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Ericka Low


University of Ottawa Gazette

Friday, June 2, 2000

Ericka Low: Music is the centre of her life

(by Marlene Orton)


Music student Ericka Low's graduating year began some what on a sour note. When a copycat thief stole one of her violins in September, Low felt as though she had lost a part of herself.

The instrument was identified by a violin maker and retrieved in January. But the theft -- which closely followed the disappearance of National Arts Centre (NAC) principal cellist Amanda Forsyth's instrument -- was a sensitive reminder of how forcefully music governs the life of the University of Ottawa's top bachelor of music graduate.

"A music store had bought it from a pawn shop for $50, but one of the teachers called a violin maker who happens to maintain my instrument. He recognized it, called me and I went with the police to pick it up. After (Forsyth's ) cello was stolen, a lot of instruments started to go missing here. The thief probably got only $25 from the pawn shop. To us, it's our livelihood and people don't realize how attached we are to our instruments."

Low, who transferred from Dalhousie University in 1997, works as a private music teacher and as a performer in the first violin section of the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra (OSO). This year, she served as concert master for the University of Ottawa Orchestra. She has applied for the master's program and plans to take a doctorate in music in the United States or Europe. But that is at least two years away and, meanwhile, Low's music studies have been one adventure after another.

She began playing violin at the age of 12 -- quite late in a game where students typically are launched with miniature strings before heading into junior kindergarten. Low was introduced to the violin through her school's music program in Halifax, where she grew up. Soon, she excelled beyond school lessons and begged her mother for private classes.

"I don't know how she did it, because I don't come from a wealthy family. I was at the conservatory in Halifax and won scholarships, bursaries and grants to study."

Practice for Low began at 5 a.m. every morning for two hours and resumed for another two hours after school. The performing arts seemed her destiny. But by her first year of university, Low had broken her wrist in an accident.

"I was in a cast for nine weeks. It was absolutely horrible. I had to make sure I worked my muscles carefully."

While at Dalhousie, she met Ottawa music professors on tour for their summer programs. Her applied music instructor Claude Richard was among them and Low was encouraged to spread her wings. Her first OSO performance in October 1997 at the NAC still conjures up a glorious sense of excitement.

"I had never been there, of course. I saw all the balconies and all the chairs and I just about went into shock. It was fabulous -- such a new experience."

With the OSO, Low welcomes the opportunity to play more expansive works than young musicians are generally exposed to, such as symphonies by Gustav Mahler, she says. (Mahler's eighth symphony is known as the Symphony of a Thousand because of the enormous resources needed for its performance).

Occasionally, Low considers how her life might be different. "I know I could put my mind to anything -- medicine or biology, perhaps -- but without my music, I don't know what I would do. It's the centre of my life."


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