When a person mentions a violin, the first thing that comes to mind is a classical acoustic instrument meant to be played in an orchestra. However, there is a new wave of classically trained musicians transitioning into the electronic dance music world. Sarah Charness is a Juilliard-trained New York-based electronic violinist and artist who has performed everywhere from Madison Square Garden during a New York Knicks halftime show to Tao to on-the-runway during New York Fashion Week. Her latest single, Disco Killerz & Sarah Charness feat. Jem Cooke’s “Grip,” has received resounding support from dance music blogs and radio programmers alike. (That track was the follow-up to “We Came To Party,” another tune produced together with Disco Killerz.) Fans of electronic dance music can look forward to the release of Charness’ latest two singles – Disco Killerz & Sarah Charness feat. Delaney Jane’s “Beautiful Life,” and Disco Killerz & Sarah Charness feat. Kat Nestel’s “Running For Our Lives” – in 2016. EDMNYC had a chance to get an exclusive online interview to talk about her musical upbringing, her perspective on the fusion of classical with electric, and upcoming projects for 2016.
Tell us about your background – Where are you originated from?
I was born in San Francisco and raised in Boston. Growing up, I went to public school, but on the weekends, I attended the New England Conservatory Preparatory school to study music! After graduating high school, I went to the University of Michigan and got my Bachelors in Music.
Name three things about yourself that you think differentiates you from other violinists?
1) I’m not sure there are too many other violinists focused on EDM.
2) I play a pink violin with six strings instead of four
Is anyone in your family musical as well? If yes, tell us more about that:
Yes! Both of my parents are musicians. My mother is a professional flutist while my father is an amateur pianist. They both had a lot of influence in what I do today.
How long have you played and when did you make the switch from classical to electronic?
I was first introduced to electric violin at 16-years-old, and while I have never stopped playing classical music, I make a living playing other styles. The maker of my instrument, Mark Wood, who is also a mentor of mine, was the first person to introduce me to alternative styles of string playing.
Many children when they first begin an instrument of any kind, it’s usually because of school extracurricular activities or forced by parents to help their children become more well-rounded for college. When you first began playing the violin, did you love it from the very beginning and was your story of how you began playing similar or different?
I would say my story is both similar but also different in some ways. My parents wanted me to excel at something, although it didn’t necessarily have to be music. However, very shortly after starting violin lessons, they realized that I was good at it…..very good. I remember getting dressed up in these ridiculous outfits and performing on my parents’ coffee table for whomever would listen. From a very young age, I loved to perform, and if practicing every day meant a chance to be on stage, I was into it! So in that way, I guess things were different as many five-year-olds are shy and afraid to put themselves out there.
Did you ever go to any summer camps for orchestra or have any special stories you would like to reminiscence with us from your childhood days regarding your musical upbringing?
I went to an absolutely incredible summer chamber camp music program called Greenwood Music Camp. It was out near the Berkshires and to this day, I can’t remember loving to play music as much as I did while I was a camper.
Music is very emotional and mental. Was it an easy transition going from classical (acoustic violin) to electronic, both emotionally and mentally?
I think the hardest thing was getting comfortable improvising. Classical violin playing is far more technically demanding than most other styles of playing, but as classical players, we are taught to read what’s on the page. In some ways, there is very little creativity involved. Breaking outside of the classical genre really forced me to be a creative musician.
Did you always know that you wanted to follow a career path in music? Were there any difficult moments during your career path you’d like to share with our readers?
I definitely didn’t think back in high school that this would be what I would be doing. Navigating a world of club promoters, talent buyers and parties was a far cry from my narrow world of suburbia and academics. [laughs] At one point, I even thought I might become an agent and I spent a summer at ICM as an intern. However, I came to realize that I was happiest making music and performing. My first year in New York was definitely the most difficult time in my life. I didn’t know many people and really had to learn how to hustle. I had also never been turned down much before and for the first time, people were saying “no” left and right. For a young kid, that was hard.
Is violin-playing concept of ‘immaculate intonation’ still a must?
Well, it certainly is the goal. Although for me, it’s more about the energy and the notes themselves as opposed to the perfection. The goal is always to play in tune but if you move as much as I do, it becomes much more difficult. I wouldn’t want to forgo the energy in a performance for “immaculate intonation.”
Do you still go back to your roots time to time and play classical?
Absolutely. Practicing solo Bach is actually extremely important for me to keep up my technique.
Where do you look forward to playing, and what are your goals for 2016?
I think the major goals for 2016 are to see my follow up tracks to “Grip” gain some serious traction. You can look out for them early next year. “Beautiful Life” features Delaney Jane and “Running for Our Lives” features Kat Nestel, both fantastic vocalists. I’m really excited for the release of these tracks!
For more information: HERE
Thank you for interviewing with us, Sarah!
Interview by Eunyce Kim of EDMNYC