Sophomore violinist discovers passion, plays with family


Courtesy of Marian Waller

Siblings Joseph, Linden and sophomore Marian Waller perform together with their father, Michael Waller. Over COVID quarantine, they put on mini porch concerts for their neighbors.

Shay Bowman

Sophomore Marian Waller has devoted years of her life to the violin.

Waller began playing the violin when she was just 5 years old. The idea stemmed from her father’s love for the instrument. 

“I grew up playing the violin and so did both of my sisters,” her father Michael Waller said. “I played my grandfather’s violin, which we still have. When [Marian] was 5, we sort of thought she’d be interested.”

Waller, who grew up in Maryland, began learning violin through the Suzuki Method, which centered on mastering techniques such as holding a violin properly and maintaining good posture. Eventually, Waller developed the skills to play simple notes and perform songs. 

“She started out when she was tiny, and she had a tiny violin,” Michael Waller said. “She worked for months just trying to play the A string clearly. The violin is a strange instrument, in that it’s very difficult to make any kind of pleasant sound. She’s gone from being a little person who is scratching her bow across a string to where she is today.”

Waller took a few years before she appreciated and enjoyed playing the violin.

“When I was younger, I did not appreciate being able to play it, and of course, the practicing was just not fun for me,” Waller said. “So, it kind of took a while for it to click with me. But, every time I’ve performed, I thought ‘this is awesome’. As I always say, I don’t like practicing, but I love being able to play.”

After moving to Atlanta from Maryland, Waller became involved in the Metropolitan Youth Symphony Orchestra (MYSO) and began playing in her church and school orchestra. In recent years, Waller has been a part of a quartet in the youth chamber program through Emory University. In addition, Waller was one of two freshmen in the mastery orchestra last year.

“Marian was one of those ninth graders that started in the mastery orchestra class, which is our highest level orchestra class here at Midtown,” orchestra teacher Krissi Davis said. “She already came in on the highest level. Her technique was already good but watching her refine her technique and put emotion into her playing has been a real joy.”

Waller believes she can always improve her skills; she has spent extensive time practicing and perfecting her technique. Marian’s father recognizes her high work ethic and applauds her dedication to the instrument. 

“She works hard,” Michael Waller said. “She practices every day, and she’s done that since she was in kindergarten. She’s put in lots and lots and lots of hours of practice. She’s also not afraid to stand up and perform something that stretches her. That blend of hard work and the willingness to take risks has really paid off for her, but she also just has some real musical abilities that are natural to her, too.” 

Davis appreciates the amount of effort Waller puts into violin, but credits much of her talent to the emotion she plays with.

“Marian is a good violinist because she has a good work ethic and plays with feeling,” Davis said. “What I mean by that is it’s not just playing the notes and the rhythm. She puts her emotion behind everything that she plays. Even if it’s just a little simple exercise that we’re doing to work on our technique in class, I’ve noticed that she plays with a lot of feeling which I really appreciate because when we think about it as musicians, we tell stories through music.”

Waller appreciates the power emotion can hold over a piece and feels she is able to create a story with notes.

“There’s emotion that goes into all music,” Waller said. “Your emotions can affect a piece or how you play a piece. Sometimes, when you’re playing, you can make up a story, which really helps because it doesn’t have lyrics. There’s so much emotion, and sometimes you don’t even realize it. You just get lost in the music.”

In the past few years, Waller has been improving her performance skills and endurance on the violin. Her most recent piece, Dvorak’s Sonatina, is over 20 minutes long.

“It was the longest piece I’ve ever played, and I had actually never played it all the way through,” Waller said. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, my arm is gonna fall off,’ but I think one of the great things is you have so much pressure, but also the adrenaline going through you when you’re playing it. When I was done, my arm was so sore; I couldn’t hold up the violin anymore.”

Waller started performing live and virtually every night for her neighbors and family during the pandemic in 2020. The performances pushed Waller to increase her confidence and step out of her comfort zone. The performances also helped reinforce her passion for the violin. 

“During quarantine, [my family] would go out on our porch every night,” Waller said. “We did that for over 150 days; we called it the tiny porch concert. We would play mostly fiddle tunes and fun things that we were working on for the neighbors. That’s another way I realized this is something really special that I’m doing because seeing how much joy it brought people every day was  awesome.”

Waller plays both fiddle tunes and classical music and appreciates the differences in both genres. She often uses fiddle tunes to warm up for performances because of the joyful energy they bring.

“I love fiddle tunes,” Waller said. “Those are some of my favorite pieces because you can just let loose and do anything with them. There’s not really a pattern, you can just kind of make it up as you go along. Whereas in classical music, it’s in the composer’s image that you’re playing this piece, and there’s not as much room for interpretation.”

Despite years of experience and success, Waller admits she still feels nervous before performances.

“I feel like I’m shaking the entire time,” Waller said. “People tell me that I’m not shaking, but I feel like every single part of me is shaking. There is a lot of competition in the musical world; so, I think it’s very easy for me to be hard on myself when playing the piece. You’re always going to have nerves, and I deal with that by remembering it’s gonna be fun.”

Overall, Waller is excited to continue playing the violin and working to polish her skills. Davis sees Waller’s leadership potential.

“I see Marian eventually being a violin section leader,” Davis said. “I like to rotate leaders, but I do see leadership skills and qualities within Marian.”

Although she isn’t set on a career in music, Waller hopes the violin will always be a part of her life, allowing her to spread joy through her music.

“I love music so much,” Waller said. “I really love the happiness that it brings other people and how excited people always are to hear me play. I would love to do something with music. I think I’m definitely going to study it in college, whether it’s my major or minor, but I don’t know yet if that’s what I want to do with my life. Either way, I always want to be a part of it.”