Vietnam was the unlikely location where violist and Princeton Sophomore Devon Naftzger (Show 256) of Lincolnshire, IL had a profound musical experience brought about when she played her viola for a classroom of Vietnamese students. This past summer, Devon participated in a three-week program called Coach For College which brought her to southwestern Vietnam and the rural village of Hoa An located in the Mekong River Delta region.
Devon taught everything from English to volleyball at a Vietnamese summer day camp where kids studied academics and sports. At the end of the day she loved teaching what they called a “Life Skills” class.
“I loved incorporating playing my viola into my teaching,” Devon recalled. “The Vietnamese children had never heard any stringed instrument played live and they had never attended a music concert. A lot of children worked in the rice fields with their parents when they weren’t at school, so none of my students had the time or money to pursue hobbies like music. We had a rowdy group of kids who were getting to the fun age where they like to challenge authority, but everything changed the week I brought out my instrument. They were completely silent because they were so intrigued to hear me play, and I gained so much respect after I played for them.”
In her Life Skills class, Devon launched a discussion on the topic of “setting little goals to achieve big dreams.” They discussed the perseverance and dedication it takes to reach those goals, especially when you have setbacks. “ I thought this topics related perfectly to my experience with music, so I did a little demonstration. The older Vietnamese college students, fluent in English, translated. “You can’t just pick up a violin for the first time and expect to play the toughest concerto right away,” I explained. “Instead you have to start with baby steps and pick up different techniques through easier pieces.” To demonstrate she played the first piece she performed when she was 5 years old: ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.’
“I explained that I started learning classical music, but had to take it slowly. I played Bach’s Transcribed Cello Suite No. 1 Prelude. They ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’. Next I played a movement that was a little faster, telling them that I had to learn all kinds of different bow strokes and finger patterns before I could learn a piece that incorporated many of them: Paganini’s La Campanella. After playing them a showy passage from Preludium and Allegro (which I performed on From the Top Show 256) I told them that after you’ve put in all the hard work, then you can play things simply because they are fun. I finished with a fiddle tune, which they danced to excitedly.”
Devon also described how many hours a day she spends practicing, and how many years she’s played without giving up. She told them about competitions she lost which crushed her. “I turned those losses into a positive motivator that made me want to practice harder,” Devon shared. “That resulted in winning some competitions, achieving my dream of performing at Carnegie Hall, and getting into Juilliard. And it was all because I started slowly all the way back at ‘Twinkle Twinkle’!”
Back at Princeton this fall, Devon plays in the Princeton University Orchestra and last year she participated in a string quartet as well.