Maestro in the making
A violin is merely an object, but when wielded with masterful hands, it can sing.
Polished spruce and ebony gleam. Rosin dust particles drift gently in the air. The bow bites the strings. Cream-colored horsehair coaxes a lyrical voice from the instrument and brings it to life.
Luci DiCenso of Alexandria has spent about 10 years of her 17 refining the craft of violin playing. As she excels in the musical world, she puts her skills to use in another way — teaching violin students, both young and old.
Building a foundation
DiCenso, the daughter of Nancy and Douglas DiCenso, took up music lessons at about age 7.
"I tried piano first, but then I decided there shouldn't be more keys than fingers," she said. "So I decided, hey, a violin has four strings. I want to play violin."
Chuck Wencl of Alexandria mentored her for the first few years before she started up with Dean Dainsberg, also of Alexandria. After a good four years playing under Dainsberg, she took a break until she found Dr. Marion Judish out of St. Cloud in November 2016.
Though already an advanced violinist, DiCenso hopes Judish can help her gain more musicianship, perfect technique and continue to improve "because you're never really done learning," she said.
DiCenso plays with the Central Lakes Symphony Orchestra and participates in the Alexandria Area High School orchestra and Rainbow Strings.
"I enjoy sharing a passion with other musicians. To make an inanimate object sing is the coolest thing a person can do," she said. "When you're performing with people, even just in rehearsal, you're sitting there, you're playing. Then something magical happens. Then you get this intense feeling in your heart. It's indescribable. You're creating something beautiful. You're creating something emotional. It's ... wow."
DiCenso has participated in solo ensemble contests at the high school since ninth grade. Only a select number of students move on from the local contest, and she has done so every year. At the regional competition, she has also attained a perfect score of 40.
In her quest to cultivate technique, she posted her musical accomplishments on getacceptd.com, a networking website for the arts.
In the summer of 2015, a representative of the Honors Performance Series contacted DiCenso via the website and invited her to perform with the elite youth orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
DiCenso would have said "yes" immediately, but the fee to travel and attend proved too much, so she had to decline.
Destined to teach
Later that summer, DiCenso decided to pursue a new vocation with her chosen instrument.
"I love to tutor my friends. If they're struggling with math or English, I was always their tutor," she said. "So I realized, I'm pretty good at teaching. I like violin. I should teach violin."
DiCenso researched several teaching methods through books and articles and settled on a system used by former Juilliard instructor Louise Behrend.
"She was, I think, the first person at Juilliard to really employ the style of encouragement," DiCenso said. "Some teachers will tell you you've got to break the student, but ... I have a method where you take the student and you're encouraging them, you're telling them, 'Even if you mess up, it's just another step you have to get through.' You just really have to be kind and loving toward the student, otherwise they won't want to learn."
A phone call to Carlson Music Center in Alexandria landed DiCenso an immediate interview with owner Ron Carlson.
"Luci ... was, I think, 15 years old at the time. She is very gifted musically and dedicated to the violin," Carlson said. "When we look at somebody teaching for us, we look at not necessarily their age but their ability to teach others. They have to be dependable, presentable and gifted. Luci fit the bill. She knew how to teach violin. There was no question about it."
DiCenso started out with one student, but once word got out, her clientele jumped to eight. Currently, she has five students.
The first time DiCenso meets a student, she takes time to assess the student's personality — whether shy, outgoing or somewhere in the middle — and learns their likes and dislikes.
Then, she begins with the parts of a violin and resting positions, ultimately hoping to prepare students to play in an orchestra if they should choose to do so.
Finally, she balances the basics with engaging materials that suit the student's musical preferences.
"Now, a lot of teachers will tell you, 'No, for me to teach you, you have to have my learning style,'" she said. "Well, everyone's different. You can't do that. It really takes adaptability and flexibility to understand people's learning styles and for you to know how to deal with them."
Because her students have ranged in age from 5 to 65, she is well versed in adapting.
Younger students, for instance, are typically faster paced and ready to go, she said, while older students are more relaxed and willing to take things slowly to get everything right.
"Every lesson, I ask, 'Have you practiced?' And every lesson, they always dread it," she said, laughing.
"I love performing, but I think a career in music or music performance would be a little much," DiCenso said.
Not only is it a competitive field, but the occupation can be exposed to substance abuse and other negative effects, she said.
However, she does plan to continue teaching lessons when she graduates and starts a career.
Currently, she's thinking of double majoring in anthropology and creative writing. She would also like to incorporate her love of art into her potential career and maybe even dabble as a luthier, a maker of stringed instruments, having already shadowed St. Paul luthier Andy Fein.
"Luci is just a sweetheart," Carlson said. "She comes from a good family, she's real dedicated, and I think she's got a terrific future in front of her."