Every month, OVPDEMA highlights a graduating student involved with one of the many culture centers on campus, exploring their work and experience at IU. Featured this month is Anna Mach, a senior studying viola performance and music theory at the Jacobs School of Music, a student chef, and a violin helper at Fairview Elementary School. She is also on the Dean’s Advisory Council for Diversity and Equity for the university.
How did you make your decision to study music and also come to IU?
I came to IU for Jacobs. It’s been an enriching experience. It’s been very challenging at times because a big issue with music degrees is, as our professors say, it forces you to confront your limitations every time you open your case. It forces you to overcome things that you can’t do, and you have to keep working on it until you can. It forces you to be vulnerable in front of a group of people by getting up and performing. Sometimes you’re performing memorized and it might not go that well. Those have been some of the challenging parts. The part where music does go well is when you can feel collective energy on stage like everyone’s really into it. You can’t get that anywhere else or with any other major.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned in your four years at IU?
I became disciplined and also really smart about my practicing, like being critical of what I do every time. Also, learning how to prep for your recital that’s just 45 minutes to one hour of you playing. That’s also been very challenging.
What do your plans look like after graduation?
I’m planning on going to grad school for viola. Depending on which school I go to, I might also be getting a viola performance and pedagogy degree or a Suzuki pedagogy degree, which is just a specific style of teaching. I’m also interested in doing ethnomusicology research. I have a long-time vision of promoting diversity and equal access to education like arts and arts education. That’s been taking many facets in my life right now. I see continuing to do so whether through research or pieces I play or interning somewhere.
How has teaching at Fairview influenced your decisions for the future?
I took violin pedagogy last semester, which teaches you how to teach and how to teach little kids specifically. I thought I wouldn’t like teaching but I do because I find it rewarding, making it something that kids want to do. I can help them learn a new skill or give them a new sense of enjoyment.
When did you start playing?
What are your favorite pieces to play?
Penderecki’s Cadenza for Solo Viola. I found a lot of the structure to be interesting and the way that he can make a whole piece based on only three notes. He passed quite recently. I had a lesson with my professor and he was talking about how Mozart and Bach don’t even feel like humans anymore because they lived so long ago, but since Penderecki was alive while I was working on this, it felt closer to me. It’s someone who came to the school a couple of years ago and was a very prolific composer, and now he’s just gone. To the next generation of musicians after me, Penderecki will probably be seen as this distant figure like Mozart.
I also like playing Bartok’s Viola Concerto, a piece I held at very high esteem my whole life, and I never thought I’d be able to play because it’s really difficult. Finally, my senior year I was telling myself, “we’re going to do it!” It was a lot of work, but it paid off - I grew a lot from learning that piece.
Another piece I like is “Pulsar” by Augusta Reed Thomas. Part of the reason why it is significant to me is that there’s a lack of representation in the classical music world of female composers. It felt really important for me to play this piece. However, I don’t want to attach gender to its aesthetics. I like the piece because it was very challenging aesthetically, almost like a geometric abstract piece. It’s not really a melody; it’s like figures transformed somehow.
What other experiences influenced how you approach your work?
I studied abroad in Paris and Italy last summer. In Paris, I had the opportunity to study contemporary music theory. For an undergrad at Jacobs, you have to go through five semesters of music theory, and Theory 5 is from 1900 to around 1970 or 80. This class was from 1980 to last month, basically with very new music. We focused a lot on technology that the composers used and on an aesthetic called spectral music where composers will take a soundwave and then extract the partial or overtones from the audio file or the spectrogram. Then, they’ll use that to create a pitch collection to create a piece. That style of music has a lot of effects where you might play very close to the bridge or play in more unconventional ways.
The first piece I heard the first night was by Philippe Manoury, called “Laboratorium,” and it was a piece for orchestra and choir. The choir wasn’t just in the back of the stage but dispersed throughout the entire auditorium. It was a piece that told the stories of the atrocities of the Syrian refugee crisis. Manoury stated that it wasn’t a political piece but no matter which side you were on, he wanted to say that it’s important to remember the human aspect of all of this. People are putting themselves in dire conditions and dying so wherever you stand, don’t forget about that.
That was the first time I saw social commentary or activism in classical music. You see it sometimes with pop music or something, but not as much with classical. I think an issue with classical music is that it can be pretty antiquated. We value the past but we don’t value as much what is happening right now. I think that’s why people think it’s becoming irrelevant.
What was the most illuminating part of your study abroad experience?
There was a lot. For one, I’d never fully studied that kind of music before. I also got to study and research at the largest contemporary music library in the world. That was an unparalleled experience that I couldn’t get anywhere else. Also, seeing so many new music classical concerts. I think we went to 25 concerts in 30 days, and it was all new music.
How has your involvement with the ACC changed your college experience, and what has it meant for you?
I guess before coming to college, I didn’t have a space where we could talk about racial identity. My first high school was mostly white, and so I was a minority there. In that area of Northern Virginia, there aren’t that many Filipinos.
The ACC is a place for me to talk about racial identity and find what being Asian American means to me and also how that’s different amongst people. That’s an area of myself that I hadn’t explored before. It was nice because I was able to have a community that was outside of Jacobs, too. I was kind of trapped in a music school bubble, and by meeting a lot of people with different majors and different areas of focus, I realized they aren’t as scary as I thought they would be! (laughs) I think before that I was thinking, how do I relate to people who aren’t musicians!
It also got me thinking about social activism, too, because so many people at the ACC are very passionate about that. I became more knowledgeable about what that means and how I could be an active citizen.
How do you see your time at the ACC influencing your plans? Especially with your background in diversity work and inclusion?
I definitely want to make a commitment to program more artists with underrepresented identities and women and people of color, because their voices got lost in history. I want to revive that history. A big dream of mine is to have equal access to education, and of course, there’s a lot of variables, but I’d love to bring music to more underprivileged communities. I’m not just saying classical music because there can sometimes be a sense of gentrification happening by bringing classical music to a community where it wasn’t present before. To me, that feels like it’s prescribed. I think there should be more variety in the music that we perform, too.