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A conversation with…Caroline Goulding

Caroline Goulding, 17-year-old violinist studying at the Cleveland Institute of Music, was recently nominated for a Grammy Award for her first solo recording produced by Telarc International.  One of the most prominent young violinists today, she has performed with some of the top orchestras in the world, including the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra.  A graduate of Gilmour Academy and a Cleveland native, the precociously talented Goulding is currently studying under Paul Kantor and CIM president Joel Smirnoff.

Ruchi Asher: Caroline, I’ve heard a lot about your achievements and, mostly, how you’ve been nominated for a Grammy – I’ve heard you play, and it’s amazing. But when did you start playing violin, and why did you start playing?

Caroline Goulding:  I started when I was three-and-a-half, and I had two older brothers that used to play saxophone and trumpet.  And I was so fascinated with their instruments at three-and-a-half that one day, one of my brothers said to my mom, ‘Why don’t you get her an instrument of her own?’  It was either going to be piano or violin, and I chose violin, I think, because I thought it looked like a guitar. But so that’s pretty much how I got started.  I’m glad I didn’t play the piano because I would be the worst pianist ever.

RA: Haha, but why?

CG: Because I had to play piano in theory class every day, and I’m horrible at it. [laughs.] So that was a good instrument choice!

RA: You didn’t destroy your violin as a three-and-a-half year old?

CG: No, it was weird! And actually, I don’t think I was too rowdy as a kid. Of course, I had two older brothers. Nope, I think I just loved playing.  It was sort of like a hobby, you know, literally, or something like that. Like, oh, you know, I play violin, or something like that – it was fun for me.

RA: What kept you going? I know a lot of people get tired of it or quit – I quit violin after eight years myself – so, what kept you going throughout all of that?

CG:  I don’t really know, I just loved it, all the time.  Probably also because I wasn’t ever pushed, which I was really thankful for, but … I had that really great encouragement.  I had a lot of encouragement, and a lot of wonderful mentors in my life that I really looked up to, and you know, I think that really helped.  And yeah, it just never got old for me.  Even when I didn’t want to practice – which, when I didn’t, I didn’t, which, like I said, I think it was… I never really wanted to give it up.  It was just never really a… I never was burned out with it. I think it was a kind of a natural thing for me.

RA: What your favorite part about playing the violin? Why do you love it so much?

CG: Of course, the performance is what I live for. It’s very difficult to start practicing, but once I do it, you know, it’s easier.  You can make it fun, or it gets, you know, rewarding.  But the most rewarding part of playing the violin is performance, or even recording, or something like that. Because of that communal experience, you have so many people in the audience – not only with the audience, but the musicians that you’re playing with, and it’s just… everyone is there to hear you…and I guess, to appreciate it, and I guess it’s that sense of community. And um, you know, it’s just amazing – it’s an amazing experience.  It’s sort of like a spiritual experience on stage, so it’s great.

RA: Wow, that’s quite a comparison.

CG: Yeah.

RA: So, when did you decide that this is what you wanted to do, for life? As in, this is real, not just a hobby?

CG: Um, it was a natural transition, pretty much, from a dream to a goal.  I mean just, as I got older, basically.  I really, like, my dream was probably, at eight, ‘Oh, I want to be a famous violinist,’ just like, ‘oh I want to be a famous basketball player, whatever.’  So that was my dream.  And it’s kind of, it just…naturally progressed from that to a goal. And I don’t think it really hit me one day and said, ‘Oh I guess I really can do this.’ It just kind of was that, over time thing.  I just, I am so lucky to be able to do what I love to do. You know? It’s sort of that feeling, and that I’m realizing that right now, even, that I’m able to do this and hopefully… of course, you never know what will happen, where I’ll go, or from day-to-day, even.  Especially in this business.  So, I’m just really thankful to be able to do what I love.

RA: How were you able to balance music and academics when you were in high school, as you were slowly getting more and more into your instrument?

CG: Um, it was tough, especially because I went to Gilmour Academy, and they have a very strong academic program.  But I really, I never… I’m so glad I did go to Gilmour Academy, and they actually did help me.  They were pretty flexible with my schedule, but not with the academic part – which was good for me, you know, in the long run.  At the time, I was like, ‘ugh,’ but it was great, it helped a lot.

RA: And why did you choose CWRU/CIM?

CG: Well, I’ve been here for a long time, and it was kind of a natural, again, it was a natural decision at the time because last year, I didn’t audition at any other school, or any other conservatory of music, because I was recording a CD.  I had the CD to record in November, and when all of the applications were due in December, they were too much too soon.  So I just applied here, and I auditioned here, and I was really honored.  I had been studying with a great teacher for a long – you know, 7 years, I’ve had him, Paul Kantor, here [at CIM].  So it was a natural decision to come here, to study here this year.  Next year, however, I will hopefully be attending the New England Conservatory in Boston, which I’m really excited about because it’ll be a change, a much-needed change for me.  And I’m really excited to do that.

RA: How is it being such an accomplished musician so young? Are people amazed at how young you are when you perform with them?

CG: Now that I’m growing up a little bit – I mean, I’m still 17.  But as things change, I’ve got the title, the ‘prodigy’ title – which I don’t like, by the way.  I mean, I don’t anymore, because people see me differently I guess.

RA: So tell me a little bit about recording the CD – how did that happen? Tell me about that whole process.

