How a World-Renowned Violinist Inspired Me More than Any Writer Ever Has

Hilary Hahn, you are the woman.

Amy Hay
Amy Hay
Apr 7 · 7 min read
Photo by Todd Rosenburg Photography via the Chicago Tribune.

At this point in my life, I don’t need to be inspired by another writer.

I’m not a kid anymore. I don’t drool over bestselling authors, starstruck by their fame. I’m not low-key jealous of “more successful” indie authors, who at this point in time just happen to have more (fill in the blank) than I do.

I’ve grown up. All the things I yearned for as a young writer I now have: a platform, novels to my name, positive editorial reviews, a blog that brings me joy and connects me with my readers. I know what I like and don’t like. I’m not intimidated by the publication process anymore. Most importantly, I have established a confident, authentic sense of “self” as a writer.

I’d still like to flesh out my Google knowledge panel and snag a few writing awards, but hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day. When I get down to brass tacks, the only thing that’s going to change over the next 20 years is the number of novels to my name and the size of my readership. That’s all.

So what do I want the next 20 years to look like? How do I want to cultivate my talent, books, platform, and financial resources to contribute to society in a meaningful way, one that will make a lasting impact and perhaps bear the fruit of an enduring legacy?

I’m a future-thinking, logistical kind of gal, so these questions like to sit right in the forefront of my thoughts all the time.

In order to escape, I joyfully disappear down YouTube rabbit holes. You know, just for kicks. After watching a guy build his own log cabin out in the Alaskan wilderness, studying the ballet technique of Mikhail Baryshnikov, and laughing over “Baby Shark In 18 Styles” by Lord Vinheteiro, YouTube analytics recommended Hilary Hahn — Brahms: Violin Concerto in D major.

I’d never heard of Hilary Hahn before, but the 1.1M+ views caught my eye. I clicked on the video and watched it.

I was mesmerized.

I’ve always admired people who possess incredible musical talent — mostly because I don’t have any. The more I watched Hahn’s performances, the more I wanted to learn about her. I perused her website. I watched featured interviews on TwoSetViolin. I then began to make a sober assessment of her platform and realized that she wasn’t just admirable. She was stunning.

Her passion and dedication as a violinist, paired with the way she has built her platform over the past 20 years, inspired me on a whole new level and gave me a vision for how I want to cultivate my platform in the years to come.

She constantly seeks to refine her musicality.

Broadly speaking, musicality is a sensitivity to, knowledge of, or talent for music. TwoSetViolin (Ft. Hilary Hahn) does a great job of explaining the concept of musicality by breaking it down into five levels.

A musician’s understanding of musicality mirrors a writer’s sensitivity to, knowledge of, and talent for prose.

Despite her incredible expertise, Hahn’s desire to expand and refine her musicality inspires me to reach higher as a writer: study more prose styles, learn from other writers, and improve the prose in my own work.

She is transparent.

After watching multiple performances, it’s hard to imagine Hahn struggling to complete a phrase of music during a practice session — or that she would have to practice much at all. She plays so perfectly and makes playing the violin look easy. With her level of talent, she could hide behind a veneer of musical genius, spend all her time in an ivory tower, and only descend into the mortal realm for performances worth her time.

Instead, Hahn seeks to transform the typically grueling and isolating practice process into a community-oriented, social celebration of artistic development through her Instagram-based initiative, #100daysofpractice.

Hahn demonstrates that transparency can be a valuable platform tool. Her initiative inspires me to continue to find ways of being appropriately transparent with readers and other writers in the years to come.

She started playing when she was four.

She then had her first full recital at age 10. She made her recording debut at age 17 with Hilary Hahn Plays Bach (1997). She coached with Jaime Laredo, Gary Graffman, and Felix Galimir till age 19. And then she went on to record 24 more albums and play 1,594 concerts.

I can’t say I was writing novels at four, but I was folding sheets of printer paper hamburger style, stapling the edges, and writing stories in these little “books”. I was also crafting rather sophisticated backstories for my toys. I wrote 1/3 of a full-length novel my freshman year of high school, a full-length screenplay my senior year of high school, and I published my first novel when I was 22 through Westbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson.

