Penn State College of Arts and Architecture
Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State

Hannah White regarded the violin as a toy—until she played one and fell in love

By Teona Ringgold

Violinist Hannah White, first-place winner in the 2015 Sphinx Competition Junior Division, dazzled a Schwab Auditorium audience September 29 with her solo performance of César Espejo’s Prélude Ibérique during a concert featuring the Sphinx Virtuosi.

The young musician has soloed with many ensembles, including the Cleveland and Dexter Community orchestras; Buffalo Philharmonic; and the New World, South Bend, Milwaukee, Ann Arbor, and Madison symphonies.

In addition to taking the top prize at Sphinx, she has won first place in various national and international competitions, including Saint Paul String Quartet Competition; Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Young Artists; Music Teachers National Association at the national, regional, and state levels; and Chinese Fine Arts Music Competition. She also has received top prizes at chamber music competitions throughout the world.

White took time from her busy schedule to answer a few questions.

Teona Ringgold: When and why did you start playing?
Hannah White: I started playing the violin when I was 7. My parents rented a violin for my older brother, and I was intrigued by it. I regarded it as another toy we would share. When I played it, I immediately fell in love with it.

Ringgold: As a kid, did you know this is exactly what you wanted to do? Or did you just kind of stumble across it?
White: Shortly after starting lessons on the violin, I joined an orchestra and signed up for every solo opportunity I could. About a year after playing, I knew this was what I wanted to do the rest of my life.

Ringgold: Do you come from a musical background?
White: I don’t really come from a musical family. My mom played the violin through high school, but she was not serious. However, my parents and brothers are very supportive of my musical life.

Ringgold: Who has been a mentor to you or has inspired you throughout your career?
White: The person who has been a mentor to me is Rachel Barton Pine. She inspires me and motivates me. I think the world of her as a person, as well as a musician.

Ringgold: If you could play a piece with any musician, dead or alive, who would it be?
White: If I can play a piece with any musicians—dead or alive—it would have to be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Niccolò Paganini. Mozart because he was so amazing, he could write a piece on his way to an event and perform it there, and Paganini because I think he was the most technical violinist to have lived.

Ringgold: What are some songs on your playlist right now?
White: Some pieces on my playlist are Jean Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto, Devil’s Trill by Giuseppe Tartini, Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Scherzo, and some Christian and Hebrew songs. I like to listen to what I am working on at the moment.

Ringgold: Do you feel music and/or the arts in general should be added to school curriculums?
White: I think music and arts should be added to school curriculum. For me, it has helped me with discipline, focus, confidence, and working with others. I feel it can be a great asset to kids in general.

Ringgold: Where do you hope your music career will lead you?
White: I hope I can continue doing what I am doing right now, but at a greater capacity. During this Sphinx Virtuosi tour, we are reaching new audiences—young and old—and from all backgrounds. I can see myself soloing, performing in chamber, and teaching.

Ringgold: How do you feel about the diversity, or lack thereof, in classical music? Is there enough representation of people of color in orchestras and composers?
White: I definitely feel there is a lack of diversity in classical music. There needs to be more representation of people of color in orchestras, soloists, chamber musicians, and composers. That is why I am happy to be part of Sphinx.

Ringgold: What instrument, if any, have you been curious to learn other than your own?
White: Other than the violin, I would like to take voice lessons. I like the violin because it is most like the voice, so why not learn voice? I feel it would help me play better. However, I still like the violin better because, although it is similar to voice, it can do things singers cannot do.

Read interviews with Sphinx violist Celia Hatton and cellist Karlos Rodriguez.

Teona Ringgold, a Penn State junior majoring in advertising, is a communications intern with the Center for the Performing Arts. Ringgold recently completed an internship in New York City with O Magazine. The Pittsburgh native comes from a family of musicians and has grown up with the arts as a strong influence. She even attended a performing arts high school. She is involved on campus and in the community, and continues to explore the topic of diversity and inclusion in the arts.