Kiski Area freshman violinist has accomplished much in her musical career
When other 4-year-olds were playing with toys, Gracie Zielinski was clutching a violin, a gift from her parents.
Gracie doesn’t recall when she first “met” the violin she says, but the story goes that Gracie heard one in church and asked for a violin.
Countless childhood musical performances dot her memory, including a performance at the state Capitol building in Harrisburg where she donned bright orange flip flops with her black formal wear.
“I was like 9,” she says. “It was summer and I was in the habit of throwing them on everywhere I went.”
Zielinski, a freshman at Kiski Area High School, initially began violin lessons under the direction of her father, David Zielinski.
She has mastered her violin prowess under the instruction of Ramona Coppage, assistant principal violin II with the Westmoreland Symphony, for the past decade.
“I have known her all of my life and we have made a deep and personal connection,” says Gracie, 15. “I really enjoy working with her.”
Gracie also plays piano and clarinet.
She is the concertmaster for the 30-member Westmoreland Youth Symphony Orchestra, a member of the Kiski musical pit band, school band and she books private and public violin gigs on the weekends.
Raised in a musical family, Gracie has come a long way from her “nervous” early days.
“Gracie always seemed to have her bow going in the wrong direction,” says David, describing those early recital days. “Not knowing years later that Gracie would be leading the orchestra she is a part of and leads the violin’s bow direction.”
Gracie’s mother Deena says her proudest “mom” moment was when Gracie took the stage as the youth symphony’s concertmaster.
“When she walked out on to the stage as WYSO concertmaster for the first time it was a big one for me,” Deena says. “Not because of the attention but because I knew all of the time, hard work and dedication that went into achieving that goal the summer prior to that audition. Gracie would practice for hours in her room … day after day. She had a focus that even I can not fathom sometimes. Seeing her walk out on to the stage that day was like watching her step into her own.”
Leadership is an essential trait required for the position of concertmaster, says Morrie Brand, music director for WYSO and Westmoreland Academy of Music.
“You have to score the highest in the audition process to be selected as concertmaster,” Brand says. “That person has to show leadership qualities and Gracie is most prepared. She is doing a great job and is mature.”
Brand notes that Gracie was a mere eighth grader when she was first named concertmaster. This is her second season as concertmaster.
“Gracie is an example of someone that got started early and took to it and is self motivated,” Brand says.
The concertmaster listens to all other sections in the ensemble while leading her own section’s part to fit the music together, Gracie says.
Additionally, the concertmaster makes musical decisions considering the composer’s marks and the conductor’s requests — all while following the conductor and paying attention that the music and conductor are synched.
“My favorite part about concertmaster is being able to give input for some aspects in the music and I like the responsibility of leading,” Gracie says.
Gracie and fellow youth symphony member Ashley Li, a clarinetist, were recently selected by Brand to perform solos at the annual WYSO Philharmonic concert in April. Gracie and 13 other members of the youth symphony will perform side by side with Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra members at a March 25 concert at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg.
Rehearsals and practice occupy more than 17 hours per week for Gracie. Summers are spent practicing, a “constant” requirement, she says.
“I don’t do any summer sports,” Gracie says. “I have a lot of fun snowboarding in the winter, but have never been the athletic type. I love to paint and read and am fascinated by the arts in general.”
She owns two violins — a “casual” one used for the outdoors or amplified gigs in which she plays other genres of music and her “better” violin, which always is played indoors.
“The violin is a very picky instrument,” Gracie says. “It demands a lot of maintenance and reacts to the slightest change in the weather. It also requires routine string and bow hair changes.”
Gracie credits her musical family (everyone except mom plays instruments — including her younger sisters Andie and Riley) for some of her musical inspirations.
“My dad especially is a big influence musically,” Gracie says. “He is a great guitar player and we often gig together.”
Gracie has always wanted to travel, and her musical talent will inevitably open doors of opportunity.
“One of my goals is to be a traveling musician and I would love to be able to play in different places and countries for different audiences,” Gracie says.
Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.