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  • Ariana Packer

My Journey from Violin to Voice

Updated: Jul 16, 2023

I am a classically-trained professional violinist whose heart truly belongs to Broadway. For over a decade, I’ve performed on stage with symphonies and operas, but you know what thrills me more than Mahler and Puccini? Being in the pit of a musical! Better yet, being in a musical! Sadly, pit positions are few and far between (for violinists, especially) and I had no faith in my singing abilities, so I shelved that idea and kept my sights on Stravinsky, not Sondheim. At least, that was the case until the pandemic came.

Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra concert
Eastern CT Symphony Orchestra

When theaters closed and orchestras shut down, I realized that my life’s passion had become work. While others made the best of lockdown by picking up old hobbies, a realization caught me by surprise: I had no creative outlet.

Violinist headshot
Photo Credit: Bryan Avigne

Being a violinist is an intense experience: Grueling, methodical preparation demanding absolute perfection in a high-pressure environment. It may sound beautiful, but the actual function of rehearsing and performing classical music is not for the weak. As a section violinist, if you play a wrong note, you stick out like a sore thumb and risk not being called back. Do the same as a concertmaster and your fate is sealed. As one can imagine, Mr. Perfectionism and Ms. Anxiety became my two best friends.

Stuck at home, I scrolled endlessly on my phone. Though I was inspired by videos of fellow musicians sharing their work, I tried singing along and it was… nothing short of pitiful. You see, when you spend 15 years learning an instrument, go to music school, and go on to perform in professional ensembles and productions, your standards become sky-high. Unfortunately, my vocal abilities didn’t quite match my classically-trained ears. One might notice that many people are afraid to sing for fear of ridicule. After all, American Idol’s “audition rounds” feature bad acts purposefully. They know their viewers enjoy watching a musical car crash. I knew I could hold pitch and carry a tune, but it was not enough. I couldn’t put myself out there: I risked becoming a casualty, too.

It takes a lot of gumption to sing. Singers can’t change their instruments: what you are is what you get. At least, with violin, you can buy a better instrument and practice for 5 hours a day. Stuck with a case of Analysis Paralysis, I mustered up the courage to call voice teacher (Kristin Huffman) who I had seen perform in the 2007 Broadway revival of Company and “Facebook friended” after performing together at a Broadway pops concert with Norwalk Symphony Orchestra. I confessed that I dreamt of being on stage, but couldn’t allow myself to be too hopeful: I would sing for her and she would be the final judge. Kristin listened patiently and finally made her assessment: She said I had a nice instrument, it just needed training. For a year, I did vocal exercises that sounded like a cat in terrific pain, flapped my lips like a horse, and hummed through a straw. I recorded my lessons, cringing as I listened back at home.

One day, I had another realization. I finally like the way I sound! All my life, I heard those cliches about “the clouds lifting” and “weight off your shoulders.” I dismissed them as overused exaggeration, but when I experienced it, I finally understood. I have a newfound confidence and I’m over the moon.

Since that day, I’ve auditioned for 2 community theatre productions and won two leading roles. When symphonies reopened, I returned to my place in the violin section with newfound joy. I even made my debut as a featured vocal soloist with that very same symphony orchestra. I now like taking risks. When I create, I let it flow naturally and try not to let my long-standing relationship with Mr. Perfectionism get in the way. Since my world changed, I have a newfound confidence. Instead of hesitating and agonizing over the details, I just put myself out there. In fact, center stage.

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