by Christopher O'Riley, From The Top
I first met violinist Melissa White during the second season of From the Top, when she performed the Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 28 by Saint-Saëns at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Then 16, White was also a recent winner of the Sphinx Competition for young black and Latino string players. When I interviewed her, I was surprised to learn that she hadn't always been so passionate about the violin. Like some other young musicians I've met, she went through a period where she questioned whether she wanted to stick with it.
"I'd go up to my room to practice, and I'd find I didn't have much motivation and it wasn't fun anymore," White said. She even went through a period of about five months where she stopped playing music altogether. After landing a summer job teaching music to younger children, her musical fire was rekindled and she picked up the violin again.
"Teaching was the best experience for me, because when you teach, you learn so much," she told the audience at the Library of Congress. "It made me think about music and brought the fun back into it for me."
Since then, White has graduated from the Curtis Institute, taken graduate courses at New England Conservatory and appeared as a soloist with many of the nation's leading orchestras. She reappeared on From the Top this year as part of our 10th-anniversary celebration, and after performing a beautiful rendition of a movement from Violin Sonata No. 3 by Brahms, we talked about her current gig.
Now 25, White tours the country with one of the nation's hottest young chamber groups, the Harlem Quartet, which is composed of four first-prize Sphinx Competition Laureates. The group focuses on bringing music to diverse audiences, and has played in venues ranging from public schools in the Bronx to the White House. Her love for teaching serves her well when the quartet does residency programs in schools across the country. This fall, the Harlem Quartet begins the New England Conservatory's Professional String Quartet Training Program.
"Being in a chamber group is the best of all worlds," she says. "I get to be soloistic at times, I get to play chamber music, and instead of traveling by myself, when I go off to concertize, I have three friends who come with me. We have our ups and our downs, and we have our stories... but that's the thing; we have those stories together. It's been a lot of fun, and I feel really lucky."