Violin, Viola and Vigor: Versatile Virtuosity

Sasha Ki

Violinist/ Violist/ Certified Personal Trainer

(Philadelphia, PA)

The man was famous with many followers on Instagram. Since he and I had several mutual friends on Facebook, I would see him pop up every now and then with crazy videos. I would see him play the violin so sensitively and beautifully in one video then I’d see him do box jumps of impossible heights in another. When asked by his sister if I wanted an introduction, there was no way I was going to turn it down. I had to meet this music virtuoso with a bionic body. When he came over to my house for the interview/photo shoot, he had the warmest smile. I immediately felt comfortable with him.

Hazel:  How did you get started playing the violin?

Sasha:  My mother, Galina, is a professional violinist.  Growing up, instead of going to a pre-school, I would go to symphony orchestra rehearsals with her.  After the first rehearsal, my mom asked me, “What instrument do you like the most?” She thought I would say the violin, but I was fascinated by the loudness of the percussion instruments.  So, when my mom and I went to the music school, we decided to sign up for percussion and violin lessons.

Hazel:  Did you like the violin from the beginning?

Sasha:  I liked the violin and its repertoire from the beginning, but I didn’t like practicing multiple hours a day when I was a kid.  However, when I turned fifteen, I discovered that music could be an incredible tool to express emotions — I started to enjoy practicing and working on a piece of music much more.

Hazel:  Was your mom your violin teacher?

Sasha:  In a way, she was!  We practiced together almost every day until I went to Omsk Music College.  However, I’ve always had great violin teachers while studying at the music school.

Hazel:  How was it practicing with your mother?

Sasha:  She would listen to my playing meticulously, direct my attention to the mistakes, and we would try to fix them together.  Because she was so detailed in her remarks, I became accustomed to listening to myself critically from a young age.

Hazel:  I can relate to your mom.  While I’m not a musician, I had some training in it.  It’s not an easy task to be the practice coach for your child.  I serve as a music practice coach to both my girls.  I can be super critical as if I were listening to myself play.  It is entirely different from teaching another kid.  Did you and do you practice a lot?

Sasha:  I do not practice as much as I used to when I was growing up.  Sometimes I feel that working on the musical piece without the instrument is more important than the actual physical practicing.  It takes time for the music to be absorbed.  That being said, I do have my routine of practicing scales and different exercises for a few hours a day on average before getting to the pieces.

Sasha was a very easy going model. He gladly stood in a tight staircase and played his violin.

Hazel:  When did you come to the States, and what made you come?

Sasha:  In the beginning of 2012, I decided that I wanted to come to the United States to study. A fellow Novosibirsk Conservatory alumni, Tatiana Abramova, introduced me to Dr. Eduard Schmieder at Temple University by relaying my recording to him. Dr. Schmieder called me a few days later and asked me if I could come and meet him at the Mozarteum Summer Academy in Salzburg, where he was giving masterclasses.  At the end of the masterclasses, Dr. Schmieder asked me if I would like to study with him at Temple University. Of course, I said, “Yes!” When I came back home, I received an email from the university offering me a full-scholarship. I was and am beyond grateful to Dr.Eduard Schmieder and Temple University for this opportunity.

Hazel:  I know Dr. Schmieder because he is the husband of Laura Schmieder, who was my sister’s violin teacher.

Sasha:  Wow! It’s such a small world. I know Laura Schmieder very well. She is the director of the iPalpiti Artists International Festival, which happens in California every year.  It’s a music organization that helps artists from different parts of the world to get exposure in the U.S.  I participated in iPalpiti’s concert series for four years in a row.  Every year we would end the concert series by having a grand finale at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.  The last time I was there, I played the viola.

Hazel:  That’s so cool!  I love that concert hall!  Can I ask you something? I never fully understood the difference between an Artist Diploma and a master’s degree. How are they different?

Sasha:  The Artist Diploma is a non-degree program created for experienced performers with emphasis on developing the repertoire and designed to meet the needs of performers who are preparing to embark upon a professional career.  It helped me to transition into the U.S. because I had plenty of time to study English, learn about the culture, and have private lessons with my teacher.  It’s not a formal degree like a master’s degree. That first year, I took Intensive English Language Program (IELP) classes at Temple, listened to a lot of podcasts, and attended stand-up comedy shows to learn the language.

Hazel:  That’s so smart of you to went to stand-up comedy shows. I do believe that you have truly mastered a language if you can understand the humor and jokes and even more so if you can make jokes in that language.

Sasha:  True.  I wanted to understand the American culture more, and I thought understanding American humor was one of the best ways to do so. I had a strong desire to speak the language more expressively and colorfully.

I made him play more music. I could hear him play all day. Such a big perk of taking photos of a talented musician!

Hazel:  After the Artist Diploma, what did you do?

