A member of our Second Violin section since 2005, Stephanie Westney also serves as Senior Lecturer and String Coordinator at The University of Texas at San Antonio. For this issue, we interviewed Stephanie to learn more about her background and what inspires her to keep up such a busy schedule of performing and teaching.
When did you first begin to play the violin?
SW: I began playing Suzuki violin in Gainesville, Florida, when I was four years old. Shortly after, my family moved to the Milwaukee area where I continued with Suzuki teacher Joan Rooney through my first two years of high school. Like several other members of the symphony, I attended the Interlochen Arts Academy, a boarding school in Michigan for my last two years of high school.
Your college studies went further than your typical orchestra musician. Tell us about that.
SW: I have three degrees, all in Violin Performance: a Bachelor of Music from Vanderbilt University, a Master of Music from Yale University and a Doctor of Musical Arts from The University of Texas at Austin.
Your position at UTSA includes more than teaching violin lessons. What classes do you teach?
SW: This semester, I am teaching two courses to string performance majors - violin repertoire and string pedagogy. I coach chamber music and run a weekly performance seminar. This fall, I am also performing a solo recital, concerto, and chamber music with a faculty colleague.
You are certified in the Suzuki method of teaching. Many of our readers would like to know more about what this means.
SW: It is a wonderful method for teaching young string students, with an important parental involvement component. The training for teachers is outstanding. There is a growing community of active Suzuki string teachers in the San Antonio area, including several of my colleagues in the symphony.
You are so busy! Do you have any students outside of UTSA?
SW: At the moment, I have only one student outside of my UTSA studio. She is an advanced high school student who I started teaching as a five-year-old beginner. It has been a joy to watch her grow on the violin over the years. I have two boys - a three year old and a kindergartener, so they take up the rest of my time!
How does performing influence your teaching?
SW: Because I have the experience of preparing and performing orchestral music on a professional level, I can help my students with technical, style and ensemble skills in the orchestral works they are studying. It also means a great deal to the students when they attend the symphony and get to see so many of their mentors in action on stage!
How does teaching influence your performing?
SW: Teaching has helped me with self-evaluation of technical aspects of my own playing and helped me to realize and verbally express what I enjoy so much about playing.
What are some of the things your former students are doing in our community?
SW: Many of my former students are now middle and high school orchestra directors throughout the city and state. Others are private teachers in the San Antonio area. Some have pursued other careers, both in the arts and other fields.
What do you think people learn from studying an instrument, even if they don't end up pursuing music as a career?
SW : I think studying an instrument is invaluable, no matter what career path you ultimately choose. You develop fine motor skills and personal discipline. You learn how to perform with others in a workplace that demands the highest level of precision. You learn about different periods of world history and the development of cultures (as you do with art and literature). People who have learned to play a musical instrument have an outlet for lifelong personal expression.
Anything else you would like to add about your professional life?
SW: I feel quite fortunate to be both a member of the San Antonio Symphony and a faculty member at UTSA. I enjoy the balance of doing both. I have learned so much from my colleagues over the last eleven years and enjoyed many, many exhilarating performances. The opening of the Tobin Center and the clothing from Niche last year were wonderful bonuses!
Anything you would like to add about your life here in San Antonio?
SW: I love how far San Antonio has come with its food scene, additional green spaces and exciting arts collaborations. My husband is the Field Director for a local financial advisory firm and my boys go to great schools - The Discovery School and Huebner Elementary. There's a real feeling of community here and I'm proud to call it home.