It takes time to perfect something. It also takes time to become the best at something.
Lily West, 17, has done both in playing the violin, all because of the time she has committed to the instrument.
She recently was named concertmaster for the Georgia Music Educators Association all-state orchestra for her third time overall and second time in a row. The role of concertmaster essentially means she is the state’s best violinist, no surprise considering she practices for four hours each day.
“A concertmaster has duties like getting their section together, having suggestions for their section, making sure the bowings are aligned together, tuning the orchestra,” said West, who is from Cornelia but whose family has strong ties to Gainesville.
Being concertmaster comes with perks. After all is over, she can be proud she was part of something that sounded so great. But the position also comes with its fair share of difficulties. She said it’s a stressful job — the entire orchestra depends on her to help prepare it. And she’s next in line to the conductor.
“It’s really an amazing thing to win it,” said Mike West, Lily’s father. “It’s such a high level of competition because it really is the most coveted seat in the orchestra.”
Lily didn’t get to where she is all on her own. She credits her sister, Faith, for getting her interested in the violin. Lily would sit in on her sister’s practices, listening intently, amazed more and more each time.
Finally, when she was just 5 years old, Lily tried the violin out for herself. Now after graduating high school, Lily, who was home-schooled, is following in Faith’s footsteps and heading to Columbus State University.
“It’d be great if in the future I could find an orchestra with my sister or play in a quartet together,” Lily said. “I think that’d be really fun because I‘d be able to just play with my sister and we have so much fun together.”
The road to becoming a concertmaster wasn’t easy, especially for a third time in four years. Lily said she had to go through the district competition, which is where contestants are “kind of competing against themselves.” The highest scorers from district are then sent to the state competition with a chance to make the all-state orchestra.
Contestants are judged on many criteria: tone quality, intonation and rhythmic accuracy, to name a few. The uniqueness of the audition is that contestants are behind a screen; judges can’t see them, and they can’t see the judges.
“It’s basically for the judges,” Lily said. “So they are judging you entirely based on your sound. So they’re not judging you based on your appearance. It just makes it fair for everybody.”
The score the contestants receive determines which chair, or rank, they earn. First chair is the best score from the competition, second chair is the next-best, and so on.
Lily said first violin is always appointed concertmaster because it’s arguably the most important instrument in the orchestra, though she may be a little biased.
“It’s very true that the violin is one of the more respected instruments,” Lily said. “I mean, when you look at a string quartet, you have a cello, a viola and then you have two violins. So whatever musical group you look at, violins are always the most important instrument.”
She said she’s always enjoyed orchestras more than playing solo, which makes the concertmaster title all the more exciting.
“It’s such a special feeling to have everyone behind you and have everyone working together for the same goal,” Lily said.
Even with the accomplishments she already has, Lily will be heading to college in the fall to sharpen her skills even more. As the years go on, she said she hopes to join an orchestra, since musicians aren’t typically well-paid. She may even teach, too.
No matter what she does, though, she said she’ll always be learning. Even she said, if it’s from others in the orchestra or from students she ends up teaching.
“No matter what you play or how long you’ve played, you can always improve,” she said. “There’s always ways to improve.”
It’d be great if in the future I could find an orchestra with my sister or play in a quartet together. I think that’d be really fun because I‘d be able to just play with my sister and we have so much fun together.Lily West, concertmaster, Georgia Music Educators Association all-state orchestra