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Performer Profile: Alek Kraft

March 11, 2012
By C.A. KELLER - Sun-Gazette Correspondent , Williamsport Sun-Gazette

For Alek Kraft, choosing to play the violin was a simple decision. A little unexpected, but simple.

"One day I just said to my mom, 'I want to learn to play the violin' and she was kind of like 'OK ...' " Kraft said. "It kind of came as a surprise to her."

It may have been a surprise, but it wasn't entirely unlikely. Kraft's mother also plays the instrument, and, after the Montoursville Area High School freshman started playing, his younger sister followed suit. It now wouldn't be a stretch to say that the violin runs in the family.

Eight years later, Kraft is now a violinist with the Williamsport Symphony Youth Orchestra, and has been for two years. When he started, Kraft found that learning to play the instrument wasn't as difficult as one might think.

"You have to go through the stages of learning all the nitty gritty picky stuff of where to put your fingers, and the bowhold, but I didn't find it that hard," he said.

But pursuit of music is a discipline as well as a passion, and, like many other young musicians, Kraft has logged many hours in pursuit of the rich, singing tones the violin is known for. He practices for at least an hour each day, sometimes up to an hour and 45 minutes. When preparing for a concert, he and other members of the Williamsport Symphony Youth Orchestra usually rehearse for three hours on the four Sundays leading up to their next event.

For those inclined, music often inspires that kind of love and dedication, and Kraft has many inspirations that have likewise helped him, among them composers, professional violinists and teachers. He cites Johann Sebastian Bach as a particular favorite, to listen to, and to play.

While he loves listening to any type of music, when it comes to the violin, he most enjoys playing Bach and Beethoven because of "the style of the music they compose. It's rather fun to play," he said.

Kraft also loves the work of Joshua Bell, a classical performer who plays music from many different artists. An American violinist, Bell performs both nationally and abroad, often with pianist Jeremy Denk, with whom he released his latest CD, "French Impressions." Bell has an inspired elegance in his playing, a natural vibrancy that makes music brim with emotion.

"He just seems so passionate on the violin, he just puts his soul into it," Kraft said.

But the person who most influences, compels and encourages Kraft in his musicianship is someone literally much closer to home.

"The most inspiring person for me would have to be my teacher, Mr. Para, just because he's so dedicated to what he does," Kraft said. "And he always has that one other thing to point to you, that you need to improve on, so you always get better."

That would be Christopher Para, Kraft's violin instructor, and an associate professor of music and conductor of the Bucknell University Orchestra. For the past two years, Kraft has commuted to Bucknell for lessons.

Before that, Kraft studied with Pat Thayer, who, before she retired, taught him for the first six years of his music career. Kraft said Thayer recommended Para because she thought he would be a good fit for the young musician.

It also was two years ago that Kraft became a member of the WSYO. He decided to join because he saw an opportunity for his passion for the violin to coincide with the chance to participate in a positive community ensemble.

"I heard from some people that it was a good organization and so I thought maybe I could contribute to its success with my violin playing," he said.

Kraft's favorite experience with the WSYO was the "Orchestral Rock Project," its recent collaboration with the Uptown Music Collective on Jan. 8. The concert featured music by the Beatles, Metallica and the Electric Light Orchestra, among others.

"It was a chance for all the kid musicians in the orchestra that are classical to work with a bunch of the kids at the Uptown Music Collective that are rock 'n' roll and good singers. (It) put them together, and made, I thought, some good music," Kraft said.

True to what it means to be part of an ensemble, Kraft said he found that the music only really came together when the group performed as a whole.

"Individually, the parts by themselves were kind of hard, but when you put it all together it was good," he said.

In addition to the violin, Kraft spends his free time studying for school, and participating as a member of Montoursville High School's swim team. The violinist also is learning to play the piano - on his own.

"I just got a keyboard for Christmas - it's kind of an on and off project I've been doing," Kraft said, adding that he would take piano lessons if he had time, "just with violin and school and sports it's hard to fit."

Surprisingly, "I actually find the piano a little harder to learn than the violin," Kraft said. "Knowledge helps, just knowing the notes on the violin. But the note range (on the piano) is a lot bigger. I'm only used to half the note range."

When he looks to the future, Kraft isn't yet sure what he wants to do as a career, but cited a fascination with aeronautical engineering.

"I've always been interested in airplanes and I'm obsessed with how people can fly things," he said.

At the same time, he says, violin isn't something he ever sees himself giving up.

"(It's) not something that would be my entire future, but it's definitely part of it," he said.

A simple admission, and a simple decision - just like learning to play in the first place.



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