Isabella Hayden

Isabella Hayden, 19, studied violin and chamber music at PCM for five years prior to graduating in 2022. She is now a second year student at Williams College in Massachusetts, where she is majoring in English. In this blogpost, Isabella shares reflections on the impact music has had on her life and her experience continuing to pursue musical endeavors as a non-music major at Williams.

Isabella Hayden poses for the camera

How was your first year at Williams? Any notable experiences?
Williams has been wonderful for me. The rural setting has formed a really nice contrast to growing up in a city, and though the location might sometimes feel a little isolating, the quiet and the scenery far outweigh that. The school isn’t large; there are around 2,000 students, mostly undergraduates, so class sizes are small. It’s a very personal, tight-knit, and often intense educational and social experience, but I’ve loved every minute. I think my favorite experiences so far have involved the beautiful spaces the college has to offer: studying on the top floor of the library, rehearsing in Chapin Hall, walking with friends in meadows on the edge of campus.

What are you studying?
Currently, I plan to major in English, and I might add a second major or language certificate. I’m making the most of the liberal arts curriculum, and I’ve really grown intellectually taking courses in Anthropology, Environmental Studies, French, and Economics.

How have you continued to support your love for music in college?
Even though I’m not majoring in music, I still practice daily. I can’t imagine doing otherwise. I take weekly lessons through the college with Professor Joanna Kurkowicz, and I’m in a string quartet that performs regularly around campus. I’ve had the privilege to play for contemporary music performances put on by students and faculty, and I was in the pit for the yearly opera. I’m also a member of the Berkshire Symphony, which is made up of Williams students, faculty, and local professionals. Being stand partners with my professor was, albeit mildly terrifying, a valuable experience. Hopefully, I’ll continue with these activities, and possibly more, in the coming years.

A young violinist talks with junior high schoolers

Looking back, do you have any musical experiences that have been particularly meaningful?
There are three experiences that come to mind: the first would be performing Schubert’s Cello Quintet in the Chamber Music Intensive here at PCM, in 2019. Music, for me, is about connection. Ideally, you’re connecting to yourself, to your fellow performers, and to the audience. That was the first time that I felt fully aware of all of that at once.

I also experienced that trifecta of connection in the Verbier Festival Junior Orchestra last summer. Despite a fever that made me feel like the world was crumbling, I fought to stay alert, to smile with my stand partner, to perform my best in the concerts. It was worth it; that orchestra had so much raw talent, and I count myself lucky to have been a part of it. It was an unforgettable three weeks; I can’t hear the music we played without remembering the Alps, the concerts we watched, the friends I had.

And recently, at Williams, I participated in a performance of Sarah Kirkland Snyder’s Penelope, a song-cycle inspired by Homer’s Odyssey about a woman reconnecting with her husband, a veteran with brain damage. Due to the nature of the text, the connection with the audience is painfully direct. In the small, jam-packed hall, there was a man in the front row who, early on, put his head in his hands. We musicians exchanged glances, wondering why. At the end, he approached us. He had been crying for the whole performance. It was simply amazing to know that we had connected with him in that way.

Are there any important lessons or skills that you have learned from your many years playing the violin?
It’s really taught me the importance of spending time with tasks. I often tend towards constant
perfectionism, but I think that without familiarity gained through time and rote repetition, trying to
achieve perfection or something near it can be pointless. Granted, you sometimes have to act without the comfort of that familiarity, but if you can make time to gain it, it will prove invaluable.

Outside of music, what activities or hobbies do you enjoy?
I love hiking, and I maintain a photographic journal of all the plants, animals, etc. that I encounter. I try to identify everything down to the species level, if I can. There are just so many organisms out there that Ioften walk past without noticing, and I think staying cognizant of all that life is really important.

Anything you would like to add?
I really miss my time at PCM. I would love to be able to play chamber music, or solo Bach, or honestly anything in Barrett Hall again.