Whether it escapes from his bow, his fingertips, or the back of his throat, the music that streams from senior Mykhailo Verlan is mesmerizing.
Verlan’s violin has brought him a long ways since he was an 11-year-old boy taking lessons from his sister. He started out freshman year in chamber orchestra, which he equated to “varsity orchestra.”
By junior year he had become the concertmaster, meaning he began to lead the orchestra as the first chair, first violin. After the conductor or director, the concertmaster is generally considered the most important person in an orchestra.
Since reaching high school, it has always been a goal of Verlan’s to be the concertmaster, and he believes that certain aspects of this school have helped him tremendously to achieve that goal.
“It helped me a lot looking at the people who were better than me. What helped me the most was looking up to somebody, looking up to the first chair, first violin and then saying man, one day, what if one day I could be like that guy? What if one day I could be such a good violinist that I could lead this entire orchestra? It really helped me, just thinking about that, to reach that goal of being a concertmaster,” he said.
However, it’s not just the title that drives Verlan. To him, inspiration is the reaction of the audience and the creation of quality music.
“[It helps] when you’re done with a good piece and you haven’t messed up much with your orchestra and you know your entire orchestra ensemble is feeling good and everybody is feeling good about how we played and you hear the audience applaud you. Those moments are what drive me to keep on playing.”
Unlike many students, Verlan did not start playing music after being handed an instrument by the teacher in elementary school. From the beginning, it was inevitable that Verlan would become involved in music. Having five sisters and both of his parents involved in orchestras was a large influence in defining the path that Verlan would take.
“They all started [in] orchestras, and so I kind of had to learn an instrument to not be kicked out of the family,” Verlan said.
However, Verlan’s beginning in music wasn’t quite as pleasant as it might sound. Verlan was born and raised on the outskirts if Ukraine and Russia in a city called Makeyevka.
Verlan’s family lived in poverty, though at the time he was too young to realize the struggles that his family faced.
“It was tough. I was a kid, I didn’t really know about poverty or lack of food or money or anything. As a kid, I found ways to have fun, but now that I think about it the memories are mostly pretty bad living in poverty,” Verlan said.
Even though they didn’t have much money, Verlan’s family still found ways for him to pursue music. He was taught to play the piano by Ukrainian instructors, which, according to Verlan, was not a great experience and turned him off of the instrument for a while afterward.
“I had teachers back in Ukraine teaching me how to play piano. It was painful and I cried, but with enough effort and determination and resilience it became enjoyable with years,” Verlan said.
After moving to the United States, Verlan’s musical interest began to prosper. After trying out drums, accordion and cello, Verlan settled for violin and piano, and eventually began to sing in the choir. Though Verlan started out taking violin lessons from his sister, he soon after began taking lessons from an actual violin teacher and excelled. As he sees it, many aspects of Verlan’s life have been altered by his instrumental choice, including his current lifestyles and his future.
For one, since beginning on the violin Verlan’s taste in music has changed. He has played everything from popular artists like Journey to fiddle music.
“There’s a good song in every genre, I think, and I like to play those songs,” Verlan said.
Most of the time, he plays classical music, such as pieces by Mozart or Beethoven. He said that the music he plays really influences the music that he listens to.
“I know whenever I get into the car I turn on the classical music station right away because I really like classical music, and I don’t think I would have ever enjoyed it if I continued, say, playing drums for the rest of my life,” Verlan noted.
In addition to changing his view on music and his preferences, playing in the orchestra has also impacted Verlan by bringing him closer to the people who he collaborates with.
He believes that being involved in music has helped him to become a part of a second family.
“Music is a way, I would say, to bring people together, bring people that you would normally ignore together. Music is about creating not only beautiful melodies, but it’s about bringing together people and maybe making a family out of those people,” he said.
In his future, Verlan sees orchestra taking a backseat, yet still remaining a big part of his life.
“I’ve spent way too much time on music to quit now. I’d really like to continue my lessons and maybe join a higher-up orchestra so I can look up to people there. I’d really like to continue in music and become a better violinist,” Verlan said.
However, good jobs in orchestras are few and far between, and he is not sure about pursuing a career in music.
“As you know probably, musicians don’t get paid much, at least in this day and age. It’s really tough to get a position at a good orchestra. Really one of the only options is becoming a teacher, and that’s not too attractive,” Verlan said.
Instead, Verlan has chosen the undecided degree at Edmonds Community College in hopes that he can figure out what he wants to do with his life while getting his prerequisites.
In whatever he does, the most important thing to him is the people he surrounds himself with.
When asked what advice he would give himself as a freshman, he said what English teacher Peter Breysse told him, a word of guidance that has actually had a sizable impact on Verlan’s life.
“Life is not about what you do, man, it’s about who you do it with.’ So learn to relax and make friends right now, and stop worrying about what you’re going to do, start worrying about who you’re going to do it with because you know you’re not going to want to do it alone.”
As he follows his passion for music and narrows down the direction his life will take, Verlan hopes to keep his focus on the people he surrounds himself with.