May 6, 2021

A tale of victory, failure, objectivity and resilience

Wesley Collins, a white man in white tie and tailcoat, holding an upright viola
Wesley Collins, viola faculty

By: Hosanna Carella

CIM’s Newsroom includes a student-led blog with posts covering a variety of topics, including the CIM admissions process, student life, and interviews with faculty, students and alumni. CIM professional studies violinist Hosanna Carella, who is currently studying with Jan Sloman and Jaime Laredo, is a regular voice on the blog. Hosanna received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at CIM.

Developing the traits to succeed in music takes patience, hope, open-mindedness, objectivity and resilience. Just as it takes practice to develop expressive vibrato and good intonation, it also takes patience for non-musical skills to develop and thrive. Which is why being in the right place and being surrounded by the right people is so important.

During musical and personal development, it is inspiring to hear role models and contemporaries share the struggles and successes they faced whilst building their careers. On one beautifully sunny, Cleveland day, I had the pleasure of joining CIM faculty and Cleveland Orchestra Principal Viola Wesley Collins for a zoom chat.

You originally started playing violin; what inspired your transition to viola?

I started studying violin with my mother at the age of four. Many of my siblings also played violin, so when we played chamber music together in high school, it became a problem that no one played viola. We needed a violist, so I picked one up and loved it. It fit me a lot better physically, and, combined with its rich and deep tone, I really enjoyed being an inner voice. I continued playing violin, but playing viola was actually fun! I felt unique playing viola because none of my friends did, and I finally switched full time to viola in college.

What was your experience like as a student at CIM?

It was a great and positive experience! I made lifelong friends and felt surrounded by a competitive, yet equally supportive, environment. I worked very hard and spent a lot of hours in the practice room. Chamber music was a big part of my experience at CIM; learning to connect with other people and be flexible, sensitive and malleable in the way we make music is invaluable. I learned to wear a lot of hats during my time at CIM.

What was it like being a student of Bob Vernon, who was principal viola of The Cleveland Orchestra at the time?

My lessons were very intense. I was scared especially in the beginning! Mr. Vernon was extremely demanding and had high standards; it was up to me reach those standards in a short amount of time. The way in which Mr. Vernon taught really resonated with me, and I was able to learn a lot from him.

How did you face the struggles of your job search?

Sometimes the process felt like taking one step forward and then two steps back. It never felt like a linear process, and there were times where I felt slapped in the face, and other times it felt like I made a slam dunk. That is the way the education process works in the music world. It was tough. The process of learning how to deal with failure early on has carried with me to this day. I have learned to be objective and to find truth in failure. If something goes wrong, not thinking catastrophically, but instead asking myself: “What was bad about it? What was good about it? Why did some things not go as well?” Separating emotions and facts were key for me.

What were some of the tools you used when you no longer had a teacher to hold you accountable?

I started recording myself a lot. We become our own teachers when we do that, and it saves hours of practice time. It tells you exactly what you need to do, and it provides you with an objective point of view. I learned to always remember that we are only competing with ourselves and no one else. Playing to ones’ own strengths is something that can provide a sense of confidence as well.

What does it feel like to now have your teacher’s seat in The Cleveland Orchestra?

It was surreal for the first year and such an honor. There was a sense of huge responsibility, and I had some big shoes to fill. Mr. Vernon had built The Cleveland Orchestra viola section – it includes nine (including myself) of his previous students. As time went by, I found peace in the mindset of thinking: “Mr. Vernon was Mr. Vernon, but I am myself. We are two different people, and I will try to not be him because that’s not why I was hired, I was hired to be myself.” I am still constantly learning, but I am truly spoiled because they are such a wonderful section.

Do you miss playing the violin?

{Laughter followed by brief pause} Actually no. I do not miss the E string, but I would love to have more repertoire to play on the viola.

Progress is not linear. It takes time, dedication and resilience for it to blossom. Some days may not even have one note that made you smile, while others may seem like you have conquered the world. Striving to be better than who one was the day before should be a constant source of motivation. Despite the road being long, it is not endless – it might just lead to some wonderful music.

Meet all the members of CIM’s outstanding viola faculty.