The Journey of the Female Soloist

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To become a professional soloist, you have to start young. For me, it was five. My mother and father were musicians so naturally, I wanted to play. At 14, I was accepted into the Menuhin school, one of the most prestigious music schools in the world, on a full scholarship. My mother had passed away unexpectedly two years earlier, so making the decision to leave my father and younger sister wasn’t easy. I didn’t speak English, but I knew it was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. While in school, I had many incredible experiences including solo performances with orchestras in London and Switzerland. I also had the privilege of working with the late Lord Yehudi Menuhin and performing the Bach Double for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace when I was just 17.

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At 18 I was awarded the prestigious Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Scholarship to the Royal College of Music. Since my scholarship only covered tuition I had a strong incentive to win the prize at competitions — I was playing to survive. After winning some of those awards things started to happen and my career looked promising. That is until I met someone at the young age of 21, and suddenly my priority to start a family outweighed my career ambitions. It’s not unusual for a young soloist, fresh on the international circuit, to perform 100 concerts a year; however, that lifestyle is not conducive to starting a family, especially if you’re a woman.

I was confident in my ability, but if you’re a soloist, the reality is that your career is a chess game, one you have to be completely determined to win. You have to impress the right people. Mostly the male-dominated world of conductors, who a lot of the time are still the decision makers. You also have to devote a ridiculous amount of time practicing and developing your fan base on social media. It takes complete dedication, the right connections, monetary investment, and pure luck to be at the right place at the right time. You are also pressured to play the “right” repertoire for a long time before you are free to do what you really want. Over the years, I had seen so many of my colleagues become “successful” by industry standards. However, there were countless brilliant musicians who were simply overlooked or didn’t know how to play the game, and in their complete state of devastation they simply gave up on their dreams. But if we take a closer look, is there any evidence of a correlation between that industry stamp of approval and real happiness? Perhaps not.

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Fast forward to 2018. I am the mother of three beautiful girls, living in the most unexpected of destinations; Cincinnati, Ohio. The Constella Festival, which I founded in 2011, wrapped it’s 7th season this year. I’ve worked really hard at this festival, and it’s allowed me to do innovative things. It became a platform to experiment with different artistic mediums. Constella was among the first festivals to present multi-dimensional programming that included digital and visual art, music, film, and dance. We’ve presented over 60 world premieres, and most recently developed a program that attracts a new type of audience, which is not your typical classical music crowd. (www.NotSoClassical.com).

I think of all those talented musicians who didn’t keep going because they didn’t fit into the traditional mold of success, but the world needs musicians now more than ever. It’s time for more of us to make our own rules and to let our passion fuel innovation and entrepreneurship within our cherished genre. Classical music is an industry with a lot of tradition, but that doesn’t mean we have to live and die by those traditions. Everyone, especially women, must have the confidence to create their own definition of success, and design lives that don’t force us to choose between personal dreams and professional ones. Despite an all or nothing culture, there can be a happy medium.  

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Tatiana Berman is a violinist and artist. She is one of the stars in the upcoming documentary Forte which tells the story of three strong women pursuing their dreams. You can support the film by contributing to its Kickstarter campaign here. Rewards include tickets to the world premiere in New York, private screenings, art prints, copies of the original score, and autographed posters. Film screenings can be donated to a school of your choice. The campaign ends on May 25th.

My Mother

Today is that special day when we celebrate our mothers. I have been thinking a lot about my mother and her influence on me as a person, a parent, and an artist.  

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I grew up in a family of classical musicians. My mother worked full time as an orchestra member while also teaching, keeping up with her studies, and managing a household of two children and a husband. She was a perfect example of a beautiful, ambitious woman, who was also a wonderful mother and a wife. Although she worked very hard in her career, she always made time for special experiences, taking us to concerts, the ballet, the opera or the cinema on the weekend. She played games with us and chased us around the park. She had such a radiant presence. Her pure spirit lit up every space she was in.

Everyone in our family was always busy practicing their instruments, working on a project, performing in concerts, or touring. This kind of family environment shaped me to become a very independent child. I learned to take care of basic home logistics and relied on myself in a way that perhaps many others my age didn’t. We didn’t have a TV, so I got lost in books instead. The quality of our time together as a family was more important than the quantity, and I didn’t need to be in the same space with mom in order to feel her constant love and support. I knew that when I really needed her, she was always there for me.

Mom emphasized the importance of learning at least one foreign language to expand opportunities and open your mind to different cultures and ways of thinking. She taught us to be disciplined and to finish what we started, to bring awareness to anything that we might be doing at a particular moment in time. This ability to focus really helped me to be present and gave me tools to navigate challenges later in life.

I was 12 when she died unexpectedly. My sister was only 10. Our lives were never the same again. Apart from the emotional devastation, managing daily life became very difficult. I expanded my cooking repertoire. I cleaned and helped my sister with homework. I did whatever needed to be done. I had to keep being strong.

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And through all this, there was a magical way to bring back her spirit… through music. When I played the violin, I could express all of the anguish and heartache, and all of the other feelings that I didn’t know how to convey with words. I lost my mother, but her wisdom lived on.

I now have a family of my own and am blessed with three beautiful, independent girls. As mothers, we bear a great responsibility. Every day, when we interact with the children we love so much, we are shaping the world. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by this reality and still maintain our own identity. Often, we give up on our own dreams when we are in what seems to be a permanent state of sleep deprivation. On days where I feel like I can’t handle things, I think of my mother. I think of her strength and her light.

Join me in cherishing the amazing women who have inspired us, and without whom we would not have become the people we are today.   

   

Tatiana Berman is a violinist and artist. She is one of the stars of Forte, which tells the story of three strong women pursuing their dreams. You can support the film by contributing to its Kickstarter campaign here. Rewards include tickets to the world premiere in New York and a limited edition print signed by Tatiana. For inquiries please email Jasmine at info@fortefilm.com