By Lily Zhou, A&E Editor
Dr. Elly Toyoda was hired as a visiting assistant professor of violin for the Sunderman Conservatory of Music this semester. Even before she came to Gettysburg to teach, she had previously visited campus in February as a guest performer with the music ensemble Eighth Blackbird. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I wish I could have studied here as a student!’ It was immediately apparent to me that the school is full of hard-working students who are passionate about what they do, and committed teachers who genuinely care about the students’ growth. I still can’t believe how lucky I am to be a part of this nurturing environment,” she said.
Even with social distancing measures, the pandemic has not impacted Toyoda’s teaching in a substantial way. “Wearing a mask does not directly compromise violin-playing, and hearing the students in a socially-distant or even a remote setting actually involves some silver-linings” she explained. “Although I started a new job during a pandemic, the warm students and faculty made me feel at home right away. Their guidance and presence alone have made my transition into my new role a very smooth one.”
On the other side of the coin, Toyoda mentioned that students are still experiencing challenges, specifically with “balancing their academic and artistic work in an unprecedented setting, and working around the new rehearsal regulations, to name a few.” She commends students for persevering despite the circumstances and has adjusted to their needs.
“My challenge as a teacher is knowing how to best support them throughout this process and staying attentive to their needs, while keeping their learning experience engaging, worthwhile, and enjoyable,” Toyoda said.
Students studying under Toyoda are working on pieces from a range of time periods, which she has adjusted to each individual’s skills and interests in one-on-one instruction. “The highlight of my time here has been the students that I have had the great fortune of teaching,” she noted, “They are such talented, curious, and intelligent individuals who are so invigorating to work with, and being around their wonderful personalities has been purely delightful.”
Leah McCann ‘24, a student in Toyoda’s violin studio, appreciates Toyoda’s efforts to create an engaging learning experience and recognizes the impact of her attitude towards music-making during her lessons. “Dr. Toyoda’s positivity and enthusiasm are always present in our lessons whether we are working on the mechanics of a scale or the phrasing of a concerto,” she said. “Her excitement has influenced my own attitude as a musician and made me embrace the process of making music even more. Over the course of this semester, she has helped me to understand both the technical and artistic sides of music while encouraging me to add my own ‘voice’ into my work.”
Toyoda finds that experiences with ensembles like Eighth Blackbird have made a tremendous impact on her throughout her musical career. “As a performer, what I learned from collaborating with them was the importance of exploring the creative, generative practice of music-making (not just the re-creative part that occurs in performance), and to discover the possibilities beyond notated music and the composer’s expectations,” she said.
During another residency, Toyoda saw Eighth Blackbird coach a number of chamber groups skills in effectively rehearsing and performing. She now applies these techniques to her own lessons at the Conservatory. “The reality for every musician is that significantly more time is spent in rehearsal rooms than on stage,” she explained. “Therefore, it is vital for us to rehearse in such a way that those long hours of practice become enjoyable and contribute to creating the best possible performances.”
When asked why she teaches and performs, Toyoda focuses on the interpersonal experiences she has gained from making music. “My motivation for performing derives from that most gratifying experience of playing great music with great musicians for audiences of all backgrounds,” she said. “My motivation for teaching derives from the desire to share that joy of music-making with my students.”
Toyoda encourages anyone thinking of pursuing music to take the opportunity in order to foster beneficial skills in a variety of fields. “Even if you practice music as a hobby, the creative skills, concentration, and discipline that you develop through the process is truly beneficial for facing any challenge,” she said. She also believes that making music also leads to a myriad of opportunities to build a sense of community, learn, and discover opportunities in other disciplines.
Toyoda encourages those who are specifically considering playing violin to pursue the instrument. “It is the closest instrument to the human voice, there are vast amounts of repertoire for both solo and collaborative settings, and it has this beautiful, lush sound that pays off all of the practice hours,” she said.
Outside of teaching, Toyoda enjoys a variety of activities, including ice skating, a hobby she took up while living in New York City. “There were skating rinks in Manhattan that I went to regularly with my friends, and I found it to be such a refreshing and fulfilling activity after a long week of work. Naturally, I also like to follow figure-skating as a competitive sport,” she said.
Once the pandemic hit, she took an interest in relearning German and writing in calligraphy during her free time, focusing on Kanji characters. “It is such a calming and peaceful activity that actually has a lot of connections with music,” she said, “when it is done right by the professionals, there is a certain strength and evocativeness that brings life in the characters, which I find to be so profound.”
Toyoda is also involved in a virtual opera by White Snakes Projects called Alice in the Pandemic. The singers perform in real-time with 3D avatars in a CGI environment. The accompanying music is a string quartet. Toyoda is both the first and second violinist and Adjunct Assistant Music Professor Adam Cordle is the violist. “I think it is incredible that, even during this pandemic that poses numerous limitations, it did not inhibit the idea of running a full opera production” she said. “It really reflects the level of dedication and enthusiasm of artists, and the endless possibilities that they can achieve. Under no circumstances will music lose its power and significance!”
The last day to watch the live-stream performance of Alice in the Pandemic is Tuesday, Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available to order at the White Snake Projects website.