In January 2020, Faribault High School violinist Abbe Brien told Faribault Daily News she wanted to make it to the Minnesota All-State Orchestra as a junior or senior.
Instead, she made it just before the end of her sophomore year.
“I kind of didn’t believe it at first, but then, I guess ‘satisfied’ could be a word to describe how I felt,” Brien said. “You put in all this work, and you feel thankful for the people who helped you get this far. It was a wave of emotions.”
Micheal Sloane, orchestra director for FHS, announced the news to Brien in front of her classmates, May 24, which Brien called “a really cool moment.”
“Having known and worked with Abbe since elementary age, she has matured so much as a musician, and yet she has conserved the positive, happy spirit from elementary school,” Sloane said. “Abbe has exceptional leadership skills, reaching out and helping others in the orchestra and modeling appropriate technique, tone and posture with the violin. The orchestra is very blessed to have her participation.”
Being selected as an official member of the All-State Orchestra is a step up from last year, when Brien was chosen as an alternate. The performance was held via Zoom last year because of COVID-19 restrictions, but Brien said, “It was still a really fun experience in the end.”
At the end of 2020, Brien began practicing her solo piece for the All-State audition and started working on excerpts and scales in January. She completed her final recording to give to Sloane in April, and he sent the audition recording on to the judges.
Brien’s violin teacher gave her three options for a solo piece to play for the All-State audition. After listening to the pieces, Brien selected the first movement of “Concerto No. 9 in A Minor” by Charles-Auguste de Beriot, which reminded her of one of her favorite violin pieces, “German Zigeunerweisen.”
One challenge for Brien was learning to play octaves on the violin, which required a lot of hand dexterity to reach the right strings.
“It took two months to get used to stretching my pinky that far, but now it’s one of my favorite parts to play,” Brien said.
Although Brien began playing violin in preschool, she didn’t always appreciate it the way she does today. Even after being accepted into the Minnesota String Orchestra Teachers Association Mid-Level Honors Orchestra as a freshman, she said, “I got to a point where I liked it, but I didn’t love it.”
That changed during quarantine. During a time when everyday normalcy was gone, Brien found she could still play her violin - and take more time to practice the parts she once found discouraging.
“I’ve grown to love it, and it’s hard to believe I disliked it as much as I did,” she said.
In the past year, Brien also inherited a violin from her grandma, Char Scurry, who is also one of her violin teachers.
“The older the violin, if it’s taken care of, sounds really nice,” Brien said. “It kick-started me being able to appreciate it a lot more. It has a richer tone, and it’s easier to play into.”
Thinking of those who helped her reach her goal, Brien thanks her grandma as well as her parents, Katie and Benjamin Brien, and her other violin teacher Charles Gray, who teaches violin at St. Olaf College.
Looking ahead, Brien said she wants to apply for music scholarships for college and study music or the violin as a minor, at least. She also set the goal of playing in an orchestra, whether it’s part of a community or otherwise, “for the rest of [her] life.”