Ethan Hemmings is a violinist, musician, student leader, and future Shenandoah University Conservatory student. These are just a few ways to describe Hemmings, who is a graduating senior from Wakefield High School. Hemmings began private lessons with Claire Allen, Academy Teaching Artist in 2013, and joined her studio at the Academy in 2018.
Hemming’s passion for pursuing a career in music has been growing since he first picked up the violin in fourth grade in his elementary orchestra class at Patrick Henry Elementary School. In an interesting twist of fate, the teacher, Mrs. Estelle Roth, of that orchestra class was the same teacher who started Ms. Allen on her own violin journey a couple of decades earlier.
“As I was starting my teaching career, I reached out to my own first teacher for recommendations,” says Allen. “She connected me with Ethan, and I never could have imagined the journey we would go on over the next seven years. Teaching Ethan makes me feel closer to my own musical roots, and our experiences together have helped me grow as a teacher.”
Hemmings’ violin studies have led him to participate in a variety of exciting musical experiences, including his school orchestras, honors orchestras including the Arlington Junior and Senior Honors Orchestras, VBODA District 12 and Senior Regional Orchestras, recitals for the MusicLink Foundation, the Arlington Philharmonic’s Crescendo Program. He has also performed as a guest musician with the Arlington Philharmonic and the St. Olaf Orchestra. At Mason Community Arts Academy, he has been involved with Mason Strings Academy, the Music Recording Studio, and Violin Bootcamp – at which he met his new violin teacher, Akemi Takayama of Shenandoah Conservatory, at a masterclass.
Six years after starting violin in his elementary school orchestra, Hemmings returned – but this time as a guest artist, performing La Folia by Corelli for an awed class of younger students.
“I remember hearing one of the kids tell me after my performance say, ‘I want to be like you when I grow up’. Although some might see this as a cliché response, it reminded me that how I presented myself, how I played the music, and my general demeanor inspired that student to stick with arguably one of the hardest instruments to learn. It was a reminder that my love of music not only benefits myself when I listen to my playing, but also can make a person’s day brighter,” said Hemmings.
The inspiration felt by that elementary student is the same inspiration that he feels when he works with his teacher, Ms. Claire. When reflecting on his private music lessons, Hemmings said, “It’s not been easy so far, but she’s helped tremendously in helping navigate my interests and improving as a musician.”
“Ethan is one of my hardest working students,” said Allen. “He not only comes to lessons with assignments prepared, but with his own musical ideas and he isn’t afraid to challenge me as he shapes his own path. He has been such an inspiration and a role model in my studio. Recently, one of my younger students told me that her goal was to be ‘a stronger player.’ I asked her what she meant by that, and she said ‘I want to play like Ethan. I love his tone and his expression.’”
In addition to inspiring younger violinists, Ethan has also inspired and challenged his teacher. When choosing repertoire for his senior recital program, he asked her to help him find music that was written by black composers. “I was so glad when Ethan asked me to find repertoire by black composers for his recital,” said Allen. “It is so important for students to have composer role models who they can connect with, and at least some of which look like them.”
“I’m ashamed to say that I wasn’t teaching very many works by black composers, and I’m starting to do the work of expanding my awareness and educating myself about composers who have been neglected by history. One of the pieces Ethan is currently studying is a sonata by Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de St. Georges, who was a virtuoso violinist, composer, and conductor, as well as being a champion fencer and the leader of the first all-black regiment during the French Revolution. He’s written a remarkable body of work – symphonies, violin concertos, string quartets, sonatas – and I wish it was taught with equal weight alongside Mozart and Haydn. This music has passion, brilliance, and excitement. I’m grateful to be discovering it alongside Ethan, and I will continue to study and explore new works to teach all of my students.”
During Hemmings’ time at Wakefield High School, he has been not only a musical leader but a social justice one as well. He was involved in bringing Mental Health and Suicide Awareness events to his school, and during his junior year, Hemmings was selected to attend the Minority Student Achievement Network Conference in Boston.
After attending the conference, Hemmings and some fellow students hosted an event for Arlington Public School middle school students of color. The event for the middle school students focused on leadership, college preparation, and career readiness.
His love for violin and music comes from the same intention: be the change and make an impact not just to someone’s day, but to their lives. “Music is sonic expression, and I feel sometimes I’m able to tell my story or perspective in some shape or form through the music,” explained Hemmings.
“One of Ethan’s tremendous gifts is his ability to connect emotionally with his instrument and to channel that passion into music,” said Allen. “He’s dedicated to the technical elements of developing his craft, but I really see him come alive when he is focused on the artistic message of his music. I can’t wait to see how his musicality develops as he takes the next steps in his studies at Shenandoah Conservatory.”
Another inspiration for Hemmings is his good friend, Chris Tate, as a source of inspiration. He describes Tate as “a cellist, bassist, arranger, composer, producer, and overall great guy. He always is telling jokes and is consistently passionate in pursuing music. He embodies what I hope to be, a person who can take their craft seriously without taking myself too seriously.”
With the support from these musical inspirations and many other significant people, including his parents, who have encouraged and cheered him on from the beginning, Hemmings has grown stronger musically and achieved more in each stage of his growth. But, when he isn’t practicing his violin or studying music, you might find him on a run, reading, or watching a Star Wars movie.
For the future, Hemmings hopes to continue to be a performing violinist in a variety of musical environments and to make a difference to the world. His dreams include owning a recording studio in his hometown as a producer and creating a music-oriented youth-outreach program.
“I’ll see what happens, and plans constantly change as I experience more things and build relationships with the people I meet along the way,” Hemmings said. “I will take it day by day, focus on what I can do during the day, not what I can’t.”