Raised in Waltham since age 2, Grace Belsie took full advantage of the music opportunities the Boston area had to offer. She began her studies of the violin at age 4 at the Suzuki School of Newton. At the beginning of middle school, Grace joined one of the New England Conservatory’s youth orchestras. She toured Spain with the Youth Symphony in 2017 and Central Europe with the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra in 2019. She ended her time there as co-concertmaster of the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra. She was also concertmaster of Waltham High School’s orchestra and won seats at MMEA’s Eastern Senior District and All-State orchestras. She has attended festivals in Sardinia, Italy, and participated twice at the Bowdoin International Music Festival, where she took lessons from Mikhail Kopelman, a former first violinist of the renowned Borodin Quartet and concertmaster of the Moscow Philharmonic. Grace now studies with Professor Kopelman at the Eastman School of Music, where she is a dual degree student in violin performance and mathematics.
Tell us what brought you to studying violin at so early an age, four years old.
I’ve heard of many students who were drawn to a particular instrument after hearing it in concert or merely seeing it sitting silently, waiting to be played! I regret to say that this was not my experience. Although I do find it wonderful that I barely have two memories from a time before I ever played the violin, it only grew to become a pillar of my identity around middle school age. My grandfather suggested that I start learning the violin because his brother had done this with his children. I happily went ahead and started the classes. My only regret in my musical journey is that I didn’t study piano as well, but I would never change violin for the world. I’m so grateful and fortunate to have been handed the perfect instrument for me.
You traveled quite a bit in Europe when you were in your teens. Can you tell us about an experience that was especially interesting or exciting?
Yes, I can—I actually wrote about this in some of my conservatory application essays! I loved both orchestra tours I took with the New England Conservatory youth orchestras, but this experience happened on my second tour with the Youth Philharmonic to Central Europe. Our first concert was in Prague. We played in Dvorak Hall, a hall that just felt magical. I regret to say I don’t recall our entire program off the top of my head, but when we ended, we stood for the applause, and I do remember the first person to stand up in the audience to give us a standing ovation. She looked up at us on stage as though we had opened the whole world for her; I’ll never forget that look, and I remember thinking then just how powerful music was, how music is. I figure that all we could have said to her through verbal communication would’ve been “hello,” because that’s all that spoken language could afford us. Through music, though, we said so much more—more, I would argue, than words could even say if we did speak the same language.
How did it feel to become Concertmaster of Waltham High School’s orchestra? Tell us what you did in that position.
Joining the WHS orchestra was one of the best decisions I made because it eventually gave me a chance to share some of what I’d learned in Boston with my fellow peers. I got to lead some sectional rehearsals and add some string-player-related markings to the markings for the music. Overall, I got a new perspective and a chance to be a leader and to (I hope!) inspire. My senior year, I even got the opportunity to solo with the orchestra!
You are studying for a dual degree in violin performance and mathematics. Where does mathematics come in; has that always been one of your academic strengths? Are you planning to use that degree professionally?
I realize that the professional music world is very competitive, and I’ve always loved academics, so pursuing a degree in both areas was a perfect option for me! I’ve always loved English and math, but I thought that math would really contrast and complement my studies in music. In the end, though, I’m studying music so that I can use what I’ve learned for a career, and I’m studying math to make me a more rounded individual and to cultivate a part of me that I feel is important.
Congratulations on winning the WPO Student Concerto Competition! You were unfortunately not featured in our 2020 spring concert, which was canceled due to the pandemic. We’re very pleased to have you perform in our March 13th concert. How do you feel about playing with the Waltham Philharmonic Orchestra?
I’m humbled to be remembered over two years past my audition and so grateful to have been asked to play. I love to perform; I love to share music with others even more than I enjoy having it shared with me. As for performing with the Waltham Philharmonic Orchestra, it feels wonderful to get to play at home. I don’t know where the future will lead me—professionally, personally, geographically—but I’m very glad I get to represent Waltham.