Connected: Music, creativity and the family legacy

Posted on December 4, 2012 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Award-winning speech by Emilie Marenec

To be honest, I haven’t invented an App, or battled a life threatening disease. At the age of nine I didn’t really see anything inherently different, or special about myself.  But when I was in fourth grade, a violin class was offered at my school. I can even remember the day I was handed my very first violin. I wasn’t really sure what to think, and I had no idea how to play it. But over time it became natural for me, it was something I had some a talent for.

I began taking lessons, and three years later I auditioned for the Napa Valley Youth Symphony, and was accepted. I have been with them for four years now, and just this summer, traveled with them on a tour of Europe. I was learning music from composers like Bach, and Beethoven, and Bohm, and Dvorak.  And when I played these melodies something just, clicked. I’d never considered myself to be one of those kids that would grow up to create something extraordinary. But when I played the violin I felt like, maybe I could be. I could reach out and communicate with people around me. I could make them feel, what I was feeling. By being able to play music, I could connect with people on a different level, people I didn’t even know. It was like being able to speak a language that everyone one knew, that everyone could understand.  The violin gave me something that connected me to the rest of the world. That made me feel special.

As a child, I heard stories from my family about my great grandfather, the violin maker. John Note. How he immigrated to America from Italy at the age of two, with his mother. He only completed the third grade, before leaving school to work in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. And hating the thought of being a coal miner for life and very interested in music, when he was a teenager, he bought a violin kit from a Sears catalog and made his first violin. And that’s how he got started. He worked as an apprentice to a famous violin maker for 12 years, before starting his own business, repairing and making violins for famous musicians like Fritz Kreisler and Isaac Stern.  He even appeared on the Mr. Roger’s show in the late 1960‘s, which featured him making one of his many creations.

Whenever I visited my grandparents in Pennsylvania, I would hear about the one violin my grandfather had left of his father’s. And how my grandmother was sure he would never give it away until the day he died. But when I turned 15, I was gradually becoming more and more advanced in violin, and that summer, we went to my grandparent’s house in Pennsylvania.  I brought my violin, and practiced everyday, in front of my grandfather.

He loved to hear me play. His face just looked so at peace and at rest. Sometimes, he cried when I played, and back then I never really understood why. I felt like I had done something wrong. But I now know, it was because he felt his father’s presence there with him. He felt him speaking to him through my music. And this, made me feel like it gave him some sort of connection to his father and this gave me a feeling of meaning. Like my life — who I was, what I was doing — had significance. Like I had the power to transport people, to a moment of freedom, a moment of heaven, in the midst of their everyday lives.  After my last practice for him that trip, he got up when I was finished, walked into his room, and came out with his father’s violin, and gave it to me.  I felt so honored that he would trust me with something so special to him.

This was the violin that was made by my great grandfather in 1922 when he was 23, and on the back is his name engraved in Italian.  Giovanni Nuoto.  When I play this instrument I feel a connection to my family and its past. My great-grandfather was able to transform his life from something so dark like coal mines, to something so full of light like music. His desire, to bring some light and beauty into the world through music, is now instilled in me. Ever since my grandfather gave me this violin, I have felt my great grandfather’s presence here with me whenever I play it.  And this has given me a feeling of true connection to my family, my heritage, and the world around me.

Emilie Marenec is a student at Sonoma Valley High School

Emilie’s great-grandfather John Note making a violin.

Sonoma student’s winning speech
Emilie Marenec of Sonoma Valley High School beat out almost 100 students to win the opportunity to speak at last Sunday’s prestigious TEDxNapaValley event.

Each student presented a multi-media talk, up to six minutes long, centered on the theme “Connected.” Maranec, a violinist in the Napa Valley Youth Symphony, approached the theme through a touching talk reflecting on family and music. Her presentation was judged the winner of the Student Speak Off, which featured contestants from four area high schools.

TEDx is an offshoot of the annual TED Conference, a nonprofit organization that invites the world’s leading thinkers and doers to present world-changing ideas. TED speakers have included Bill Gates, Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sir Richard Branson, Nandan Nilekani, Philippe Starck, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Isabel Allende and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

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