When Jessie Sark was in first grade she wanted to take piano lessons,
but her mother had different ideas. Kathy Sark introduced her daughter
to the violin and enrolled her in Goshen Colleges String Preparatory
Program, with teacher Debra Kauffman 86.
Who wanted to play a squeaky violin? I wanted to play the
piano, like my friends, said Sark. For two years, I
was determined to quit and my mother was just as determined that
I stick with it. If my mother wouldnt have been so persistent,
I wouldnt be where I am.
Now, a recent performance with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic is still
resonating through her instrument and graduate study is in her sights.
She practices four or more hours a day, and teaches violin from
her home studio in addition to taking college courses and working
at a part-time job.
I admire my mom for being willing to make me practice; Im
sure it was hard, because I am stubborn too. But growing up in the
Strings Prep program at the college, I had the sense from my parents
at lessons and in the master classes that were in this
together, Sark said. With the Suzuki method of
learning violin that I experienced, parental involvement is really
Sark developed her skills to the point that Kauffman asked her to
teach beginning students in the Strings Prep program when Jessie
was a high school sophomore (in a home school curriculum). Kauffman
describes Sark as an excellent teacher, as evidenced
by the progress of her students. She also does very well with
group lessons, which are difficult, Kauffman said.
Around the same time, Sark was beginning to really practice
Sometimes practice can feel like homework, but thats
when the discipline kicks in. You have to stay focused. There are
times when its really fun, like after my lesson when Ive
experienced the beautiful sounds my teacher articulates, said
Sark. People often dont understand what goes into the
practice they think that if you practice four hours a day
you should be Itzhak Perlman or something. Practicing makes the
performance look easier.
Sark learned a lot about both practicing and teaching from Professor
Emeritus of Music Lon Sherer. She particularly admired Sherer for
his deliberate work in retraining himself to play the violin after
suffering a stroke, which he wrote about in a popular Pinchpenny
Press book, Practicing: A Liturgy of Learning. She said Sherer helped
her find new ways of approaching music and new ways of practicing,
making it new each time you came to the instrument, which
leads you to a world of discovery in the colors and nuances that
are available to the string player.
Sherer was also instrumental in helping Sark develop her own pedagogical
philosophy, by example.
Lon was always an inspiration. He helped me think about how
to apply my own lessons to how I was teaching, said Sark.
The teaching style of my current instructor, Carolyn Plummer,
reminds me of him. I once had a teacher who never gave me room to
do my own interpretation of the music; the music was no longer a
part of me, wasnt personal it was as though I was a
machine. It wasnt me.
Yet practicing hasnt always been easy. In high school, she
experienced carpel tunnel syndrome, and had to carefully monitor
when and how long she practiced in order to continue growing as
a musician yet not exacerbate her injury. Then when Sark entered
Goshen College as a full-time student in the 1999-2000 school year
she had taken music department courses while in high school
she began preparing for Goshen Colleges Concerto Aria
competition, and was selected as a winner to perform with the colleges
three years later, Sarks passion and discipline paid off when
she won the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Philharmonics 2003 Young Artists
Competition, and the honor to give a solo performance on March 11
with the orchestra. For her interpretation of the first movement
of Felix Mendelssohns Violin Concerto in E Minor,
she also received a cash prize for the top ranking among a pool
of more than 20 other college students.
When Sarks violin teacher wanted her to enter the Fort Wayne
Philharmonic contest, she had one month to prepare for the event.
Historically, she hasnt enjoyed competitions. Im
competitive enough with myself that it is hard to be compared to
other people, she said.
Sark realizes, however, that being judged in such settings is par
for the course for those seeking to become professional musicians
a path that she now knows she wants to pursue after having
once considered a career in nursing.
After several years as a part- and full-time student at GC, a break
from her deliberations about the future, and a bit of musician burnout,
came in the form of realizing another dream: to do missions. In
the fall of 2001, she joined Bridges for Peace, a program in Israel.
Bridges for Peace feels that, as Christians, we should be
a bridge to the Jewish faith and that building relationships
is most important, she said.
Sark had never been on such a trip by herself, and hadnt flown
in a plane. She had not opted to bring along the music recordings
that so often soothe her. But she did take her violin and, throughout
the several-month assignment, played at worship services. The trip
introduced her to a new culture and helped her reflect on her own
When I decided to go to Israel, I wasnt even sure I
wanted to finish school when I got back, she said. But
by getting distance from the situation I was in, I was able to sort
out what I wanted to do.
In the year and a half since her return, Sark, now a junior, is
considering graduate study at schools like Oberlin, Eastman or the
Cleveland Institute. She continues to live at home, where she says
she practices best and, importantly, has the opportunity to spend
more time with her younger sister, Sarah. She also teaches seven
young violinists there, where she continues to draw on her own experiences
as a student to relate practices in musicianship.
Said Sark, In teaching I try to be personal. The teachers
who have meant the most to me have shown interest in me and have
cared about me as a person. That has affected the way I teach. If
a teacher didnt seem to take an interest in me, I would wonder
why I should care about playing.
Instead, her attitude is quite the opposite. The Fort Wayne Philharmonic
appearance is one of several major concerts for Sark during the
spring semester, which also include a solo recital in January and
a performance of a Bach double violin concerto with Emily Hershberger
(Jr., Portland, Ore.) in March.
For me, music is a way that I am able to see inside myself,
Practicing presents an atmosphere where I can reflect on things.
I can make decisions about life when Im practicing. It just
feels like a part of me. Even if there are times when I dont
like to practice, I always come back to it. If Im not playing
music, Im listening to it music just makes the world
seem like a better place.