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Hello, fellow Medium members! My [pen] name is Viola Altiste. I am a 26-year-old Canadian professional musician. Currently, I am a section violist in a symphony orchestra. When I’m not practicing, I can be found playing Animal Crossing or learning a new language. As a Canadian, I am always looking for ways to improve my French. I have also taken an interest in Spanish and Italian this past year.

My musical journey began at the age of six when my parents put me in violin lessons. As time went on, I wanted to learn other instruments. I began piano lessons…


And I will go to great lengths to make that happen

A skyline photo of Auckland, New Zealand at twilight.
A skyline photo of Auckland, New Zealand at twilight.
Photo by Dan Freeman on Unsplash

If I’ve learned anything this past year of Covid lockdown insanity, it’s that Canada is not the amazing country I’ve grown up to believe it was.

The lockdown in March 2020 was tough but not nearly as intense as I initially imagined it would be. You could still go to grocery stores, pharmacies, and even liquor stores as often as you needed. If you didn’t have a car, public transit, taxis, and rental cars were readily available. You could go outside as often as you wanted for a walk, to drive around aimlessly, or illegally visit your friends in the…


Turning backhanded compliments into positive praise

A man sitting on a brown leather couch with his hand on his forehead.
A man sitting on a brown leather couch with his hand on his forehead.
Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

As a professional musician, receiving feedback from teachers, audience members, and colleagues has been a huge part of my life and my career. Most of the time, this feedback is positive, either to let me know that I’m doing well or kindly framed constructive criticism.

However, the one kind of “compliment” that I cannot stand is “That was good for a…”. In my situation, the blank was often filled by “student” or “violist,” implying that students and/or viola players cannot achieve a high level of performance.

When someone says something like that to me, even if the comment had no…


It’s always a chore to include Canadian music on symphony concert programs

Photo by Igor Kyryliuk on Unsplash

Nationalistic pride is common in classical music from all eras. When you think of French music, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy likely come to mind. When you think of Italy, you may think of Antonio Vivaldi and Gioachino Rossini, among others. In the United States, there are many well-known and frequently performed composers such as Samuel Barber, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, and John Philip Sousa.

What about Canadian composers? As a Canadian musician, I am familiar with the concept of putting the token Canadian piece on a concert program. We are always thrilled at the prospect of performing pieces by…


The sooner you think like that, the better

A stock photo. There is a smartphone sitting face-up on a desk beside a opened spiral coiled notebook. There is a black ballpoint pen resting on top of the notebook. In the background, there is a succulent in a white ceramic pot.
A stock photo. There is a smartphone sitting face-up on a desk beside a opened spiral coiled notebook. There is a black ballpoint pen resting on top of the notebook. In the background, there is a succulent in a white ceramic pot.
Photo by Dose Media on Unsplash

Perhaps it feels a little dirty to think of a beautiful art form as a business. Playing a musical instrument is a fun hobby for many. However, the moment you want to earn income from your hobby is when you think of it as a business. Of course, genuinely enjoying what you do is a must, but not to the point of undervaluing the many hours of work you put into your craft.

As one of the few young viola players in my hometown, I was in high demand for local orchestras and string quartets. Throughout my high school years…


Am I a snob?

Photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash

As someone who plays in a symphony orchestra, I often get a wide variety of reactions when I tell people about my job.

When I was young, many kids at my elementary and high schools thought classical music was stupid and couldn’t comprehend my level of dedication to practicing my instrument. They thought it was weird that I would put Brahms symphonies on my iPod when everyone else my age was listening to rap music. I got some pretty cool opportunities to travel with orchestras when I was young, but no one cared because it was classical music-related.

Even as…


I rely on those views for my snack fund

Photo by Ryan Quintal on Unsplash

I joined Medium in late 2020, and I consider myself one of the fortunate writers who made more than $10 CAD in their first few months.

After watching several YouTube videos about getting started on Medium, I went into my freelance writing journey with minimal expectations. I was prepared for the fact that I may not even make a full dollar for the first few months. When I made $10 that first month, I was overjoyed.

This extra money each month opened up so many possibilities for me. As a professional musician, I am used to being extremely frugal. Every…


Just because I can play it doesn’t mean I want to write it

A stock photo of a young woman holding a record of Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. Presumably, she is in a library as there is a bookshelf in the background.
A stock photo of a young woman holding a record of Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. Presumably, she is in a library as there is a bookshelf in the background.
Photo by Almos Bechtold on Unsplash

As a classical musician, people often assume that I compose or arrange music. That assumption is not incorrect; I composed music for fun during my childhood and again as a young adult for my university classes. However, I write music neither as a hobby nor as an income stream at the moment.

Composing or arranging music, even a short melody for a theory assignment is a valuable skill for musicians. For example, if you teach young students, you may need to write a piece or arrange an existing piece to accommodate the players' skill level and instrument combination. …


A little self-confidence never hurts — right?

Stock photo of a woman sitting cross-legged on a concrete floor. Her hair is covering her face.
Stock photo of a woman sitting cross-legged on a concrete floor. Her hair is covering her face.
Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

“This top is going to look so bad on me, I’m aware.”

Fair warning to you guys — I’m not very good at playing the piano.”

“Apologies for the poor quality of this photo.”

Sound familiar? Chances are, at some point in your life, you have prefaced a social media post, a performance, or even a meal that you are serving to your friends with a self-deprecating comment.

You are aware of the potential poor quality of the thing you are presenting and feel the need to acknowledge it. …


Impostor syndrome is real

Screenshot of in-game footage of Among Us. This is the opening screen that shows the player which role they are. The Author, who uses the nickname Altiste and the colour purple in the game, is an imposter along with two other players who are blue and red.
Screenshot of in-game footage of Among Us. This is the opening screen that shows the player which role they are. The Author, who uses the nickname Altiste and the colour purple in the game, is an imposter along with two other players who are blue and red.
Screenshot of in-game footage by author

When I began working as a professional musician in fall 2019, I couldn’t help but be astonished by the fact that I was asked to do gigs with professional musicians. I had beaten the odds and won an orchestra audition in my last semester of university.

The truth is, I am no less of a professional musician than my more experienced colleagues, but it took some adjustment to get used to my new title. I felt as though I was a student doing an apprenticeship with a professional orchestra for a semester and would eventually return to my studies.

However…

Viola Altiste

Canadian violist and freelance writer. Viola Altiste is a pen name. Twitter: @violaaltiste

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