Feature a Friend Friday – Zo Manfredi


Violinist

Describe yourself and what you do

I am a violinist- My “day job” is teaching violin and viola and performing in various settings: solo, chamber ensemble and symphony. I have spent most my adult life (until recently) in school so that I can turn my passion and hobby into employment—a challenge that I never regret! So much of what I do is rooted in self-promotion and motivation, and is a high-risk balance act of success and rejection, which is both rewarding and exhausting, but always worth it. I most certainly identify as a musician and artist, but I also love the outdoors and any activity that allows me to experience my natural surroundings, wherever I am- hiking, biking, running, bird-watching, yoga-ing…

What are three recordings (any music) everyone should listen to?

The top recording that I feel changes the way you hear and feel music is the 1963 recording of Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies. As a classical musician it’s a staple, but the sheer auditory power and range of sound that comes out of this music would speak to anyone, I think.

Next would be the Beatles Anthology, however cliché that may be. This was the first tape-set I ever bought for myself in middle-school and I listened to it the same way I listen to the Beethoven symphonies: obsessively on repeat, and it continues to identify the rock genre for me.

Lastly, Appalachian Journey with Mark O’Connor, Yo-Yo Ma, and Edgar Meyer opened up a genre of music for me that is still inspiring. This world-class group of musicians has been collaborating for decades and has brought Bela Fleck, Chris Thile and others into their fold, merging classical, blue-grass and fiddle into the perfect sound. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole of recordings after discovering this one.

What has been your favorite concert experience or musical achievement?

I’m not sure I can answer this with one favorite! So many different experiences as a performer or as a listener have served different purposes. I can identify the “highlights” that represent that happiness I have felt being a musician my whole life. These would be:

Performing with Sufjan Stevens at the Paramount Theater in Seattle, WA—this was some of the most fun I’ve had playing on stage …..Hearing and seeing the Berlin Philharmonic in Berlin, the Vienna Philharmonic at the Musikverein and Kronos Quartet in Vienna, Austria are at the top of my experiences as an audience member.

As for a musical achievement, in 2015 I completed a Doctor of Musical Arts degree, which I am still proud of today as it represents a culmination of 12 years of schooling and meant that I had to be done with school…finally! Though I don’t think more degrees makes a more qualified musician by any means (Art follows no rules!), I do feel it helped shape my path and served my needs well.

What annoys you the most about your profession?

How hard it is to make a living!! I think this is a balance that is hard to achieve—How do I make money doing something that is also my passion/hobby? There will be inherent sacrifices in heading down this path and though, I believe, it is always worth it, I am always trying to find that balance between making a good living and exploiting your passion. It requires tenacity, boldness and creativity to design YOUR way of making a living that might not look familiar to others. Additionally, I struggle with the negative self-talk that can creep in from the constant competition that exists within this field. I do try to look at this challenge as less annoying and more constructive as working on it can help build skills that bridge other areas of life and work.

What has become increasingly important (can be anything) to you over the past 5 years?

It has been in the last 5 years that I’ve started looking at everything in my life through the lens of “Is this what/where I want to be at the end of my life?” I know this seems so morbid, but I promise it’s not! I am just always “scoping out” and checking on how what I’m doing today fits in with my overall big picture of my life. This can sometimes be unproductive; Some things are meant to be small tangents that help shape you, but might not be something that sticks and I might get unnecessarily negatively distracted. But, at the core of it all, I want to make sure I am living a daily life that is what I want now, not later. I don’t believe in “waiting until….[you have enough money, you have enough time, you feel ready, the time is right, etc].” For me, where I’m living, who I am living with, and the quality of life is paramount in helping create this narrative.

This can sometimes be unproductive; Some things are meant to be small tangents that help shape you, but might not be something that sticks and I might get unnecessarily negatively distracted. But, at the core of it all, I want to make sure I am living a daily life that is what I want now, not later. I don’t believe in “waiting until….[you have enough money, you have enough time, you feel ready, the time is right, etc].” For me, where I’m living, who I am living with, and the quality of life is paramount in helping create this narrative.

When have you been most satisfied in your life?

I remember visiting my parents on break during my sophomore year of college and sitting with my mom on our couch and I can’t remember what she asked me, but I do remember that I felt this immense amount of contentment and told her, “I really feel that if I died tomorrow, I would be happy with my life.” And I remember feeling this way! Just very satisfied and content with everything I had. I think this was me “growing up,” and starting to make these assessments.

I lived in a beautiful place, recreated daily, played music constantly, was learning so much, and had the greatest people in my life.  Though I’ve definitely been in places and had experiences since then that have been less than satisfactory, most of these factors have always been there to some degree and I make it a priority to always check in with my happiness factors. When one is off, I begin to make changes to get it back again.

I also feel an immense amount of satisfaction after a meaningful performance, or after completing a physically rigorous venture ie. Summiting a peak, running a race, or completing a physical challenge of some kind.

What is your definition of wellness?

Wellness is finding a positive balance within your “pie-chart” of good health. For me, this is physical, emotional and mental. Obviously, these areas are symbiotic, so when one is off, the others will be as well. It’s easiest for me to check in with my physical health and when I work on that, I tend to find the weaknesses in the other areas much more easily. My physical check-in might not necessarily be clinical, either. For me, it is: Have I been outside? How much have I moved? My movement also includes practicing my instrument. I feel better physically when I’ve practiced, and also feel better about my playing, my potential success, and my overall well-being—There is so much wrapped up into the relationship I have with my instrument! But, obviously, it also includes how much exercise and sunshine I’ve gotten in the day.

You’ve moved around quite a bit, what fears do you have when you move to a new place and how do you acclimate yourself?

I’ve moved around a lot and it has mostly always been for school in the past. Though there can be challenges with this, school provides an instant network of like-minded colleagues and others that makes meeting people easier. My most recent move was to Iowa, and this was not for school, and it was so much harder to meet people! I am a social person, so I always have a fear of not making friends in a new place, or feeling comfortable. Going forward, my future moves will also not be as a student, so I try to recreate this idea of an instant-network by joining clubs and groups. Before I moved to Iowa, I joined a running club and signed up for a half-marathon. For the first few months, my only social interaction in my day was my group run—and I am so glad I had this! My closest friends 3 years later are still from girls I met in this running group.

violinist

Alaska? New Zealand? Been there.

Going forward, my future moves will also not be as a student, so I try to recreate this idea of an instant-network by joining clubs and groups. Before I moved to Iowa, I joined a running club and signed up for a half-marathon. For the first few months, my only social interaction in my day was my group run—and I am so glad I had this! My closest friends 3 years later are still from girls I met in this running group.

Any quotes or words you live by?

I’ll include a poem I found a while back that, I think, most succinctly articulates where I get my strength—from art (music) and from the outdoors. It also perfectly encapsulates the soul of my dad, who has been inspiring me to get outside and be an independent thinker from day 1:

How I go to the woods
Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single
friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore
unsuitable.
I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds
or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of
praying, as you no doubt have yours.
Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit
on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost
unhearable sound of the roses singing.
If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love
you very much.

― Mary OliverSwan: Poems and Prose Poems

How do you Simply Kill It Everyday?

By just asking: “Am I killing it today….?”

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