Meet Molly W’s student Emily W, or MLE, this month’s Student Spotlight. It’s hard to think of a more accomplished young musician. Violinist, guitarist, singer-songwriter, and most importantly, mandolin player, Emily also attends OCSA and performs throughout Orange County, Long Beach, and San Diego. Her taste in music is eclectic, ranging from bluegrass to classic rock. She plays solo and in two separate groups, including Elison, her duo with another Molly’s Music student, Aly.
MM: How did you get started with music, and how long have you been singing, playing mandolin, and guitar (and violin, I believe?) Molly tells me you’re quite a mandolin player.
EW: Music all started for me with violin when I was in 5th grade and my neighbors taught me how to play ’Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.’ I joined the orchestra at school in sixth grade and played until I was in ninth grade. I discovered mandolin in eighth grade when I walked into a music store looking out for a banjo, then walked out with my mandolin, and that’s when music really became a serious thing for me. After having learned to play a few simple chords, I started singing, and finally started taking lessons from Molly only a few months ago.
MM: How do you share your musical skills with family, friends, or your community? I hear you perform a lot, with Aly and with other people as well.
EW: I perform regularly at places such as Long Beach Town Centre and the OC Fair every summer with Aly and also try to do an occasional open mic on my own. Along with that, I’ve always been doing orchestra performances through school, along with solo recitals and jazz band concerts as well.
MM: Tell me about your first performance.
EW: My very first performance on a stage alone was with Aly at the OC Fair 3 years ago, and it was the most terrifying moment of my life. We had a 40 minute set and I was so scared that I stood in the same spot and looked down at my feet the entire time until Aly decided to call my up to the mic to sing, even after I told her I didn’t want to. That was way before I had started taking lessons with Molly and my voice was absolutely terrible and I had no clue what I was doing. I’ve definitely grown as I performer since then, but it’s always fun to laugh at myself when I think back to that time.
MM: What makes you keep up your practice, and what are your goals? Are you hoping to make music your profession?
EW: I recently got back from Boston where I toured Berklee College of Music, and I fell in love with the community and everything they had to offer there. It’s my absolute dream to get to study there, and I always keep that in mind when I’m practicing. However, practicing really is something I do in my free time, and sometimes when I should be doing other things, simply because it’s what I love to do. I definitely hope to get to keep music in my life for as long as I can.
MM: Who are a few bands/artists that have inspired you, and why? What genres (listening or performing) are your favorites, and why?
EW: My biggest inspiration is a mandolin player by the name of Chris Thile from a bluegrass band called Punch Brothers. I’ve always aspired to be able to play, sing, and write like him because of his incredible skills. Bluegrass has always been my favorite genre because of the complexity to it and, after having been trained classically, it strays from the traditional music that I’ve been playing since I first picked up the violin.
MM: Can you share about a technique, skill, or song you struggled with, and how you are overcoming or have overcome it?
EW: My biggest struggle as a musician has always been improvising. I used to be scared to play even one note without having it written on a page for me. But after listening to others do it, and practicing alone, I’ve been able to improvise on stage and in class with great success.
MM: What advice would you give to other students just starting out?
EW: My biggest advice for anyone with anything, but especially music, is to absolutely love what you do, and focus on it. Having goals has always kept me going. But most importantly, I know that playing mandolin is one of the most important things in my life, and I wouldn’t know what to do without it. Loving what you do is what will help you succeed, even if you’re just learning to play.