Love of Performance and Dedication to Hard Work Motivates Young Musician

By Alexis Motschall

The Tower (Grosse Pointe, Michigan)

She’s had tendinitis and carpal tunnel, she’s had bruises under her chin and has to take breaks during practice from the physical strain. But Alyssa Campbell ‘16 isn’t an athlete–she’s a musician.

Fifth grade was when Campbell  first picked up a violin. Since then, she has played with the Grosse Pointe Symphony, in Times Square and with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s youth symphony.

A normal after-school routine for Campbell  is rehearsal for an hour or two, she said. After she comes home and does her homework as quickly as possible, she practices for the rest of the night for as long as she can. She has two lessons a week, and on the weekends she practices for four and a half hours, broken up by back-to-back sessions of string quartet and orchestra.

“I’m surrounded by it (classical music) and I just love it,” Campbell said. “There’s no particular reason, I just connect with it more than popular music. For me it’s more emotional music. It’s probably because I just spend so much time around classical music…classical music is just a lot more special to me.”

When Deirdre McKeever ’16 moved from Atlanta to Michigan in fourth grade, one of the first things Campbell told her was how much she loved classical music, McKeever said.

“I almost thought she was joking, because what nine-year-old likes classical music?” McKeever said. “But throughout the years her music has grown and she practices a ton, a few hours a day at least–sometimes up to six, seven, and eight hours.”

McKeever plays the viola and the two musicians sometimes practice together, but mostly just for fun, she said.

“She (Campbell) is really passionate about music, but she is still humble even though she has a lot of success already,” McKeever said.

Alyssa playing in Time SquareCampbell practices with her violin teachers Hai Xin Wu from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) and Derek Francis, a retired DSO musician. After playing piano for eight years and participating in competitions, Campbell decided to audition for a competition where she could play the violin.

“I have done a few composing and piano competitions,” Campbell said.  “But this was the first actual competition for violin.”

The Grosse Pointe Symphony had a competition for The Thomas Nester/Bernard Whitley Memorial Scholarship last spring.

“I’d been playing the piece I played for a year, and I had been practicing for a month or two after I had learned the piece,” Campbell said.

The piece she played was called “Symphonie Espagnole” by Edouard Lalo, Campbell said.

Campbell won the competition with her piece, and therefore received the opportunity to play with the Grosse Pointe Symphony.

“I knew she was auditioning, but she’s really qualified, and I wasn’t surprised that she got to be the soloist,” McKeever said.

With rehearsals once a week leading up to the Concert, Campbell was able to experience practicing with the symphony, she said.

“I get nervous before I go onstage, but once I get onstage and start playing, I don’t know how to describe it,” Campbell said. “It’s such a good feeling.”

“It’s really great to play with an orchestra,” Campbell said. “It’s different than playing by yourself or with piano. It’s more people, so instead of working with one person you’re working with a bunch of people through a conductor.”

On Dec. 7, at the Grosse Pointe Symphony’s Christmas Concert, Campbell played the “Winter Concerto from the Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi, a piece she had been practicing for three to four months, Campbell said.

“I get nervous before I go onstage, but once I get onstage and start playing, I don’t know how to describe it,” Campbell said. “It’s such a good feeling.”

She also performed it at the String Extravaganza a week later on Dec. 18, Director of Orchestra at South and Pierce James Gross said in an e-mail.

“I was proud to be in the audience of Campbell’s performance with the GP Symphony,” Gross said in an email. “She gave memorable, inspired performances on both dates.”

Campbell has had Gross as a teacher since sixth grade in class, and he was a conductor of hers in fifth grade.

“Alyssa has really matured through persistent, hard work,” Gross said in an e-mail. “The results are obvious in her musicianship.”

In attendance at the GP symphony performance was family from out of town, friends and teachers, Campbell said.

“I like how in performances things can go wrong but you have to keep going,” Campbell said. “So even when something were to go wrong, it was still nice.”

This past summer after Campbell got back from the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, she was in New York City for a couple of days and wanted the chance to get to play on the streets, she said.

“I decided to do it because it had been on my list and I love seeing buskers on the street when I visit NYC,” Campbell said.

Campbell played a few selections from Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, she said.

“At one point a photographer came by and took a few pictures of me, though I didn’t catch his name,” Campbell said. “The funny thing is that I guess it’s illegal to play on the streets of NYC without a permit, which I didn’t have, so after about a half hour or so a policeman came up to me and politely told me that I was not allowed to play there and I had to leave.”

Thinking about violin performance as a major for college, Campbell is looking at  University of Michigan, Rice University and Eastman School of Music, she said

“(to pursue music as a profession) … You must work very hard starting as young or as soon as possible,” Gross said in an email. “Alyssa is on her way!”

“Music is just a huge part of my life and it’s kind of the only thing that really interests me,” Campbell said. “It’s just … what I do.”

Watch Alyssa Campbell play Violin Concerto no. 2 in f minor by Weiniawski here


Photo Credit: Alice Carrier, Alyssa Campbell

About Grace Masback

Grace Masback, 17, aspires to give voice to the voiceless and holds the modest ambition of becoming the voice of Gen Z. Frustrated by the dearth of impactful platforms for teen journalists, she founded WANT, a news, sports, and entertainment website that aggregates the best in high school journalism from school newspapers and teen bloggers around the world (

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