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Introducing Amber Sander

Amber Sander HeadshotWhat is your name?

Amber Sander

Where are you from?

I grew up in Lubbock, TX.

How are you connected to the UNT viola studio?

I am an alumna.  I had the wonderful opportunity to serve as the Teaching Fellow from 2008-2010, and completed my DMA in 2013.

Who is your favorite violist? 

I really love the richness and depth of Roberto Diaz’s playing. I have never studied with him and have never even had an opportunity to hear him play live, but  I always find inspiration when I listen to his recordings.

Did you choose the viola, or did the viola choose you?

Technically both, however I think that the viola came looking for me. The day before I signed up to  play the viola I had never even heard of it!  My first orchestra teacher came to my elementary school and played for us. I was dazzled by the instruments and knew I had to learn to play.  I signed up immediately and never looked back. I still remember sitting outside of the school after our first class and plucking hot crossed buns for my friends. I am so thankful that I wasn’t absent from school the day the viola came looking for me!

Do you have any skills that your studio members wouldn’t know about?

I can wiggle my ears! This is completely useless but can be very amusing.

What made you want to pursue music as a career other than a hobby?

When I started playing viola at the age of 12 I was a shy and awkward kid that couldn’t quite find my place in the world. Discovering the viola for me was like finding a missing puzzle piece under the couch. All of a sudden I was complete. Playing the viola gave me a sense of purpose and belonging. It helped me find my voice and my place in the world, and most importantly it helped me develop a deep inner confidence that I desperately needed. I never actually made a decision to become a professional musician. As  I went through my studies there was an evolution from amateur to young artist that happened very organically. When it was time to apply for college I was already working as a musician and there was no question in my mind what my major would be.

 

If you could play any non-viola piece, what would it be?

I would really love to learn to play jazz. The creativity and soulfulness in jazz really speaks to me, and I think jazz viola sounds incredible.

 

Who has been the most influential musician in your life?

I am so thankful for Jeff Irvine at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He took a big risk by accepting me into his studio because when I auditioned for my master’s degree at CIM I had major technical gaps in my playing that were seriously holding me back.  He saw potential in me, knew I was a hard worker, and accepted me despite those problems. Irv helped me begin the process of deconstructing my playing and filling in the holes. He was there for me when this process broke me down emotionally, and he helped me get my first job which I loved. He is also one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever known. He changed my life and I am so grateful.

What is your favorite memory, thus far, of being a musician?

Before I started college I dreamed of becoming famous. I don’t mean that  I wanted to be like Yo-Yo Ma or Itzhak Perlman, classical artists who have become household names across the world. I wanted to have a tour bus with my name on it, a private jet, a hair and makeup team, and play every night to sold out crowds with thousands of people screaming my name. What I had imagined  for myself would be today’s equivalent of being Adele, Beyoncé, or any other top 40 mega-star. My bubble was quickly burst when I realized that there isn’t a market this big for Brahms Viola Sonatas.  However that doesn’t mean I haven’t gotten to taste that life. When you work as a freelance artist, sometimes you have an opportunity to play with mega-stars like this when their tour comes through your area. I have gotten to do concerts like this several times, and I love being a part-time rockstar! One of my favorite memories as a musician was the very first time I played a show like this. It was for Kanye West’s Touch the Sky Tour. Because of the staging I got to be the first one to walk out on stage. As soon as I was visible 20,000 people began wildly cheering. I knew they were excited to see Kanye West, but in that moment I pretended they were cheering just for me. Afterwards people begged for our autographs… which we happily gave! It was a dream come true for my inner child, and I will certainly never forget it.

 

Have you ever had a viola crisis? How did you deal with it?

I actually laughed out loud when I read this question. YES, I have had many viola related crises in my life. Both in the literal sense… broken viola the day before a concert, and the figurative sense… career crisis. These things will happen to you too, and you will make it through it. Making it through the broken instrument crises is fairly easy. Make sure you have instrument insurance, and a good relationship with an instrument shop or friend that you can borrow from in a pinch. If the worst happens and your instrument breaks during a concert, do the best you can to make it work. If that’s really not an option, you really have no choice but to laugh it off like Yuri Bashmet did in this famous viola fail.

Making it through the career crisis is much harder. Before I tell you my story you need to understand one of the fundamental things about me. I like stability and schedules and plans, and I need to work full time to feel balanced and safe.  Many people love the freedom and variety of being a freelance musician and make a great living as a freelancer. I in no way seek to belittle their work. We are all different and that what works for one person may not work for another. You know the saying about round pegs and square holes right? … Now on to my story.

I had two mini career crises when I was in school where I was worried that I would never be able to get a job, and one major career crisis after graduating where I was swimming in the shark tank of people trying to get jobs. This is a rough business and struggle is unfortunately part of it. Full time positions are extremely difficult to come by, and the process of trying to land one of them can physically, mentally, and emotionally wreck you. It can also be a years-long process. For the first time in my life I found myself questioning whether being a musician was worth it or not. I started looking for new careers and even sent in several applications. Living through this was awful, and I am so glad that it’s in the past. What got me through it were my incredible family, friends, and mentors who so patiently talked with me every time I needed them. They couldn’t make the crisis end but they made it bearable. The crisis ended when I started my current job as a Suzuki Strings specialist for a the Hurst Euless Bedford school district, which I greatly enjoy. I gained the stability I need to feel balanced and safe, but I also still have time to practice and perform. It really is the best of both worlds and I am very happy now.


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