Versatile violin performance graduate Jacinda Stahly gains experience in teaching, arts administration

Jacinda Stahly, pictured teaching in the Preparatory Music Program, graduated in December from Eastern Mennonite University with a degree in violin performance, but has gained experience in teaching, arts administration and marketing through a variety of extracurricular involvements. (Photos by Macson McGuigan)

Jacinda Stahly is a newly graduated violin performance major, and among her options for what’s next is pursuing a master’s degree in performance.

Yet she prefers behind-the-scenes work over “being out front,” she said.

That may sound paradoxical, but at Eastern Mennonite University the Alabama-raised teacher’s daughter was able to tailor that performance degree to fit her own goals and personality.

“It’s the beauty of studying in an intimately sized program,” said music department chair and professor Joan Griffing. “Jacinda assembled a custom-built university experience that speaks directly to her own passions and professional goals.”

Two communities

Stahly said she was particularly connected to two communities at EMU. One was the student newspaper The Weather Vane, where she worked as a copy editor for two years and then as a co-editor for another. She found herself at home there in more behind-the-scenes editing roles.

In her other community, the music department, she was able to blend that preference with many aspects of her love for music, and as she says it, she “put her foot in lots of doors.”

“Jacinda has taken advantage of every opportunity open to her,” said Griffing. “She is a success story for our department.”

Recent graduate Jacinda Stahly poses with her violin. “A success story for our department,” says Professor Joan Griffing.

Stahly has been both an arts administrator and violin section intern for three summers with the internationally-renowned Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival, and is continuing with administration as the program assistant for EMU’s Preparatory Music Program. There she also teaches lessons to a small group as well as to five individual students, and is an assistant teacher of violin classes with 20-40 students at each of three elementary schools.

But Stahly is, in fact, a performer, too. In addition to playing with the Bach Festival’s professional orchestra for three summers, she is a member of the Waynesboro Symphony Orchestra, and she was part of an EMU outreach chamber quartet which performed in unique venues such as a preschool and a residential program for ex-offenders. Those haven’t been such a leap for her personality, she said: “Performers don’t have to talk – or at least they can decide ahead of time what to say and do.”

And this fall she gave her senior recital. For it, true to form, Stahly did plenty of behind-the-scenes planning ahead, picking a piece from each classical musical period, with ensemble settings ranging from solo violin to violin, viola and piano, to violin with organ, to a violin quartet. (Although her organizational sensitivities tried to dictate otherwise, she refrained from performing the works in chronological order, instead mixing them up so the variety of musical styles and settings would make the recital’s trajectory “more varied, and less likely to get boring.”)

A blend fit

It’s perhaps in small-group and individual teaching that Stahly is finding the perfect blend of performance and behind-the-scenes work.

As a first-year student, she took a Suzuki pedagogy class taught by Professor Sharon Miller, the administrative director of the Shenandoah Valley Preparatory Music Program. Before coming to EMU, the Suzuki method of violin instruction was peripheral to Stahly’s experience; in retrospect, she thinks she would have benefited from its emphasis on ear training and listening.

In Miller’s class, and in subsequent settings of teaching young students one-on-one, Stahly found she enjoyed being a musical coach. A performance major made sense, she said, because while a music education degree would have set her on track to teach in large classrooms with many students playing a variety of instruments, focusing on violin would prepare her to teach violin specifically. (Another option for what’s next? Maybe a master’s degree in Suzuki pedagogy.)

“To be a good teacher, you need to be a good performer,” she said. “You must know your craft, to set higher standards for yourself and your students.”

Belief and doubt

Stahly’s personal growth during her four years at EMU was cultivated both within the close-knit music department and more broadly.

Jacinda Stahly teaches a violin class in EMU’s Preparatory Music Program.

The department’s intimate size meant personal connection with others in the program, as a stop by a professor’s office with a recital prep question might become an hour-long conversation. Friendships developed across grade levels and cultivated a “greater feeling not just of mentorship,” she said, “but of encouragement and help.”

Her cross-cultural trip to central Europe was her first time out of the United States, and gave her new perspective. She was surprised, particularly in Austria, by the informed interest in and deep concern about the 2016 elections in the United States – and the reluctance of many Austrians to talk about their own similar political polarization.

In Europe she also developed a new sense of independence. Until that trip, Harrisonburg had been the biggest city that Stahly had ever lived in. In Prague, London and Vienna, the world felt “much more open,” she said, adding that she particularly enjoyed the opportunity to live and travel independently within these cities.

At EMU her faith journey, too, continued, building on the foundation formed by her “supportive and loving” community at home.

“I’ve done a lot of growing and changing in different ways,” she said. “I’m much more okay with not having answers to all of my faith questions, maybe even to a point of not wanting to have all the answers.”

It’s perhaps yet another seeming contradiction that Stahly melds into a unity of tension:

“It’s good to have doubts,” she said. “It’s good to have beliefs too, and to believe them strongly, but also to not be quite sure they’re all right.”