Nasr Sheikh ’21 on why he chose the viola

Nasr Sheikh ’21 headshot viola

His music-loving parents helped keep him playing.

In his own words, Nasr Sheikh (MM ’21) discusses why he chose to play the viola.

I moved nine times by the time I was in sixth grade. When I was in fifth grade, my dad said, “Okay, we're gonna stay in this neighborhood until you graduate high school.” And we did. In fifth grade one of my friends said, “Hey, you should go for orchestra because it'll look good on your resume.” He’d already taken two years of the violin so I said, “You know, why not?” Everyone kept telling me “Do bass, do cello. Your hands are so big.” It was a turn-off to do what everyone expected. I was dared by my friend to do viola—he pointed out no one plays the viola. So I thought, “Alright, sure.”

I remember I was a year into playing the viola when I went to visit my mom in Pakistan. My whole family was there. I played the Bach Cello Suite No. 1 in G major Prélude and my whole family loves music, but they don't understand classical music. So within the first two bars, they just started talking and not paying attention. I was pretty over it. My mom came to me to console me because she knew how annoying that was. She gets Western music or at least classical music for that matter. She said, “That was good. You’ve got to keep doing that.” My mom passed away when I was 18. She was the first fan that I had. And I listened to her advice. I kept playing the viola and pursued a career in music.

My parents were definitely music lovers. My mom was obsessed with Prince and my dad with Stevie Wonder. They were in America for five or six years before my sister and I were born. My mom was a really good writer and my dad started his own newspaper business. It was always about journalism and telling the truth. I applied my dad’s work-life and Islamic philosophy to my music: work honestly, be a decent human being, and keep your head down. I hope that eventually someone will recognize or acknowledge what I’m doing and give me a worthwhile job. I want to be able to teach and play at the same time. It’s kind of the most basic answer you can get, but I really like nerding out on music. So I feel like being a professor would make sense. Any kind of teaching experience would be nice, as long as I'm able to professionally play.

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