Walking up to this quiet Middleton suburban home, you would never guess that an accomplished violist lived there. The front door was open and I peered in before ringing the doorbell. Through the screen door I could make out a figure coming down the staircase to the front door. Violist, Teacher, Mom, and Wife, Marie Pauls greeted me with a smile and invited me in. She had just put her youngest down for a nap. She calls it her “Mom Power Hour”. On any other day, she would be taking advantage of this time to practice her craft, but today Marie made time to sit down with me.
We sat down at the kitchen table to chat and I made note of the collection of cool toys in the living room and a large hair bow tied to the chandelier above our heads. I wanted to get a feel for her typical day and I launched into a rambling question about how she manages all that she does. “Our schedules have changed a little bit now that my daughter is in kindergarten, but I get up, have my coffee and my son’s wake up time kind of varies. If he’s asleep, I like to sit and have some quiet time. That’s my ideal routine.” Marie chuckles as if to say it’s a crap shoot on what she can expect from day to day.
With a laugh, she said, “I take my kids a lot of places because I’m self employed and my husband is gone during the day. I think it’s great for kids to be out and not expect to always be catered to 24/7. Its kind of fun when my daughter comes along to the grocery store and crosses things off the grocery list. Leading up to lunch, the rest of the morning can be filled with errands, answering an email here and there, reading books with the kids and outdoor activities.” As I sit at the kitchen table, a cross breeze blows through the house and I glance behind me to the backyard. An impressive garden sits to the right of the house. I asked Marie if that was her garden. “No, that’s way too neat and tidy to be mine,” Marie said with a laugh. “Ours is over there,” as she pointed straight behind me. “Well it looks good to me,” I said. “I see tons of red tomatoes.”
Our conversation meandered back to what Marie calls her “Mom Power Hour”. “I have really wanted to prioritize practice during this time. It might not be for the entire time because there is always those last minute odds and ends, but I really try not to let the odds and ends take over because otherwise that would eat up the entire time and I would never get to playing my instrument. There are some warm-ups I do and some practice routine that I find when I do that, I’m in better shape and I feel like I learn my materials a lot more effectively whether it’s for an orchestra concert or chamber music.” I wanted to know if there was anything she was working on right now. “Right now I’m working on a chamber program that’s going to happen in October for the Noon Musicale series. I also have a couple possible auditions, so I’m working at keeping my excerpts in shape.”
Throughout our chat there was a common theme of balance that kept popping up. That balance includes a morning Yoga or Pilates class. Marie said, “It’s just a really good way for me to start my day and kind of clear my mind and I feel a lot more capable of doing other things. I’ve been focusing on my overall wellness. That includes exercise, nutrition, and getting sleep that I don’t think we always were encouraged to do as musicians, especially in college. I started to look at my overall wellness plan and playing my instrument is part of that. If I’m taking good care of myself mentally and physically, I’m able to do my job and take care of my family a lot more effectively. It’s not easy to do because I think musicians, teachers, and parents are giving people. We always want to help people and that’s a great thing, but sometimes it happens to the determent of taking care of our selves and then we are rendered useless. I am always learning because things are changing and shifting around. Balance is a life long pursuit. That means there will be wavering and falling from time to time.”
“Has focusing on your overall wellness impacted your playing?” I asked. “It has,” Marie said. “That’s why I started to do a lot of it because I felt like my body was physically out of balance and I was really trying to focus on my posture so I can play better. Playing an instrument is a very physical activity and I have started to treat myself more like an athlete. I’m feeling a lot more freedom in my body to be able to play my instrument and express what I want and the way that I want to, so I have a lot more flexibility and control over that. There’s also the spiritual component too. Just taking time to meditate and do spiritual reading and to be mindful and not to just blast through all the activities and go down the list. I need to really be aware of what I’m doing and how I’m doing it because that’s what we need to do when we are playing an instrument. For us, we go to church and that’s something that helps me reset each week and be center. It helps me with my interactions with my kids too. Just to recognize special things when they do happen. If my mind is elsewhere instead of noticing things like my son recently got a new haircut and the way his hair swirls on the top of his head is just so cute. So, just appreciating all of those things. I think that’s the difference in music between playing the notes and playing the rhythms versus the artistry part of it and the interesting details.”
Knowing Marie plays for a number of organizations, I had to ask what chamber group she was working with on the program coming up. “Wes Luke and I put together a group. I’m really excited about this because we’re playing a Brahms Viola Quintet and I’ve never played the piece before. I guess I would call it a bucket list piece.” Since they don’t have a name for this group, I gave a couple of suggestions. The No Names. The Unnamed. The way Marie laughed; I could tell I hadn’t impressed her with my creative branding. I asked her how this group came about. “I had been in touch with Dan at First Unitarian about possibly doing some programs for the Musicale series,” Marie explained. “I think it’s amazing that we have this in our community. He had a date just open up and it was a last minute thing and I thought, I think I can put something together. Wes and I have played together a lot and had tossed around a few ideas in the past that we wanted to do and it just evolved from there.”
