Walker Konkle plays the violin. It's a simple sentence but, for those who know Konkle, it's more than that. It's a statement about who Konkle is, what he does and what he hopes for.
For the past three years, Konkle also has been a violinist with the Williamsport Symphony Youth Orchestra, a student-based offshoot of its parent, the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra. The WSYO members are now preparing for their upcoming Winter Classical Concert at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 20. at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St.
That simple sentence above begets a simple question: Why the violin?
Now a junior, Konkle is home-schooled, which means he did not encounter the violin in music class, as many often do in introductory music courses, or as part of a program. Instead, rather than the violin coming to him, Konkle made a point to bring the instrument into is life.
Six years ago, Konkle sought out a teacher and took the first step toward becoming the musician he is today. His inspiration, he said, was simple.
"I just liked it," he said. "I liked the sound of it."
What may look, in print, almost like a whim, was actually a decision that set Konkle on a musical life path. After taking lessons from two different violin teachers in the area, Konkle found WSO violinist David Lassiter, with whom he's studied for the past four years. It was Lassiter who encouraged Konkle to audition for the WSYO.
Directed and conducted by Dr. Eric L. Hinton, the youth orchestra typically holds two concerts a year, for which the students hold five rehearsals as an orchestra. The youth orchestra's individual sections also hold separate rehearsals, which means Konkle also will spend time preparing with the 20-or-so musicians in the strings section.
Konkle himself keeps a rigorous individual practice schedule, typically spending three hours a day on the violin; four if he's preparing for an upcoming performance. He takes weekly hour-long lessons with Lassiter, whose saying, "You only have to practice on the days you eat," is one Konkle takes to heart.
According to Konkle, that level of devotion is as natural for a student dedicated to the arts as it is one dedicated to athletics.
"People think practicing four hours a day for musicians is crazy," Konkle said. "But they have their kids practice that amount for football, or soccer. I thought that was kind of interesting. Because what's the difference?
"You get in a system, in a groove," he added, emphasizing that he did not find it particularly difficult to balance music with school.
But the violin also is fun, and Konkle also enjoys when the WSYO branches out. Out of all of the songs he's played with the WSYO, his favorite was "Danzon No. 2" by Arturo Marquez.
"That was a fun one that we played," Konkle said. "It was just different. It was a little more upbeat than your normal classical (piece), because it was Spanish, so it was a little different than what the Youth Symphony typically plays."
The junior also is driven to succeed. Because he started learning the violin relatively late - compared to those who start the second they can hold one - Konkle found the urge to catch up an inspiration to improve.
"I was actually behind what my normal age would be playing," he said. "So that was a natural push for me to get better. I think I needed that to push me forward."
On top of being intrinsically motivated, Konkle has had outside encouragement as well. For a young musician, Konkle has already encountered two remarkable artists and violinists.
In March 2010, he took a master class from acclaimed violinist Nurit Pacht when she was in town to perform with the WSO. Master classes allow young musicians to perform for a visiting professional, who then critiques them on aspects of their playing. Pacht, who tours worldwide, is known for her artistry and the sense of personality she conveys through the violin. For Konkle, the chance for Pacht to give her perspective on his playing was another source of inspiration, one that "really pushed me to go forward."
Then, last year, Konkle saw world-class violinist Itzhak Perlman perform in Pittsburgh, and met the legend backstage after the performance.
One of the foremost violinists of the past century, Perlman is known outside the classical music world for his performances on John Williams' "Schindler's List" soundtrack and for performing with Yo-Yo Ma at President Barack Obama's