UNO violin teacher inspires success of others
Published: Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Updated: Monday, January 7, 2013 17:01
University of Nebraska Omaha violin professor and Omaha native William Wolcott is a passionate violin virtuoso, but also a teacher who puts as much devotion into molding his students as he does in his performance. To Wolcott, teaching and performing are connected.
Wolcott strongly believes that once a violinist recognizes this fundamental principle, they can succeed at both levels, “continuously learning and growing, searching for new solutions to old problems, looking for new ways to communicate through the language of music, and finding clearer, more concise ways to share this knowledge with students.”
This concept has become the key to success in his teaching (making him very well known in the metro Omaha area), performing, and the overall success that resonates through all of his students.
I talked with Wolcott about his life with the violin, experiences, and teaching.
The Gateway: How has classical music impacted your life?
William Wolcott: That’s a huge question! I would have to say that from an early age it has changed the course of my life, even as a listener, well before I touched a violin for the first time. I remember as a young boy of 5, listening to the hum of my father’s electric typewriter as he wrote essays, short stories, journal entries, or whatever secrets he could only tell through words. And above the hum of the typewriter, was a record…ah, records! Playing Bach, or Brahms, Mahler, Schubert (and also jazz records!)…It had a profound impact on my life. My sister and her friends were listening to Styx, Cheap Trick, Kiss; you name it. And then I would go downstairs into a different world, and it really resonated with me. It has altered the course of my life, my friendships, my taste, and my career.
G: When did you first want to become a teacher?
WW: I’m not sure when the precise moment I ‘wanted’ to become a teacher. I suppose in a lot of ways, my ego never really wanted to admit that that is indeed what I wanted. My ego wanted to be on stage, playing, receiving applause while achieving dizzying pyrotechnics with faultless ease. However, upon reflection, I realized some time ago that teaching is what I’ve always been around and also what I’ve been attracted to. My best teacher was my father, though he was no violinist. But it seems he somehow taught me everything. I have always been attracted to movies and stories involving teachers and students, anything from The Karate Kid to Dead Poets Society, Finding Forrester to Good Will Hunting. Movies and stories involving teaching and learning and the teacher-student relationship have always drawn me in. Eventually, if only to get food on my plate and survive as a musician, I began teaching. As I began helping others achieve their own personal success, I soon realized I was achieving my own as well. I’m very grateful to be teaching at such a wonderful music program here at UNO. I have wonderful students, and I try my best to positively impact their musical lives in any way I can.
G: What piece resonates with you the most and why?
WW: The first time I decided I wanted to be a violinist was after I listened to the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto… I remember it well. I was 7 years old, and as usual, my father and I were at the Antiquarium bookstore in the Old Market in Omaha, NE. I remember I had played the violin already for a few months. Well, one day, one of the many Aniquarium regulars was playing piano, and I listened to him, and struck up a conversation, asking him questions about the music he was playing, and boasting that I, too, played an instrument. I distinctly remember him saying, “You play the violin? Then you need to hear this!” He took me in the back of the bookstore, where there was a turntable, and pulled out an LP of Jascha Heifetz playing the Tchaikovsky. I can honestly say that that day changed my life forever. I simply HAD to play that piece, come hell or high water, and I have chased that piece my entire life.
G: As a violinist, what is your main goal to strive for?
WW: When I was very young, I wanted to be famous, of course! That changed as I gained a bit of maturity, thank goodness! After my father died when I was 16, and my teacher at 17, I was thankful to enter the Cleveland Institute of Music…but my goals changed. I no longer cared about being famous, or even having a career. Honestly, the only thing that drove me then and still drives me today, is quite simply being the best violinist I can be, and as I continued to get older, I added to that only my desire to help others be the best they can be.
G: As a local musician in Omaha, what positive and worthwhile experiences have you encountered?
WW: I love Omaha! I was born and raised here, and I have a passion for this city, and passionately enjoyed watching Omaha grow. Though I’ve lived in Los Angeles, Cleveland, Chicago and Miami, I would say that those cities are completely saturated, while Omaha remains the land of opportunity. This is exciting to me, and has proven, at least in my career, to be quite accurate. Even as a young boy, I remember hearing the famous violinist, Eugene Fodor, play a concert that was so stunning, it lead me to seek him out as a teacher in Los Angeles nearly ten years later. And nearly ten years after that, I helped plan a concert at the Holland Center engaging Eugene to perform a fundraiser for the Omaha Conservatory of Music, where I teach. What an opportunity! In addition, I’ve had multiple opportunities to play concerti and recitals and have maintained an active and productive life as an artist right here in Omaha.
G: What have you learned being the teacher and not the student?
WW: I’ve learned so many things being a teacher; it’s difficult to list them all. I will say that first of all, teaching has helped me become a better player. I can think through problems much more efficiently. I have also learned to cut my previous teachers some slack! Being on the other side can certainly help with that. I’ve learned that I am happiest when helping others.