My lesson with Danielle Belen

Lydia Knecht, Hillsdale Academy

Lydia Knecht

A short 30-minute lesson with one of the most important violin teachers in the world significantly impacted my life and musical dedication.

When I was fourteen, my viola teacher arranged a lesson with Danielle Belen, acclaimed violinist and teacher at the University of Michigan. This lesson also served as an audition for Center Stage Strings, of which she is director. Center Stage is a highly selective string camp accepting a limited number of students ages 14-25.

Throughout the lesson, I was (of course) considerably nervous. I brought two contrasting pieces to perform. Professor Belen chose the more difficult of the two to work on, the first movement of the Forsyth Viola Concerto. She asked me to play the first measure of the piece. After I played the measure, Ms. Belen effortlessly performed it herself with an amazing amount of intensity and enriched sound quality. Hearing her play that single measure took me by surprise, because my teenaged ears had never heard a distinguished string player flawlessly and passionately pull sound from the instrument the way she did that day!

Professor Belen then asked me to play two notes from the movement that involve a substantial shift on the C string. For 20 minutes she had me repeat this single shift in order to help me execute it perfectly every time, while giving me many suggestions and insights on how to make that moment special in the piece. I must have played that shift 80 to 100 times! She pushed me to play these two notes for what felt like an eternity. Overwhelmed by her drive and insistence, I began to feel tears in my eyes and shaky knees. My teacher quickly handed me a tissue. Never have I tried so hard for the perfection of two notes as I had under the guidance of Professor Belen.

The last ten minutes of the lesson were devoted to improving a difficult technique in string playing: octaves. Ms. Belen had me slide my left hand on the two strings and coaxed me to listen to their intonation closely. I had never before been so attentive to and apprehensive about my intonation! At the end of the lesson, I was utterly exhausted and overwhelmed with joy as she told me that I was close to sounding professional. Later, I discovered that Center Stage Strings had accepted me into their program.

Most importantly, however, my playing was entirely transformed. The 30-minute lesson with Professor Belen awakened an inner passion in my playing that I didn’t know I had until that day.