At age 11, Myra Lin discovered something essential to her craft: Practice. She says she would wake up at five in the morning, practice violin for two hours, go to school, practice for another two hours and then, finally, she’d work on homework.
Her dedicated lifestyle took her to the University of Southern California where she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in violin performance and then to SUNY at Stony Brook University in New York where she conducted her doctoral work.
Now age 51, partnering with friend and guitarist Alex Zawilak as the violin-guitar duo La Belle Époque and living in Gilbert, Ariz., Lin reflects on her musical upbringing.
“For me music was part of my life,” says Lin. She says her strict practice schedule made little time for social routines, so when her aptitude for playing the violin surfaced, it came as a surprise to those she knew. “I used to tell people, ‘I wasn’t good by sprinkling fairy dust; I practiced.’ And I owe a lot of that to my mother.”
Her mother, Pee-Yaw Lim Wilkes, was an esteemed musician and teacher herself. The Royal College of Music in London awarded Lim Wilkes, at age 16, with a scholarship to further her studies at its institution. In 1966, Lim Wilkes and her husband relocated to Flagstaff, only five weeks after Lin was born. Her husband, Stanley N. Wilkes, began work teaching at Northern Arizona University and Lim Wilkes began her career as a concert artist and music educator. As her daughter’s teacher, she would drive Lin more than seven hours to Albuquerque, N.M., for additional violin lessons.
“If she hadn’t done that I wouldn’t have been as good as I was,” says Lin. “My mother was a very, very fine pianist and teacher.”
Lim Wilkes’ influence reached statewide and beyond, and she held leadership positions at the Northern Arizona Music Teachers Association, the Arizona State Music Teachers Association and the Music Teachers National Association. On Oct. 30, Pee-Yaw passed away, leaving her life and legacy for her children to carry on.
To honor their mother, Lin and her two sisters, Milla and Marielle, established the Pee-Yaw Lam Wilkes Memorial Piano Scholarship with the help of the Northern Arizona University Foundation. It was created to “provide emerging talent with the tools to excel at their craft,” according to the foundation.”
In hopes of raising awareness for the endowment in her mother’s name, Lin and La Belle Époque will perform on Feb. 10 at the Coconino Center for the Arts during the closing reception to its current exhibit Arrangement for a Silent Orchestra by Flagstaff artist Julie Comnick. Lin, who lives in the same neighborhood as the artist, says she was floored by Comnick’s vision when La Belle Époque performed at the opening reception.
When Flagstaff artist Julie Comnick began collecting discarded violins to light on fire in 2009, it was with the idea of exploring the impact …
“I think she’s a fabulous artist,” says Lin. “The message behind the exhibit struck me immediately. My respect for her grew tenfold. It took her seven years to complete the exhibit, so just a tremendous amount of work had gone into it, and I just thought it was beautiful.”
La Belle Époque derives its name from “The Beautiful Period” in Western history from 1871 with the end of the Franco-Prussian War to 1914 with the start of World War I. Lin says she was inspired by the art and experimentation of the time, specifically in Paris.
“[The Beautiful Period] really represents us well because we play all kinds of music. We don’t just play classical. We play music from all over the world and all kinds of genres,” says Lin.
The guitar duo mostly works in the Valley, performing for concerts weddings and special events, hand-selecting each set to fit the mood and atmosphere of their venue.
“Your typical classical concert, sometimes it’s so boring,” laughs Lin. “We love our programming because we get to pick our pieces, and we try to pick things that are going to stimulate the senses.”
For the closing reception, the group has arranged a violin-guitar composition of Zigeuner-Capriccio by Fritz Kreisler, an arrangement typical for violin-piano duos.
While Lin is excited to premier the arrangement, she says she’s more excited to return to Flagstaff. She hopes eventually her musical career will provide her enough work to stay in town.
“I have such a deep connection to Flagstaff. My parents built that house that we live in now. It’s still our house. Our back yard is our national forest,” she says. “I’ve been all over the world and it really is lovely to come home.”
See La Belle Époque this Saturday at the Coconino Center for the Arts. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the concert begins at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased in advance for $12 at the center, Arizona Music Pro or online at www.flagartscouncil.org. Tickets will also be available for $15 day-of.