conley6.gif (2529 bytes)


Beautiful heart
Violinist connects with her spirit through musical expression

Photos by Dan Bishop

November 2012

"I remember when I was a kid Iíd hear the orchestra tuning up and I would get goose bumps. I still get that," Sigrid Gullickson says. "When I hear them play I can hardly keep from weeping because it is so moving."

The Steinway piano is out of proportion in the modest Mequon apartment, but right-sized for its place in Sigrid Gullicksonís existence.

She draws her very energy from music, and playing and teaching the violin. "It has always been my the way that I connect most to my spirit," she says. Surrounded by books, art and her piano, Gullickson teaches violin from her apartment to 30 students ages 4 to adult. "In my teaching I feel it is a very spiritual experience working with the students because music taps into the spirit," Gullickson says. "It is kind of a magical thing the first time they touch the violin bow to the string."

Gullickson grew up surrounded by artists and musicians in South Dakota ó her father was a college music professor and choir director and her mother a classical soloist and voice teacher. "Our parents didnít allow us to hear any music that wasnít the best. We werenít allowed to listen to pop music or rock. But it didnít matter to me because Bach was my favorite composer anyhow."

She studied violin at Augustana College and at the Hochschule fŁr Musik in Berlin. "To me it seemed like the perfect life, to do what you love.

"When I was a teenager I was very idealistic. When I read, ĎOde on a Grecian Urní and the line, ĎBeauty is truth, truth beauty,í I remember thinking, ĎThatís all I need to know. Thatís how I want to live my life.í Of course, life becomes more complicated, but it has been in essence what Iíve aspired to and clung to," she says.

On this day, 5-year-old Rachel is learning to play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." Wide-eyed, she looks at the music, then at her teacher, playing tentatively as Gullickson guides the bow in her hand.

"Rachel, that was beautiful. Thank you," Gullickson says when the song is finished.

"Can we do it again?" Rachel asks.

"Letís see if we can do it again so we can keep moving and hear the song singing," Gullickson suggests.

She is a gentle, enthusiastic teacher, praising each success. "I feel itís so important for the student to do the best they can do and not be competitive with anyone other than themselves, otherwise it can be so damaging. It can be motivating for a while, but in the long run itís not always good. They can lose track of the real reason they love to play."

Gullickson doesnít teach her students the way she was taught, by "old world men who were themselves taught in a critical, judgmental way." Instead of criticism, she enthuses positivity. "I try not to use the word Ďnoí in my teaching," she says.

Gullickson recalls a moment early in her teaching career that became a turning point. "I thought what if I allow myself to just make every lesson fun and exciting and allow myself to teach with love. I hadnít always had teachers like that. I became more and more infatuated with the whole experience and it became more exciting for me. I wanted every lesson to be an adventure for discovery, not just for the student but for me."

Teaching the violin is only part of what motivates Gullickson. The inner peace and strength she draws from playing the violin is a powerful and emotional experience for those who hear it. "If I couldnít play myself, I wouldnít enjoy the teaching," she says. "It would be one-sided. I need to see the same fulfillment in myself that I see in my students."

She finds inspiration from Shinichi Suzukiís quote about music giving children a beautiful heart. "I really believe that music keeps us in touch with what is true, not just in our involvement with the music, but with all of life. Itís like a guiding light for me."

And to share that with her students gives Gullickson the true fulfillment of beauty and truth. M


This story ran in the November2012 issue of: