Alumni Spotlight: Christine Kowalski

Christine Kowalski graduated from SOUNDS Academy in 2017 and has continued her musical journey at Northern Arizona University pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Viola Performance. We talked with her to see what sort of work she’s been doing.

Q:  What instrument do you play and how long have you played it?

A: “I play viola now, but while I was in SOUNDS Academy I played the violin. When I was 17, I went to String Wood Music Camp (a string quart camp in Minnesota). They said if I played viola, I could attend the camp and I’ve been playing viola ever since. I’ve been playing violin for 9 years and viola for 4. My mom played piano and flute as a kid and I grew up with a piano in the house. String instruments were the first thing I was introduced to and I’ve never thought about switching to another instrument.”

Q: How did you meet Mr. Kirk and how did you get into SOUNDS Academy?

A: “I first met Kirk when I was in 8th grade at Rhodes Junior High. It was in the early days of SOUNDS Academy and Kirk was there to recruit students. Originally, I wanted to play the cello but I ended up the playing violin.”

Q: How has SOUNDS Academy helped you to become a better person?

A: Being in SOUNDS Academy, I was able to have so many great role models like, Kirk Johnson, Vivi Erickson, and Tessa Gottman. I was able to use the SOUNDS Academy character values (Creativity, Leadership, Resilience, Perseverance, and Teamwork) to help others and use them as a guide for working with new people.”

Q: What advice would you give to current SOUNDS Academy Students? 

A: I would tell them to really appreciate all the activities SOUNDS Academy offers. The experience is going to be really helpful. When I was in SOUNDS, I got to help with petting zoos and I played on the news twice (See HERE).”

“I also had the opportunity to be in a string quartet with other SOUNDS Academy students (Abby Mintz, Carlos Munoz, and John Carlo Munoz). We got to play at the Mesa Art Center, Orpheum Theater, Symphony Hall, and Crescent Ballroom. As I got older, I met a lot of people who didn’t have the chance to gain the same experience I did, especially at such a young age.”

Q: What would you have changed?

A: “I wish that I’d had the opportunity to learn more about music theory…and wish I would have practiced more and pushed myself. Being in both SOUNDS Academy and my high school orchestra, I was able to play a big variety of pieces and I was able to perform in many places. But, it would have been nice to have played in different cities in Arizona, especially Flagstaff, where the NAU Campus is located.”

Q: Why did you choose music as your major and what made you want to be a performer?

A: I knew I definitely wanted to be in an orchestra but in my freshman year of high school I had the chance to play higher level pieces like, Steel City Strut, Hungarian Dance, and Finlandia, which made me realize I really wanted to do something involving music as a career. I originally wanted to be a high school music teacher, but in college I decided I wanted to be a performer more than I wanted to be a teacher.”

Q: How has SOUNDS helped you become a better musician?

A: “SOUNDS has helped me become a better musician by giving me the chance to take lessons. Coming from a family who was not super well off, I was given the opportunity to have lessons with Kirk Johnson, Vivi Erickson, and Tessa Gottman, all extremely well known musicians.”

Q: How did SOUNDS Academy help you prepare for college?

A:  Definitely being able to overcome performance anxiety. Being able to participate in Juries helped me prepare for auditions. I was able to learn what types of pieces I would have to play and what to expect when I did my first audition. Since I got the chance to play in a string quartet early on, I discovered I liked playing chamber music (instrumental music played by a small ensemble) more than solos or even playing in the orchestra.”

I really wanted to go to NAU because it’s close to my parents but I would still be on my own. When I was going down the path of music education, I had heard that NAU had a really good music education program. (I had a pretty good balance between practicing and doing homework and stuff. I think having done that in High School has helped me with time management in college. I know a lot of people who hate music now because they had to practice so much when they were younger.”

Q: What is your favorite part of being a musician?

A: My favorite part is getting to meet new people. I like playing with my friends. It’s fun to see the growth between my friends and I. It’s really exciting when you’re playing a difficult piece and then you finally get it. It’s nice to have people to share that with. I’m currently in Mushuk (it means cat in Uzbek), a string quartet with three of my really good friends (Rebekah Hills, Kate Mokowsky, and Lauren Gaytan).”

“I also really enjoy traveling. I have had the opportunity to travel all around Arizona (both with and without SOUNDS Academy). I’ve been able to perform in California, Wisconsin, Iowa, and of course, Arizona.”

Q: What is the hardest part of being a performer?

A: “Getting a job, if you actually want to be a performer, getting that higher level job is going to be harder than you think. Being realistic about whether you can get a job is important because there is always someone who is better or has more experience than you. When I was in SOUNDS Academy I was able to use the connections Kirk had, but now I don’t really have access to that same network anymore so I’ve had to build my own.”


Q: How has COVID affected your career? What have you had to do differently since then?

A: “It hasn’t really affected my career because I’m not in a big orchestra, so I was still able to perform. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to audition for any orchestras yet but I will be auditioning for the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra, Prescott Pops, and Verde Valley, sometime in August or September.”

Q: Anything else you want to tell us?

A: I am definitely a real chamber nerd. It’s my favorite type of performance and my favorite composer is Dimitri Shostakovich.”