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5 questions with our new violin faculty
Distinguished pedagogues and performers Tina Chang Qu and Jorja Fleezanis reflect on their teaching philosophies and what sets Interlochen’s music program apart.
In the fall of 2021, Interlochen Arts Academy welcomed two distinguished pedagogues and performers to its string faculty: Jorja Fleezanis and Tina Chang Qu.
For Fleezanis (AS 63-64, IAC 65-66, IAA 66-67, 68-69), returning to Interlochen was in many ways a homecoming. Raised in Detroit, she first stepped on campus as a 10-year-old camper and spent several summers on the shores of Green Lake before enrolling at Interlochen Arts Academy. Fleezanis went on to study at the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Cincinnati Conservatory. When she joined the Minnesota Orchestra in 1989, she became the second woman in the United States to hold the title of concertmaster in a major orchestra.
Most recently, after more than a decade at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, Fleezanis pursued a lifelong dream of finding a home in northern Michigan. Once she resettled up north, she couldn’t help but visit the place where her musical career had started. Her casual visits soon turned into conversations, which led to plans, and now Fleezanis serves as visiting faculty for creative orchestral studies. “When I drive down that final stretch of road before campus, I get that same sense of anticipation that I felt when I was a little kid leaving my home in Detroit to spend a summer at Camp,” she recalls. “I feel just as invigorated to be here now as when I was a camper and Academy student.”
For Tina Qu, the Arts Academy’s new instructor of violin, Interlochen represents an entirely new—yet familiar—experience. Born in northeast China, she left home at age nine to study at the prestigious pre-college Central Conservatory of China in Beijing. “I grew up in that conservatory environment, so even though Interlochen is new to me, I feel like I have a lot in common with my students because I know what it’s like to leave home at a young age to study music,” Qu says.
After spending her early years in Beijing, Qu studied violin at the Curtis Institute of Music for her undergraduate studies and then at the Juilliard School. She has taught and performed as a soloist and orchestra and chamber musician around the world. Prior to joining Interlochen’s faculty, she taught at Colburn Community School and East Los Angeles College as well as the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts.
Here, Fleezanis and Qu reflect on their teaching philosophies and what sets Interlochen’s music program apart.
How would you describe your teaching philosophy?
Qu:I believe that fundamental learning and training—such as intonation, rhythm, sound quality, and bow techniques—is vitally important prior to high school and during the four years at Interlochen Arts Academy. I think great teaching is not just about giving students new information; it’s about inspiring them and helping them learn to think for themselves. I also think it is important to treat each student individually and tailor a custom plan according to their abilities, level, and plans for the future. In our conversations and lessons, I seek to understand my students’ goals so we can work toward them.
No matter what their aspirations, I want to ensure my students have top-quality professional training to carry with them for the rest of their lives. That’s the real power of teaching: the chance to have an enduring influence. Eventually my students will go on to careers as musicians and other professions too, but right now, in our one-hour lessons, I have a chance to share knowledge that will last a lifetime.
Fleezanis: It's very important for students to be in touch with real veterans who have worked in major orchestras—people who know what works when you’re in an orchestra setting. They need to understand what it means to function and contribute within an orchestra. In my own education and career, I was lucky to have had great mentors, including my teachers at Interlochen like Thor Johnson and Nicholas Harsanyi. I’ve met a lot of people and played a lot of music, and everything I teach students is based on a pillar of knowledge that I’ve acquired over the years. My first job was with the Chicago Symphony, and it was a huge learning experience for me—to be a young woman in an orchestra filled with men. I had to jump into that role with a lot of confidence, but I was well-prepared. When I am teaching today, I try to teach the sum of all that experience to my own students.
Both of you have spent much of your career performing with professionals. How do you adjust to working with high school students?
Fleezanis: Whether you are a student or a professional, the language of what the music requires is the same. It’s often a very high bar, but that’s what you’ve got to learn, even if you’re only 15. That’s why I still have so much respect and gratitude for my own Interlochen teachers like Thor Johnson, because he treated us like professionals. His expectation was that it would take us longer to prepare, but he never lowered the bar.
Qu: The violin may just be a small wooden box, but playing it is really, really tough. It is very important to keep that in perspective! I try to put myself in their shoes and remember what it was like to be a young student. At the high school age, it is also important to consider their grade level since so much growth happens every year. I simplify the language and focus on fundamentals, but I do expect more of my students as they get older and more experienced.
What do you think sets Interlochen’s music program apart?
Qu: One thing that makes Interlochen truly special is how all the arts and music merge on one campus, which is very rare. I’m excited to collaborate with other departments.
Fleezanis: The idea of having a complete cosmos of all the arts under one roof: When I was here as a student, that blew my mind wide open. When you are young, and your battery is supercharged, and you’re thrown into that kind of bubble where you can see all these other arts happening all over the place, that definitely shapes you. It made me so much more well-rounded as a student and that experience has stayed with me throughout my life.
What do you love most about teaching?
Fleezanis: I love to get kids excited about music. And I have lots of ways to do that because of my own passion for music. Just yesterday, I was in my car when the Nielsen “Inextinguishable” Symphony came on. As soon as I heard the first note, I was back in the violin section. I haven’t played this piece in a few years, but I was reliving every moment of it. This feeling comes from a deep commitment to maintaining that love of music. It makes me the kind of teacher that I am.
Qu: I love seeing my students grow and make progress and then shine on stage. It’s hard work for me, and for my students, but it is so rewarding in the end.
What advice do you have for young musicians?
Qu: I believe in the 10,000-hour rule. You need to invest at least that much time to become a successful musician.
Fleezanis: It’s important to remember that there’s only one you; there’s something unique about you. But also, music is a discipline that requires everything from you. Whatever you give to it, it will give back to you. And the less you give, the less you’ll get back.