The COVID-19 pandemic has forced musicians to quickly digitize their professions and supplement their incomes.
For some, it’s new. For Los Angeles Philharmonic First Associate Concertmaster Nathan Cole, the digital transformation is underway.
On June 1, Cole will launch the Violympics, a series of six two-week training events that will give advanced violinists and violists the tools to advance their craft.
Cole will mentor participants in the program, which will explore crucial fundamentals in a fun format while building an online global community of musicians. Violympics will culminate in a challenge piece that will bring everyone together through performance (virtually).
“It started as a way to help professional violinists and violists organize and practice during the summer,” he said. “Our seasons tend to go like the school year. In the summer, it’s difficult to find and keep that same routine, either because you have fewer performances or you’re spread out in different places.
“I came up with the Violympics to run alongside the real Olympics in Tokyo,” said Cole, who’s married to the LA Philharmonic’s assistant concert master, Akiko Tarumoto. “When everything went nuts in March, including the cancellation of the Olympics, I thought I’d still keep these going.”
The Lexington, Kentucky, native comes from a family of musicians and educators. His parents were flute teachers, as was his paternal grandfather. Cole picked up the violin at age 4; he’s 42 now.
“I can’t really remember a time before I was playing violin,” he said. “I love performing. That’s what I grew up wanting to do, but I did find starting about 20 years ago that I loved teaching, too. I used to teach at a few different schools.
“I left all of them except the Colburn Conservatory, which is across from Disney Hall, where I work with the LA Philharmonic. I stopped all the other teaching. I wanted to make time for my online program.”
The Violympics is an extension of an online teaching platform that began over a decade ago, when Cole started posting instructional videos on YouTube.
Expecting to attract maybe 25 to 50 people, he instead quickly had an online student base in the thousands. He realized there were not many solutions for advanced training online, so he refined his offerings over the years to focus on this niche. More than 3,000 violinists and violists of all ages and capabilities from all over the world, from Argentina to Israel, registered for the Violympic Trials, a one-week introductory experience that preceded the Violympics.
This 12-week program costs $797. Cole called it a nice alternative to summer schools or festivals that have been shuttered due to COVID-19. For more information, visit natesviolin.com.
“I found the best way to help people is online and in person,” he said. “When people think about or talk about teaching online or learning online, they’re focused on the negatives, what they’re missing out on.
“There are some limitations and drawbacks. In my high-level virtuoso master course, I can start everyone with videos I’ve already made and learning material. This way, we don’t have to waste a lot of that valuable one-on-one time going over things they could have learned on their own time. You save that one-one-one time—which is the hardest to schedule—to really just work on the issues that that person has.”
Cole added his program is a nice way to fill the time during the pandemic.
“I miss performing for sure,” he said. “I have that fear if I don’t do it for a while, my skills are going to go away. This is as much motivation for me to keep me sharp for when we do return to the stage.”