I follow Marie on social media and see events, and pictures, and promotional plugs for so many events. Curious, I asked her what groups she is a part of. “Arbor Ensemble and The Evan Riley Band are my two most regular things. Frequently enough when Fresco Opera has performances. Periodically I play with Madison Symphony. I also sub with a lot of different quartets and random gigs.” I wondered how she kept her schedule straight. “My husband and I use goggle calendars for everything. We have all our calendars shared because he’s a fifth grade teacher and he’s also a soccer coach in the Fall and the Spring so those times are pretty hectic for us because his schedule is erratic after school and the evenings. We rely on the shared calendars to keep track of what things we have going on and the kid’s activities.”
I glanced over to the living room again to see the impressive stash of toys. Just like any home, you could tell there was a ton of action that takes place. The quiet we were experiencing in that moment was the calm in-between the storms. “So, once the nap ends, the fun begins?” I ask with a laugh. “My daughter gets home around 3 and I start teaching around 4 or 4:30. My goal is to have that time where I can give her more attention because I work during the evenings a lot. Our routine that we are working on establishing is after she gets home she gets a snack and a little bit of downtown and if my son is still asleep, I get to practice violin with her.” I asked if she took lessons from her. “She takes lessons from me. Eventually I would like to have her working in some capacity with another teacher because I think that would be helpful for her because the mom teacher dynamic can be challenging.” I totally understood Marie and the dynamic of taking lessons from family. It’s the same reason why I can’t take voice lessons from my wife. I know how to push her buttons.
“So, do you start lessons at 4:30 and go straight through?” I asked. “This year I cut back my studio a little bit because I didn’t want to be scheduled so tightly. After I get done teaching, we finally sit down and eat dinner. That’s the time I get to finally sit down and connect with my husband and talk about the day.” I asked her who she thought her biggest fan was. “I would say my husband. He’s always doing these behind the scenes roles and he’s helping with the kids or figuring out ways to manage our schedules so that he can do the things that he’s passionate about and I can do the things that I’m passionate about. He’s always been there for me and supporting what I do. Even for my student’s recitals, a lot of times he’s running the video camera or passing out programs. I would also say my parents because they have really nurtured my musical development since I was a kid. They still frequently come to concerts when they can and encourage me to keep playing and trying for new things. I have one close friend, Mary, who has been with me through thick and thin and knows me so well. She’s a musician too, so she has a unique understanding of the challenges of being a working musician and putting yourself out there.”
Everyone has their origin story. Basically, how they found their art. Marie said, “I started with my mom as a young child. I was three years old and she taught Suzuki Violin, so I was also around it. I played violin for a long time and then in high school my mom asked me if I wanted to play viola since I was in a camp that needed more people to play viola. I tried it and found that I really like viola and I ended up switching to that as my major instrument. Now its kind of fun seeing my daughter from the parent angle. She would see kids come and go for lessons and she wanted to have lessons too. It’s interesting being the parent now and I really try to encourage her anyway I can, but not force it on her either. I know she enjoys it and I want to keep it that way. On the flip side it’s not good to become too lax. If you think that music is important for a child to learn then you should find a way for them to learn.”
The interview was a smattering of small talk and typical interview questions. I made a point to send the questions to Marie ahead of time because I didn’t want to surprise her. I looked down at my phone on the table in front of me to see what I hadn’t asked. With a grin I asked, “What do you like and dislike about the classical music scene in Madison?” Marie said, “What I like about it is that there is so many gifted musicians and artists here. For the size of the community, I think Madison is chalked full of talent and artistry. On the flip side, I don’t feel the community supports musicians as well as they could. Within the music community, I think we could support each other better and as for the non-music community, I would really love to see more support and interaction. I think we’re fortunate that we live in a university town and that the university brings so much cultural wealth to the community. In a way, people in Madison take for granted that we have access to all of these wonderful cultural events right at our fingertips. There are so many high level professional concerts that are really low cost or free. I would also like to see more support for the small fish so to speak. There are a lot of individuals and smaller organizations that are doing amazing things and certainly there are ways within the music community we could reach out to the greater Madison community. That would be my main dislike. I feel the music community and beyond could be more cohesive.”
“So, what’s the most rewarding part of being a musician?” I asked. “For me, when I realize that I have had a positive impact on somebody else. Whether it’s one of my students who are excited that they can play a new piece or they had a breakthrough in their playing or if it’s somebody that came to a performance and was moved by it. Somehow, what I’m doing brought joy to somebody else through music. That’s the most rewarding thing because I do feel like as a musician, my goal is to have a positive impact on people through music. I believe it enriches people’s lives whether you’re playing it or experiencing it.”