CG: I recorded it over a three day period in November of 2008.  And the release date of the album was this past August, August 2009.  And it was such a thrill.  It was such an honor, first of all, to be asked, to be invited to make this debut album with such a huge, well-known company. And it’s Cleveland-based, of course, so that makes me even more proud and it was great, such a great experience.  I can’t… it was so fun, and I was so nervous beforehand, but the team was so great, and the producer was amazing so it was…great.   I was excited.

RA: How did that come about? Who approached you to say, ‘Hey, I think you should record a CD?’

CG: Well, that was probably about two years ago now? Two, two-and-a-half years ago? I was playing with the Cleveland Pops Orchestra, and the producer for my album, who worked for Telarc, was in the orchestra. And he really enjoyed my playing and he, you know, talked to my parents after concert, and me, and gave us his card and said, ‘I would love to record you…’ So we didn’t think much of it, we just thought, oh that was very nice of him, and you know, wow he’s from Telarc.  But we didn’t really think much about it. So, the following fall, which was when I saw him again at the concert I was attending, and he said, you know, hi.  And I think it was kind of a reminding – to him, and to me – about this possibility.  So he said, hi how are you, and then the next day contacted my teacher, and said, ‘We’re still interested in recording with her,’ and then it kind of sunk in that it was a realistic possibility.

RA: How did you choose which pieces you wanted to record?

CG:  It was a mutual decision, which I really appreciated. We sat down for coffee, the producer and my teacher and I, and he basically said to make a fantasy list of everything that I love to play, of encore pieces.  So we had it set up that it was going to be an encore disk with piano accompaniment, not with orchestra. And I just basically made a list of things that I loved, things that I wanted to learn – you know, I was really eager to learn. So it was nice because I was able to pick – there was nothing that I didn’t like, and then we narrowed it down from that list.  That was a really nice thing, so I basically had the decision.  They narrowed it down, and I played everything that I loved.

RA: When did you find out that you were nominated for a Grammy?

CG:  I didn’t really know much about it. I mean, I know that the Grammy was a huge deal, of course, but I didn’t really recognize how huge it was until it had happened.  We just received a phone call from my producer, and that was about…it was in November. November, we received a phone call that said, you know, you’ve been nominated for a Grammy.  And we knew that they had sent in, and mine had been accepted in the preliminary round.  I’m not sure how many rounds there are or anything, or any of the technicalities, which is probably better, but… I really was just, sh-I mean I was pleasantly, really pleasantly surprised.  I was really excited, so…

RA: So were you thinking about going to the awards ceremony?

CG: Well, yeah, I was going to, but then I had a performance the same night.  So I didn’t go. But there’s something to look forward to, hopefully, if it happens again! And I’d rather go and then win, you know? But it would be nice to see it, though.

RA: It’s still quite an achievement for such a young performer!

CG: Yeah, I mean… well, it was… I think it was better that I was able to perform the same night that I found it was, I think, Sharon Isbin won our category – the guitarist, who’s really amazing and she’s really well-known and everything.  But I was happy that I didn’t cancel the performance, you know?  And it was with a good orchestra too, so I was happy that I did it.

RA: That’s really exciting! So what are your plans for the future, other than going to the New England Conservatory?

CG: Oh, well, future plans are basically just to… I have Young Concert Artist management now, which I’m really happy about.  That was recent, that was in November as well. And they basically nurture my career.  They’re kind of like a baby step to international management. So they do my international booking and all that from now on, which is nice.  Well, I guess, I’ll keep on performing.  My lifetime goal is just to never stop growing as an artist.  I think that be my biggest fear, to just, you know, peter out.  I guess I’m a lifelong learner, so to just always have that attitude would be my goal.

RA: What’s the hardest part about trying to be a student and travel all over the country, performance with different orchestras?

CG: Probably balancing schooling with performing, would be the most difficult thing for me. And routine, because I’m a routine person… sometimes I am. Well, I guess not. But, it’s just, it’s the balance act.  But it’s gotten easier since I’ve graduated from high school because of course I’ve narrowed down my specialty area to music, and I’m at a conservatory.

RA: What would be your absolute dream gig?

CG: Oh, Berlin Philharmonic with – I guess any conductor, really.  Or Los Angeles Philharmonic with [Gustav] Dudamel, the new guy there. He’s great.

RA: So what advice would you have for other young musicians who are trying to really pursue their music careers?

CG: I think the key, probably, to my… success? Has been or will be, consistency. Um, and it doesn’t mean that practicing eight hours a day is a good thing and then nothing the next day, right? That’d be the worst thing you could do, because that’s how you get injuries, and that’s how my friends have gotten… you know. And not to overdo it, necessarily.  If you practice three hours, or even two hours.  If your body gets so used to practicing, you know, like if you’re always not consistent or if you practice six hours one day and then an hour the next, your body doesn’t know how to respond to that, I don’t think.

RA: It sounds like being an athlete.

CG: It is! It’s definitely a lot like being an athlete.  But also for your mind too. Your mind can’t respond to… I could never concentrate for eight hours a day, oh my gosh.  I usually do about three to four hours a day? But I hate it when I don’t practice for… when I don’t practice for a day, my fingers feel a little bit weird the next day? Then when I don’t practice for two days, that feels really weird to me. Horrible. My fingers feel like jello, which… I just haven’t practiced for two days after my performance, so I kind of try to build up again. I practiced for two hours yesterday, so today I’ll probably practice for like, three hours.

RA: What’s the best part about being a musician?

CG: The best part is not having to sit behind a desk all day.  For me, it’s such a… you can travel, to be a real musician and meet all these people, and to have these opportunities to just… I mean, I think I have the best job in the world, but maybe I’m just…born to do this, who knows?

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