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Both virtuosity and voice require something innate, but they aim at different targets. Virtuosos are the products of thousands of hours of work, and they aim to bust the “to err is human” idea. Voice has more to do with pure expression — each note need not be perfect, so long as the work resonates. Virtuosity scoffs at Voice’s offhandedness; Voice pities Virtuosity’s allegiance to structural flawlessness.
Tricia Park was a child violin prodigy — a very young virtuoso. Her adolescence revolved around perfection. Her family was committed to the dream, moving from Seattle to New York City when Tricia was 11 to maximize her professional chances.
“I started playing professionally — had an agent and a manager and a publicist and all that — when I was 16,” Tricia (MFA 2019) told SAIC Beat. “Within two seasons, I was playing 70 to 80 concerts a year.”
Playing shows around the world and practicing incessantly, Tricia described her early career as a “bullet train” over which she had little control. By the time she reached her early twenties, the train seemed to have reached its final station.
“The concerts sort of dropped off,” she said. “It felt like a professional failure. I had a little bit of a mental health crisis. I wish there had been somebody to say, ‘This is not a catastrophe, this is called a transition, life is full of transitions, music is full of transitions, they’re important.’”
Tricia had aged out of being a child prodigy. She had seen this coming, but nobody had prepared her for it. After a life of being spoken for by mentors, managers, and agents, she had to begin to speak for herself — to fill in a page that had suddenly gone blank.
In this phase emerged the duality of virtuosity versus voice. With the help of some innate ability, virtuosity can be developed by “sitting here in an airless room and putting my finger down and hitting the same spot a hundred out of a hundred times,” Tricia said. Virtuosity is a matter of hours. Voice, on the other hand, is a matter of spirit.
“I feel like I adhere more to the school of thought that prioritizes virtuosity — not necessarily because I believe that, but because that’s how I was trained,” Tricia said. “However, there is the frustration and the belief deep inside me that really, what I truly value is voice.”
Now a 2019 graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s (SAIC) MFA Writing program, Tricia has found that her writing projects demand greater and greater reliance on voice — a scary prospect. “My concepts of success and failure have changed a lot, but there’s a part of me that doesn’t believe the new stuff,” she said.
Philosophical overhaul is indeed difficult, but a little external validation helps. The Writing Department showed some faith by naming Tricia one of its two Fellowship Award recipients for 2019’s graduating class.
Tricia is in the process of tackling monumental blank page anxiety. It’s a feeling many of us deal with — think of starting papers, writing cover letters, or sending important emails — but for her, it’s compounded by intensely personal subject matter and an ongoing negotiation between virtuosity and voice.
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