Sarah Charness wants to blow your mind. A classically trained violinist turned genre-bending pop star, Charness has been in love with this most classic of instruments since she was 4 years old and now she wants to make you fall in love with it too. She has performed at such prestigious venues like Carnegie Hall, on National Public Radio and with acts like Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Sarah Brightman, and Mika. Charness’ differentiates herself from other violinists with her unique blend of classic meets dance meets rock violin compositions. Her mind-bending style has made her a star among the fashion set and she is a staple at international fashion weeks, playing shows for everyone from Betsey Johnson to Vera Wang.
Charness is now hard at work producing her first solo album, and somehow between that, performances, working as a music teacher, and playing at the recent Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, she found the time to talk to Killahbeez about her life as a violinist rock star.
What is it about the violin that you love?
I love how versatile it can be and how many different genre’s of music it fits into. Its totally a sexy sound haha.
Do you play any other instruments?
Haha I wish. A little bit of piano but I would never tell a pianist that! Violin seems to be it for now!
How did you develop your unique sound?
Really from what I was listening to around me. I love to improvise and play with genres. My music really mixes classical rock and dance in a sort of unique way.
Who are your biggest inspirations?
Mark Wood for sure. He was the man responsible for exposing me to electric and rock violin for the first time and is also the maker of my instrument. He came to my camp when I was just 16 years old and gave a workshop on alternative violin playing. From then on I was hooked. He was a real rocker.
If you could choose any musician, dead or alive, to do a duet with, who would it be?
Right now, Lady Gaga. Sounds cliché right? This is not because she is popular right now or the trend, but rather because she took a completely unique approach and sound, made it her own, and ran with it. Her sound leaves so much room for the violin and she appreciates the instrumental part of music.She has so much soul and I love it. I also love cheesy pop!
What makes the electric violin different from the standard version everyone knows?
Well mostly just the way it looks and the fact that it can be plugged in and amplified. Mine is bright pink and sparkly so it definitely has a more modern edge as opposed to the antique wood most people are accustomed to. Overall it just seems to do better in newer genres; however, I still record with my acoustic violin as it always sounds better in recording studios.
Unfortunately, Classical music, is by many young people as something stuffy, but in the past, classical musicians were the rock stars of their time. Can you make some comparisons between rock stars of the classical and modern eras – like who would be the Mick Jagger of classical music?
Oh wow! Well, Beethoven was a pretty wild guy. Same with Mozart. They both were real innovators and went against the grain. One of Mozart’s Opera’s was set in a harem which was pretty raunchy stuff for his time. I believe people walked out of the first performance disgusted with its vulgar content. So I would say Mozart definitely made a huge impact in his time by doing what had never been done before and really pushing buttons. I think today, it’s the artists that push buttons that go the furthest. Artists that do the unexpected.
Do you see it as your mission to make classical instruments sexy and cool?
I see it as my mission to make the violin an accepted instrument in modern day genres. Make people take off their horse blinders and look at the instrument in a new way. If I can do that, then I think I’ve been successful. I also want to expose kids who play the violin to other types of music. You can really rock out on this instrument and I want young students to know that
What is the coolest thing that you’ve gotten to do in your career yet?
Oh wow. Well I think opening for the New York Knicks was pretty cool. I’m about to play the Elenne Cassis show at fashion week at Lincoln Center so Im very excited about that as well!
What was it like touring with the Trans Siberian Orchestra?
It was a truly incredible experience. Playing back to back shows like they do is definitely eye opening and certainly draining, but in a way it’s the most alive I’ve felt in my whole life. I just really enjoy performing and it certainly gave me the opportunity to do that over and over again for crowds that truly loved what they were seeing. They have some very devoted fans! That being said, living on a bus and driving overnight from city to city is tiring for anybody. Plus being on the road means being away from friends and family, but overall it was an absolutely wonderful experience that I will always remember.
What would you like to do next with your career?
I would love to continue to put out my own music and collaborate with other artists. And just keep performing and enjoying what I do. That’s what life is all about!
Thanks Sarah for your time and great answers! You can find out more about her upcoming album on her official site.