical music.
But Tai says, “I never heard that, ever. And I don’t know if it was because my family was able to shield me or I just happened to be lucky to never be around that. The thought of that happening in my family was completely ludicrous. I never heard that it was something that Black people didn’t do.
“The support was there. The encouragement was there to do something that was intellectually stimulating. To do something that was worth learning, to learn art, to really learn the art of discipline and to really immerse myself in something like playing the violin and studying music.”
After all, one of the valued properties of music, in any genre, is the artists’ self-proclaimed creativity and freedom.
“To be creative, musically, is something that is deeply rooted in Black culture and just because it was classical music, didn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done,” she says.
And regardless if any negative connotations made their way to Tai’s presence, she was determined to make her mark and walk in the steps of prominent figures that also made their claim in music.
“Miles Davis, for example, went to Julliard and I was very lucky to have taken lessons at Indiana University with the great opera soprano Camilla Williams, who just passed away recently, and just the thought that someone like her existed … she was a great inspiration for me as an artist, a teacher and as a person,” Tai says.
“The knowledge she had to just be able to tell stories about herself along with Marian Anderson. So my awareness of the precedent was there; I never felt that I was growing out of something that didn’t already exist.”
Doubt never crossed her mind and the commitment that she once made to herself at just 10-years-old always stuck with her.
She says, “When I was 10 years old, and I remember this moment clearly, I was by myself, I know that my violin was nearby, and I sat myself down and I said how much am I willing to put into this? How much further am I willing to go? Do I want to give 100 percent because that is what it’s going to take to do this.
“I remember making that agreement with myself that, yes, I am going to give all that I can because this is what I love to do. And I have not thought about anything else since then.”
Tai recently released her new major recording of Eugene Ysaye’s six violin sonatas on the Harmonia Mundi label with plans for a second recording this fall.
She is also currently on an educational performing tour across the U.S. speaking at music schools such as the Hyde Park Suzuki Academy, where she will make an appearance to introduce students to classical music and the violin.
In all of her accomplishments, with many more to come, Tai Murray is a true believer and living the mantra: anything can happen.
“I knew back then that anything can happen, she exclaims. “ I was lucky enough to have, early on, some performance opportunities that felt right, felt like this was something that I wanted to do.”
(Visit www.myspace.com/taimurrayviolin, to learn more about Tai’s music.)