Maria van der Sloot ’19 doesn’t remember when she was first introduced to classical music. As the child of two violinists, music was a natural part of her upbringing. She does, however, remember her first performance. “I wanted to one-up my brother who was playing the piano. He now plays the cello and is a composer, and I’m still trying to one-up him.” Aside from some playful rivalry, music bonds the entire family together—all five siblings are musicians.
A native of Medicine Hat, Alberta, and later Calgary, van der Sloot was mostly homeschooled. She took lessons and played in ensembles at the conservatory at Mount Royal College. “That was my way of learning how to socialize and make friends. I learned about other people through music.”
Even at a young age, van der Sloot knew music had a special place in her life. “I played in my first chamber music group when I was ten and it felt like home.” Today, she is a master’s student in chamber music at SFCM with a concentration in violin, studying with Ian Swensen and Cordula Merks.
With two professional violinists as parents, it would be easy to assume her parents helped her practice. But van der Sloot was very firm on this: “We made a contract when I was seven, and we agreed that they would never teach me at home and they would never comment on my practicing. My father taught me until I left for university, but, at home, he was just my dad. I had my lessons at the college.” Although the story, van der Sloot admits, might have been exaggerated over time, the rule was agreed upon by all. Of course, it’s not a perfect system. “Sometimes, even now, it gets broken if I’m practicing at home and I’m complaining about something I can’t play, my mom or dad will yell from the other room with advice.”
In high school, van der Sloot’s string quartet won the grand prize in the Canadian Music Competition, an experience that helped catalyze her love for chamber music. From then on, she knew that for her, music was more than learning to play a difficult passage or being a soloist, it was an outlet for communication, collaboration, and connection.
“The best repertoire for the violin is in the chamber music literature. Solo music is great, but it’s lonely. I miss the interaction with others. Everything in how you approach a solo piece and how you develop it is so highly focused on you, your imagination, your experience. I like to be alone most of the day when I’m not playing music, so when I’m playing music I want to be with other people, communicating with them.”
After van der Sloot finished her undergraduate degree at New England Conservatory, she took a break from the violin, “I took about a year off and explored other things.” But she couldn’t stay away for long. When the Calgary Philharmonic offered her temporary work as a substitute, she couldn’t say no. “I felt like I had missed it so much and once I started playing again my quality of life shot up.”
The violin had become more than a job, it was a vocation, a calling. Van der sloot realized, “This is my voice, this is how I express myself, this is where I feel at home.” With this newfound connection to music, she decided to go back to school, and, in 2017, enrolled in SFCM’s chamber music master’s degree program.
“I looked at programs all over. I’d known Ian Swensen, my teacher, for years and always really admired his playing and teaching. I asked him if I should apply and he said, ‘Yes, apply for the chamber major program.’ I read up on it and thought, ‘Wow, this is amazing—a program where I can get a degree as an individual in chamber music.’”
A big draw for many chamber students is SFCM’s curriculum that calls for students and faculty to play in ensembles together. “You don’t see these opportunities to play with faculty and guests anywhere else. I’m doing a degree in what I want to be doing: playing chamber music, playing with people whom I admire, and I can’t think of a better way to be spending my master’s degree. I feel like I really lucked out.” This network of support at SFCM was essential to her success as a student and musician.
“For example, I got to play the Enescu Octet with the Telegraph Quartet. We rehearsed for three hours, three times a week, for weeks. They really took the time to get into the music with us. It felt like deep, focused work that improved because we got to work together for such a long time.”
After van der Sloot graduates in 2019, she will join the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra as a section first violinist. “Ideally, orchestra feels like big chamber music. The skills you develop in chamber music are the same ones you need in an orchestra. When there are only four players, it’s so easy to tell when something is wrong. Those skills really translate. That’s also why I wanted to do this chamber master’s program.”
When asked what advice she would give to an aspiring musician, van der Sloot says, “Try to always be surrounded by a few people you feel inspired by and who are special to you. They will help you get from A to B and achieve your goals.” At SFCM, she was able to do just that.