Not so many years ago — six-and-a-half, to be exact — a sweet eight year old girl named Zöe told her parents that she’d like to play the violin. Little did she understand how that decision would launch an odyssey on which the entire Rohrich family would embark.
I’d been offering violin and viola lessons full-time since September of 2002, and had seen some students come and others go, all with varying levels of determination to succeed at this challenging endeavor known as “becoming a proficient string player.” But there was something unique about Zöe Rohrich.
Though quiet, shy and sensitive, Zöe had an inner strength like none I’d ever encountered in a string student. It was clear when she came for her lesson each week that she’d not only put in sufficient time practicing, but had worked on the details to make her assignment really sound like good music. Correcting her—showing her how to improve on what she’d worked on—was, oddly enough, a painful thing for me because I knew how much energy this delicate flower had invested working toward perfection on her lesson assignment. I sometimes wondered if I was taxing her beyond where she could emotionally go, and yet she’d return the following week for her lesson with the assigned material sounding even better. Zöe didn’t want to slink by. She wanted mastery.
That summer, Zöe had an enriching experience at Conservatory Music in the Mountains in Durango, meeting other young musicians, and by the following summer of 2006 she was playing in the orchestra at the Gala Concert. Her younger sister Hannah was present for that event and was very taken with the idea of playing music with an orchestra, but the violin was not where she set her heart.
Hannah made an announcement to her mother, Tamsin, who relayed it to me. Hannah had been attending her sister’s lessons all this time, but’her heart’s desire was to learn to play the cello, and she wanted me to be her teacher. I recall feeling honored and panicked at the same time— honored because I sensed that Hannah had the same kind of focus and potential as her older sister, and panicked because, at that point, although I had a cello in my possession, I had no idea how to play it. I asked Tamsin to give me a few months’ lead time so I could figure out at least the preliminary steps of teaching cello so I’d be able to pass proper technique along to Hannah.
Hannah was fearless. I loved that about her learning style. She’d had exactly one lesson before she decided that she wanted to play her cello at our annual Christmas tea. She sat down and proudly played her four open strings (no fingering) from high to low and back again. She felt proud, and everyone in the room couldn’t help but feel excitement for her.
Time went on, Zöe and Hannah increased their skills as soloists as well as ensemble players (they were two of the original members of the Fiore String Quartet), and suddenly a bittersweet reality set in. It was time to send both girls on to other teachers who would be able to help them fulfill the very obvious potential that they both possessed. Shakespeare nailed it when he spoke of parting being such sweet sorrow; however, it was clear to me that my job as that nurturing, supportive first music teacher was done.
Fort Lewis College’s violin professor Kasia Sokol and cello professor Katherine Jetter gave the Rohrich sisters an even broader vision of what they could achieve if they set their minds and hearts to it. The two girls learned to dream big, and as they spoke with their new teachers and other musicians, they discovered so many possibilities for dedicated string players like themselves.
One of those possibilities was a part of the celebrated music program in Michigan known as Interlochen Center for the Arts. Because of its recognized status as an excellent preparatory program for students whose goal is to be professional musicians, the process for acceptance into Interlochen Arts Academy is a very competitive one.
By the springtime of 2011, both Zöe and Hannah had accrued quite a list of musical accomplishments. They’d performed twice in the most prestigious of Conservatory MitM’s ensembles, the Chamber Orchestra. They’d played several times in the Bach Festival in Durango. They’d both been selected two years running for the Strut Your Stuff performances and had each been selected to participate in the Young Artists’ Recital in Farmington, NM. Auditions had become an accepted part of their lives.
Both with an ever-expanding repertoire of complex solo pieces, the sisters both applied for entrance into the Interlochen Arts Academy. Zöe prepared a violin concerto by Max Bruch as her audition piece, while Hannah played the Haydn “Cello Concerto in C Major.” I reflected on the days when I was teaching them “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and the Bach “Minuets” and broadly grinned at the thought of how far each of the girls had come.
Tears of joy spilled on both ends of the cell phone call when Tamsin let me know that both Zöe and Hannah had been accepted into the program at Interlochen, and with scholarships to boot. The difficult decision was made to move the family to Michigan for now so they can all remain together, and so Tamsin and Matt Rohrich can be present to enjoy this special season of life for the Rohrich family.
In a recent e-mail, Tamsin sent a link so I could watch the two girls in their first Interlochen Arts Academy Orchestra concert which took place on Friday, Oct. 21. Watching their performance I was reminded that true wealth has virtually nothing to do with a bank account; for me, it’s very much about being able to see these two sisters advance from fledgling string players to the point where they’ve spread their young wings and begun to soar, and knowing that I was privileged to offer them their beginnings.
It’s good to be reminded that Interlochen is not a destination for Zöe and Hannah, but an awe-inspiring pause on the path for each of them as they pursue excellence and a career as string players. It’s also a delight to think that we in Pagosa will have years to follow them on their musical journey. We have much to look forward to as Zöe and Hannah Rohrich continue to rise as talented musicians.