Violinist Isabel Trautwein was born in Huntsville, Alabama and started violin at age five with a cello teacher. A major childhood inspiration was conductor Pamela Gearhart who created a summer camp in Alabama and passed on to her students her great joy for making music. At age twelve, Isabel’s family moved back to their native Germany.  In her teen years Isabel enjoyed participating in national solo and chamber music programs, and playing in various European Youth Orchestras which toured to Israel, Africa and India under such conductors as Sergiu Celibidache, Claudio Abbado and Zubin Mehta. After completing undergraduate studies in Luebeck, Germany, Isabel received government grants to study with Donald Weilerstein at the Cleveland Institute of Music. In quick succession, she then joined the New World Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas as a concertmaster, the Houston Symphony under Christoph Eschenbach and the St. Louis Symphony for four years in three different positions, including one year as Resident Musician, a unique experimental position which combined orchestral duties as principal second and first violin section with extensive Outreach work. Isabel joined the Pacifica String Quartet for one year.  During that year, the Quartet played over 60 concerts in the U.S. and Greece. Since 2002 she has been a member of the first violin section in The Cleveland Orchestra under Franz Welser-Moest. She is also an enthusiastic violin teacher to her young students and serves as a board member for Heights Arts, a regional arts collaborative where since 2006 she has run the chamber music series featuring orchestra members and CIM faculty at concerts throughout the community, performing in diverse places such as libraries, detention centers and mansions. In 2006 she created TACO, The Awesome Children's Orchestra, an orchestra for kids and professional musicians which has performed at Cleveland’s Severance Hall with over 60 players, ranging in age from 5 to 74. TACO has also performed many times in smaller groups at the Cleveland Clinic for patients and staff.

Read Isabel Trautwein's blog

A Talk with Isabel Trautwein

1. Why did you apply to the Abreu Fellows Program?

Since hearing the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra I have been dreaming of the possibilities for such a program in the US.  When I read about El Sistema USA, I immediately knew that I would love to be a part of this movement.

2. What tools will you develop during this fellowship and how do you think these tools will be useful in your future post?

My goal in this year is to study closely the inner workings of El Sistema programs already established in the US.  Knowing that my dream is to work with children directly and develop programs for them, I would like to learn about teaching in group settings, early childhood music education and pedagogy.  I am also very interested in helping to create a vision for a Cleveland-based program based upon what we see this year in other cities.  While every city is unique, hopefully the successful models of elsewhere can be tailored to fit our community.

3. Where do you see yourself in five years? What will you be doing and why?

In five years we will hopefully have created two things:

   –a music program for all interested children in an under-served community.  This program would ideally be growing every year, attracting children and parents because they have found a place of safety and joy.  The teaching will be daily and free of charge. The progress of the young musicians will undoubtedly be quick and effortless, showing once again that talent and passion are to be found everywhere.  Our goal will be to strengthen the communities and to improve the chances for a successful life in the children we are teaching.

   –a city-wide network that connects all the children and professionals involved in Classical music to one another. The purpose of this network would be to foster relationships among the different institutions and, more concretely, to bring together larger groups of musicians to play together on special occasions.  There is transformational power in playing music as part of a large group.  I dream about a July 4th concert with every musician in the city playing Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture together at a free public concert.

4. Why do you think that music education is important to a child’s development?

I have seen in myself and in my teaching that music instruction is valuable in so many ways for children.  These advantages include:  improved coordination, concentration, reading and math skills.  I also believe strongly in developing less measurable skills such as respect for one another through ensemble playing, improving self esteem through performance and the powerful realization that one is capable of bringing joy to other humans through the incredible beauty of our art form.

5. Write a short analysis of the present state of music education for children in the US. What has been done right and where do you see room for improvement?

There is so much good work happening!  The high level of teaching, both privately and at the Conservatory level has likely never been higher.   Sadly, for many children, music instruction in the US is unavailable.  It can be very expensive and involves a great time commitment from parents.  I believe that improving this situation is the most important part of my dream.

6. How did you learn about El Sistema?

About seven years ago, a friend who does not attend concerts (because she deems them "too serious") handed me a video about El Sistema.  It is surely no coincidence that this is how I learned about El Sistema.  My friend does not love concerts, but she does love what our music has done for so many children in Venezuela. This is a wonderful example of how, by reaching out to our entire community, we will increase the excitement for what we do as musicians.

7. Why do you think El Sistema is unique? What elements made the El Sistema program successful where others were not?

Undoubtedly, the fact that in Venezuela highest-level music education is free of charge to every participant makes an enormous difference. It democratizes access in a very unique way. Apart from that, the foremost focus of El Sistema is the transformation of children's lives through music.  As I understand it, the goal of Maestro José Antonio Abreu was to keep children safe and give them skills that could help them lead fulfilled lives.Maestro Abreu, by working with his students daily and interacting on a deep personal level with them, showed a very strong commitment to changing their lives. Through his passionate teaching, he gave these children skills that they desired to pass on to others. In a few short years, he was able to transform the lives of many.There are many successful programs in our communities. Their goals are often less ambitious then Maestro Abreu's are.  I believe we can strive to have more music programs that seek to change children's lives in addition to the traditional ideals of exposing children to great art and enriching their lives through music.

8. Have you worked with or mentored children in the past?

I have been teaching privately since I was 15 and have in the past ten years given concerts or classes in many diverse settings, most recently at the juvenile detention center.