Claudia Fountain (Part 2)

Musician and Music Teacher

By Marjorie F. Eddington

Categories: Arts

In Part 2 of the interview, Claudia Fountain, a professional musician, shares insights about supply -- how she has been able to make a living playing and teaching music. Read on to find out how she dealt with rejection by a master teacher, learned to juggle many activities, and has felt blessed throughout her career.

How did your love for the violin begin?
In 4th grade, Mr. Mills showed us the instruments. I came home and announced to my family that I was going to play violin, and, that since Mr. Mills didn't have enough instruments for all the students, we could rent one. Soon after, Mr. Mills cornered my parents and told them, "I think she likes the violin and would do well with private lessons. Here's the name of a private teacher who could teach her how to play better."

In 8th grade, after my best friend, a flutist, told my family about a music camp in the pines of Idyllwild, California, we both attended together. We played music for 5-7 hours a day for two weeks and made friends with other like-minded budding musicians. By the time I got home, I had fallen in love with music.

Given the starving musician stereotype, how are you able to make a living for yourself?
I really like the 23rd Psalm: "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want." I shall not lack. It's a cruel thing to practice to get to a professional level and not be rewarded by it because you're not selling a video game. There must be a reward. I look at supply in a variety of ways. Whether I'm playing in a symphony, rock band, or jazz group, strolling around with my violin at a party, or playing in a string quartet for an upscale business event -- I see them all as priceless gifts. That is supply right there.

I'm always amazed by the donors who come up to the famous violinists, pianists, or conductors after a concert. While they come up afterwards to talk, I get to play music with them. I have had a chance to play with Pavorotti, Pinchas Zukerman, Itzak Perlman, etc. It's so wonderful to play next to them and see how they play or conduct. I take home what I learn and show my students.

Supply for me has always been there. When I moved back to the Bay Area in California, I was able to win the San Jose Symphony and Marin Symphony jobs. In addition, I was hired as a substitute with the San Francisco Opera orchestra when they needed a bigger violin section for the Romantic Operas. I was able to find nice shared housing arrangements in the Oakland area.

When I decided to move to San Jose and buy my own townhouse, I had to pay double what I was used to paying in rent, plus homeowner's fees and property taxes. Someone found me a few extra private students. The number of violin classes that I was teaching in San Rafael doubled, which also doubled my pay. Then, a part time teaching job at an elementary school district in San Jose doubled my income. I could afford my payments and even sell my old truck and get a new one. Each step of the way, I've been blessed with financial remuneration.

God has always taken care of me, as this passage promises: "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end" (Jer 29:11 KJV).

I like the CEV version of that Bible passage: "I will bless you with a future filled with hope—a future of success, not of suffering." It seems that teaching is a big part of God's blessing of supply for you. How did you get into education?
A lovely gentleman in my first year of college told us his story. He liked playing the bassoon, but he didn't like playing in the orchestra. He went back to school and got his doctorate, became a music educator, and was a very fine chair and teacher at USC. He got us interested in teaching. I decided to do everything to be a performing violinist, but also to stay an extra year to get my teaching credential. I volunteered in a public school in Los Angeles's Chinatown, teaching the violin to the cutest little kids. I wanted to talk to them like college students, not little ones, but they ran all over the place. The Area F Music Supervisor came in and said in a nice, firm voice, "Now boys and girls, sit down." I got my first teaching lesson right there.

Then because I had volunteered, I was given a summer school job at the public school helping out another teacher who was in charge of a 100-piece orchestra of 3rd-6th grade children for six weeks. He let me work with them in small groups. Then he told me I'd conduct the whole orchestra. It was a great experience.

Were there any challenges with teaching?
I had an interesting experience with my teaching credential. I got assigned to a primo elementary school teacher in a very large L.A. city school. He had such a large violin class that I'd be a help to him. When I arrived, he took one look at me and said, "I don't want you." It was all I could do not to cry in front of him. He continued to say he knew I didn't want to teach.

I went back to my advisor, who told me that she could move me to a different teacher, but she thought I should face it. She said, "You go back and prove to him that you want to teach." I knew she was right: I needed to face it, and I knew I could teach and work with the kids. I had already conducted a 100-piece orchestra of children. 31 elementary school children weren't scary to me.

So I went back to my assigned school to show my master teacher that I indeed did want to teach school. You can imagine my surprise and disappointment when I developed a case of laryngitis that lasted two weeks. Now, I was unable to teach or sing because my voice was gone. It's so obvious that that's where I would be challenged. I couldn't teach, but I could help. I stepped in and stopped any kid who looked like s/he was going to get into trouble. I walked around for 2 weeks, and then I got my voice back.

When I was ready to teach for the first time on my own, the principal, my college supervisor, and a whole array of scary people showed up to watch me. I just got up and had a fun time. My master teacher came up and told me that my college supervisor had nothing to say, and she usually had pages. From that time on, he became my cheerleader. First, he would teach a lesson, then he would send me to another class to teach it, while he went to another class to teach. I had a great time working with his string class and his choir. During this time, I was playing in symphonies each weekend in addition to my school studies and lesson planning for student teaching.

You must have had a full schedule with getting a teaching credential and performing. How did that work?
I learned to juggle a lot of different things. I did my student teaching for four hours in the morning, took classes in the afternoon, then had evening practices for symphonies, taught students one evening a week, and played in the orchestras over the weekend. I enjoyed it all and was very happy.

When I finished college, I got a teaching position for four years, which helped pay the bills, as my playing in local orchestras didn't. But when I went to the Aspen music festival and got into one of the top orchestras (much to my surprise), a gal who sat next to me auditioned for the National Symphony in Washington D.C. and won a chair in the orchestra. Because I was very intrigued that she was able to win an audition for such a great orchestra, I decided to go to Florida and audition for a job that was open in an orchestra there. I got into two orchestras. During that time, I got my Masters and taught violin privately. For a 3-month time I even played in a rock band in a beautiful nightclub.

Several years later, after having been in California for awhile, playing professionally in different symphonies, a friend offered me a job-share position at a public elementary school, teaching instrumental music. I teach three days a week, which gives me time to do all the prep work necessary to teach well, teach privately, and practice for my own performances.

Any last thoughts?
When you follow your heart and develop your talents, you can't be impoverished. Instead, you're rewarded with supply, joyful work, and an interesting path for your life with ample opportunities to "make a joyful noise unto the Lord" (Ps 100:1).