The Coleman Violin Studio: A Tradition of Excellence

By Simon James

Seattle has long been known for its rich arts community, and boasts an internationally regarded symphony orchestra, opera and ballet. Lesser known, though equally remarkable, are the achievements of the generations of young musicians who have come of age in our city. From the long tradition of stellar performances by the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra to the scores of Seattle natives pursuing highly successful careers throughout the world, Seattle possesses a grand tradition of young musicians and the teachers who mentor them. One of the greatest exemplars of this tradition is the Coleman Violin Studio.

Kent and Jan Coleman came to Seattle in the late 1980s to establish a violin studio for aspiring musicians, age four through high school. They built the quality of the studio utilizing careful coaching combined with the creation of as many performance opportunities as possible. From an early age, students had the benefit not only of world-class tutelage and mentor-ship, but also regular real concert experience. It was not unusual that four full length recitals would be scheduled every weekend. When the time came for competitions and college auditions, the students already had the experience of many performances. Despite Kent’s untimely and tragic death from complications of childhood Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the studio has continued to thrive.

In recent years, the Coleman Studio has continued its tradition of excellence, and has worked to more effectively integrate itself with the larger arts community in Seattle. It has taken advantage of the many great violinists who concertize here regularly by establishing a series of visiting artists’ masterclasses through the Academy of Music Northwest (AMN). As a result of this program, the students have had the opportunity to perform in masterclasses with such distinguished artists as Ani Kavafian, James Ehnes, Cordula Merks, Paul Kantor, Leonidas Kavakos, Stephanie Chase and Jan Sloman. The Coleman studio has also established a special relationship with Professor Brian Lewis, who has come to Seattle to work with the students on numerous occasions. Brian was Dorothy Delay’s teaching assistant at the Juilliard School in New York, and is now Professor of Violin at the Butler School of Music of the University of Texas. Each one of these artists has helped to further energize the students, and all have remarked on the high level of achievement which they heard from the young musicians.

Over the past three years, many students from the Coleman Studio have performed concertos as soloists with orchestras throughout the northwest: 7 with the Seattle Symphony and several with the Bellevue Philharmonic, the Sammamish Symphony, the Cascade Symphony, the Seattle Philharmonic, the Federal Way Symphony, the Bremerton Symphony, the Northwest Sinfonietta, the Northwest Chamber Orchestra and the Ottawa Chamber Orchestra.

The Coleman Studio is especially proud of student Marié Rossano, who recently won the prestigious Music Teachers National Association String Competition in Colorado, and was chosen to perform at the Juilliard School for the Delay-Starling Foundation Symposium for Strings. Other students have won the Simon Fiset String competition, the Seattle Young Artists’ competition, the Mori Simon Memorial Scholarship, the MTNA regional finals, the David Tonkonogui Memorial Award, the Washington State Solo and Ensemble Competition, the ASTA Competition and others. One of the students is currently concertmaster of the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Several of the students from the Coleman Studio have received full scholarships to major universities and conservatories across the country. Among those who have chosen to pursue disciplines other than music, several have entered Ivy League schools. Uniformly, the commitment of these young artists to academic as well as musical excellence is amazing.

In June 2009, the Studio organized a project to help the students learn about the business, as well as the art of music. The idea was for the students to organize, market and produce the event, in order to learn what goes into the production of “real world” concerts. The Studio rented Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Music Center for a concert of violin encore showpieces. The concert turned out to be a success on many levels. The audience was filled with enthusiastic music lovers, whose applause was so boisterous that it felt at times like a rock concert. Thirteen of the students played solo works and the entire studio- including the teachers and studio pianist- played “Ave Marie” in tribute to Kent Coleman. Another such concert is planned for this June, and will feature works based upon Opera Theater and Ballet.

Finally, the Coleman Studio strives to teach its students not only about music, but also of the importance of giving back to their community. To this end, the Studio encourages students to give concerts for charitable organizations in and around Seattle. Within the past year alone, several concerts have been held at retirement homes, churches and schools. A concert was held at University Presbyterian Church to raise money for Camp Side By Side, which benefits the families of children with cancer. Another benefit concert for Camp Side By Side will be held this April. We hope that you will join us.

Marié Rossano - Waxman Carmen Fantasy


Rachel Wong - Czardas


Felicity James - Caprice d'après l'Etude en forme de Valse de Saint-Saens - Eugène Ysaÿe

Editor’s Note:
Seattle Symphony Second Assistant Concertmaster Simon James has been involved with the Coleman Violin Studio for many years. He began as the parent of two students, and is currently one of the principal teachers of the Studio. In addition to his work with the SSO and the Studio, Simon performs regularly as a recitalist and chamber musician, and is the owner of a business specializing in the recording of music for film, television and multimedia. His Seattle Symphony colleague, Principal Second Elisa Barston, is also a principal teacher at the Coleman Studio and teaches Simon's daughter, Felicity.

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