Hahn’s early dedication and development is more validating than inspiring, but it proves that talent and lasting success doesn’t come out of thin air. You have to work long and hard for it.

She paid a price, but the price was worth it.

When she was in school, she practiced up to five or six hours a day. With all that practicing and studying going on, how many parties do you think she actually went to? How about going to the mall with her friends or just hanging out like a normal teenager? What do you think her social life was like? As an adult, she says she practices up to eight hours daily. She also travels extensively.

In my twenties, there were years — yes, years — when I didn’t have a social life. At all. I worked full time and then when I came home, I wrote. That was pretty much my life. Working and writing. Looking back now, it was totally worth it because I wrote three novels. And deep down, I know I didn’t miss out on anything. But I did pay a steep price. My social life, my dating life, my professional development, and even the way in which I experienced my twenties differed vastly from other people in my age group.

Hahn’s success is a direct result of the many sacrifices she made early in her life. A true inspiration, she is living proof that none of them were in vain and reminds me that great sacrifice is often necessary to achieve one’s dreams.

Her passion is an innate part of her identity.

When you listen to her speak or give interviews, you can tell that being a violinist is a core part of who she is. Even in the way she plays, you watch her pour her soul into interpreting the piece of music she’s performing. Now a wife and a mother, she has to juggle her passion and core identity with other responsibilities.

My identity has always been rooted in my passion as a writer. This has been a great source of comfort over the years and has kept me rooted in a healthy mindset. I’m afraid that once I become a wife and a mother, those accompanying responsibilities will overtake or even attempt to eradicate my identity as a writer.

It was encouraging for me to realize that Hahn continued to practice, perform, and pursue her passion as a violinist even after taking on other roles in her life. With the right spouse and a little effort, Hahn demonstrates that I, too, can have and enjoy both.

She donates to charity.

In 2014 Hahn was awarded the Glashütte Original Music Festival Prize; she donated the $25,000 prize money to the Philadelphia music education nonprofit Project 440.

When I rebranded my author platform last year, I made it a priority to publicly support and promote literacy in my community through recurring gifts to The Library Foundation. But over the next 20 years, I want to do more. I don’t know what that’s going to look like, but Hahn’s act of charity inspires me to keep an eye out for opportunities as they appear.

She connects with her fans in meaningful ways.

Hahn commits to signings after nearly every concert and maintains a collection of the fan-art she has received over the course of 20 years. Among other things, she also makes regular guest appearances on TwoSetViolin, a Youtube channel dedicated to the violin and a love for classical music. I admire how she remains visible, relevant, and accessible to her audience.

Sadly, once authors reach a certain level of commercial success, many become distant and almost unreachable to fans. They set up this invisible wall and you sense that they don’t want to connect with their readers anymore in a meaningful way.

If I become a household name in the next 20 years, I certainly don’t want to turn into a cold and distant author. Hahn demonstrates that it’s possible to keep it real and remain appropriately accessible to fans.

She is humble.

In the face of worldwide success, she remains humble. She reaches out to her peers for advice and is always looking for ways to improve her musicality, performance, and technique.

Even if I wrote all the books and won all the writing awards, Hahn sets a standard. She showcases the value of remaining humble, especially in the face of critical acclaim and enduring commercial success.

In Short

At this point in my life, I find myself looking less to other writers for inspiration and more to individuals who are highly successful in their area of expertise. I want to analyze how they got there, how they steward their platform, and what they’re doing to craft an enduring legacy.

Thank you, Hilary, for your beautiful music, and of course, for setting a standard of excellence.

Amy Hay is an independent author of fantasy fiction and seeks to share unique, powerful stories with her readers. Her work has been described as moody, transformative, psychological, and genre bending.

She is the author of the Spirit of the King trilogy and is currently working on her fourth novel. You can connect with her on Goodreads, Amazon, Pinterest, or by visiting her website.

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