Seattle native and powerhouse violinist Emily Cole joined the Oregon Symphony in 2011. An avid chamber musician, she performs as a member of Mousai Remix, a quartet of female string musicians who also play with the Symphony, and appears locally as a member of 45th Parallel Universe. During the summer months, Cole has performed with the Oregon Bach Festival, the Seattle Opera, and the Apollo Music Festival. A former faculty member at Lewis & Clark, she also coaches chamber musicians with Portland Summer Ensembles and Music Northwest in Seattle. Her education includes a bachelor’s in music from University of Texas at Austin (Go Longhorns!), a master’s from the University of North Texas, and additional study under former Seattle Symphony Concertmaster Ilkka Talvi.

When and why did you start playing the violin?

As a kid, I loved the opening sequence of Disney’s Fantasia, which features a shadowy Stokowski conducting Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. I particularly liked the part in the music where the violin section played their fast notes all together. My mom is a violinist, and she would set me up with her violin under my chin so I could mime the orchestra onscreen! Even though I didn’t know what I was doing, it was terrifically fun. I started proper lessons a few years later, at age eight.

Is anyone in your family aside from your mother musical? What are their musical interests and abilities?

There are a lot of musicians in my family. Several are orchestral musicians; some are vocalists; some play jazz; some write music. As a child, I thought everyone’s parents played an instrument.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

To have a shot at winning an orchestral audition, you must be very focused in your training. There’s a lot of emphasis on the “end goal,” but once you reach that goal, new challenges arise. Taking care of yourself physically and mentally, understanding and maneuvering through the ins-and-outs of the industry, and maintaining a work-life balance are all vital to protecting the longevity of your career. Developing a holistic approach to your musical livelihood might feel counterintuitive when your training is very single-minded, but it’s essential if you don’t want to burnout.

What was the first tune you learned?

I’m sure I started with Hot Cross Buns on the black keys of the piano. It’s probably the only piano piece I can still play.

If you had not become a professional musician, what do you imagine you would you be?

I’d like to have studied physical therapy or some other modality that helps people recover from injury and manage pain.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given about anything?

Several years ago, when I found myself in a place of intense self-doubt, a friend pointed me toward The Four Agreements, a book of Toltec wisdom by Don Miguel Ruiz. The agreements are: 1. Be impeccable with your word. 2. Don’t take anything personally. 3. Don’t make assumptions. 4. Always do your best. I draw on these principles every day.

Does your mind ever wander when you play onstage?

Often! If I’m sitting near the front of the stage, I find myself watching audience members out of the corner of my eye. I like to see how people respond to the music. Whenever we perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, I always see a few people wiping away tears. At the end of Respighi’s Pines of Rome or Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, people leap to their feet. I love watching the “superfans” if we’re playing with a popular singer or band, and performing for an audience of kids is always quite entertaining!

Which famous musicians do you admire? Why?

We’re fortunate to have many well- known soloists come to perform with the Oregon Symphony. I’ve admired some of them – Emanuel Ax, Gil Shaham, Pinchas Zuckerman – since childhood. Having to be in absolute top form night after night, compounded with the stresses of life on the road, must be immense pressure. Sometimes I’ll hear them woodshedding a passage very slowly in their dressing room or at the piano backstage during the orchestra break. It’s a good reminder that instrumental mastery is a daily devotion, no matter how accomplished you are in your career.

What are your fondest musical memories?

The Oregon Symphony’s performance at Carnegie Hall’s Spring for Music Festival in 2011 was extraordinary. So many people came from Portland to attend that concert, and I remember walking out onstage and seeing them waving their green “Spring for Music” handkerchiefs. I was fairly new to the orchestra at the time, but I had a powerful sense of what a proud moment it was for the organization, as well as for the city.

How do you handle mistakes during a performance?

I have to let them go in the moment, but I file them away for later when I can use them to improve.

Do you get nervous before a performance? Do you have any pre-show rituals?

I’ve been told I look very calm when I perform, but I can get quite nervous. My secret’s out! The best thing I can do to manage nerves it to be as prepared as I possibly can.

Artslandia’s theme for the 2019–20 season is A Night Out. Describe for our readers your perfect night out.

For me, a night out often begins post- concert when many people have already had their night out! Dessert or a glass of wine after a performance is very satisfying (maybe even pasta or a burger if the music was especially tough). The most important element, though, is good company.