Sasha:  I earned my master’s degree in music performance.  Initially, I thought about doing a doctorate but decided not to.  Then, after I completed the master’s degree, I had to figure out my next steps.  I decided that I should take advantage of all possible opportunities at that time. Taking auditions was one of them.  That year, the Philadelphia Orchestra had an audition, but only for the viola section.

Hazel:  But you didn’t know how to play the viola at that time?

Sasha:  No, I didn’t, but I was willing to try to learn the instrument.  The only thing was I had minimal time.

Hazel:  How limited?

Sasha:  I had about 15 days after the violin audition I had just played.

Hazel:  15 DAYS?  That’s insane!!

Sasha:  Yeah, haha.  I had to cut my sleep short those 15 days.  Most of the technical adjustment was easy enough.  Though, the space between the left-hand fingers, vibrato, and the weight distribution on the bow are very different from the violin, and of course, the alto clef.  At that time, I didn’t have a decent viola, so I decided to go to Christopher Germain’s violin shop and asked him if he knew anybody who could rent one out.  When I asked him, he pointed at one of the violas he had and said that I should try it.  I played on it for a few minutes and fell in love with the sound of that instrument.  Christopher let me borrow that instrument for the audition without ever charging anything.  His generosity of letting me have that beautiful viola made practicing and learning the alto clef, which was the most challenging part of the whole journey, more pleasant. 

Hazel:  You know that is truly remarkable!  I like the fact that you were daring and took risks like that.  How did the audition go?

Sasha:  I didn’t get the job, but it went very well.  The audition committee didn’t stop me, and I got to play through everything. More importantly, I had a wonderful experience and learned to play another instrument.

Hazel:  What do you do now as a musician?

Sasha:  I do a lot of different things, mostly playing with major groups in the city and teaching. Also, I play a lot of chamber music.

Hazel:  Out of all the music-related work, what do you like the most?

Sasha:  I would say playing chamber music, especially if it’s with my sister Anna, who is a fantastic pianist. There is no one quite like her to collaborate with.

Hazel:  Anna IS a great pianist!  I used to play music with my sister also until she got too good near the end of my high school. It was great fun to play at weddings and such with her.  Now, I want to talk about your personal trainer career. How did you get started?

Sasha:  I have always loved playing sports and anything athletic.  I grew up playing and watching ice hockey.  Some of my childhood friends became professional hockey players.  We used to play together a lot.  At around 11, I had to choose between violin and hockey, as it would be impossible to afford to do both. It was a difficult choice, but I stuck with the violin.  But, I never let go of my love for sports.  When I was studying in Novosibirsk Conservatory, I played floorball, which is a type of floor hockey with five players and a goalkeeper on each team. Around the same time, I organized the first floorball team in Novosibirsk and had the chance to host the first floorball tournament among Siberian cities, the first in its history.  Some of the players on our team played hockey professionally, and after the floorball tournament was over, they asked me if I would like to train with them.  That was how I got back into playing hockey.

Hazel:  It’s incredible that you still have all your teeth! How did you become a personal trainer?

Sasha:  Before moving to the States, I used to concentrate on leg training, being afraid of injuring my hands.  At the same time, I wanted to change my body composition and strengthen the upper body.  While getting my master’s degree, I decided to learn more about fitness and nutrition so I could train smartly and make sure to avoid injuries.  In 2016, I passed the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) test.  The exam was pretty challenging.  I learned a lot about human anatomy and how to work with clients with different needs.  At first, learning more about workouts and knowing how to train myself motivated me to study.  Now, I get a lot of joy from helping others to get fit and achieve a healthier lifestyle.

Hazel:  What is your exercise routine?

Sasha:  I try to do High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and circuit training about four times a week. It solely depends on my fitness goal at the time.  Changing the program every month is the way to go. I also try to do hotbox yoga twice a week.

Hazel:  What is hotbox yoga?

Sasha:  It’s essentially, yoga and sauna combined.  Hotbox yoga is a modern yoga performed under hot and humid conditions.

Hazel:  I know a big part of the fitness training equation is the diet. What is your philosophy on that?

Sasha:  The diet and eating healthy are much more critical in achieving a fitness goal than most people might think.  What we eat affects our recovery time, our mood, and our energy levels.  It pretty much affects everything.  After learning about this, I changed my diet and started to eat more healthy fats.

Hazel:  Wow, that’s awesome that you are so disciplined. I like my carbs too much!

Sasha and I ended the day by me following him to one of the gyms he trained at to capture some images of him doing his exercises.  I was awed by his strength and grit.  The next time, I am going to ask him to do a box jump while holding his violin and viola.

A true athlete! A complete transformation
All musicians should go to him for advice on how to prevent injury and strengthen their bodies safely.

You can find out more about Sasha by visiting his website at: https://www.sashaki.top

Also check his music out at: https://www.youtube.com/user/AleksandrKislitsyn

This video in particular is pretty cool: https://youtu.be/CgnC0Kv45gg

You can follow him on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/sashaki.top/

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