Renowned violinist urges Chicago art students to let music color their work

Hilary Hahn, artist-in-residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, stopped by the Chicago High School for the Arts on Tuesday for an experimental workshop.

SHARE Renowned violinist urges Chicago art students to let music color their work
Violinist Hilary Hahn, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s artist in residence, performs Tuesday as Victoria Toledo, 16, a junior, and more than a dozen other students create art to the sound of Hahn’s music in a classroom at The Chicago High School for the Arts in Humboldt Park.

Violinist Hilary Hahn, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s artist-in-residence, performs Tuesday as Victoria Toledo, 16, a junior, and more than a dozen other students create art to the sound of Hahn’s music in a classroom at The Chicago High School for the Arts in Humboldt Park.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

When Hilary Hahn tucks her violin under her chin and raises her bow as a soloist on stages the world over, all eyes are on her — the workaday world and everything else forgotten.

As her musical notes fluttered around a classroom in the Humboldt Park neighborhood on Tuesday, almost none of the 30 or so people there was looking at Hahn. Most of them were staring at the floor. One young woman, wearing a black hoodie and a COVID-19 mask, had her back to Hahn for almost the entire 1 1/2-hour performance.

And Hahn was absolutely fine with that.

Hahn, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s artist-in-residence, made a stop at the Chicago High School for the Arts Tuesday, dropping in on a class of art students. She played a dazzling rendition of Pablo de Sarasate’s “Carmen Fantasy,” among the better-known pieces. But it wasn’t a performance, so much as a collaboration or — “just a big experiment,” as she called it.

“Art of all kinds is about emotions and is about connecting with others,” Hahn said before things got underway. “So I want to see if there is common ground we can find, where I play, and they feel, and they do art about what they feel [from the music].”

So as her bow twitched and danced, the only other sound in the room came from the scrape of charcoal pencil and a rainbow’s palette of pastel crayons.

Violinist Hilary Hahn, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s artist in residence, chats with students who created art to the sound of her music Tuesday in a classroom at the Chicago High School for the Arts in Humboldt Park.

Violinist Hilary Hahn, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s artist-in-residence, talks with students who created art to the sound of her music Tuesday in a classroom at the Chicago High School for the Arts in Humboldt Park.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Hahn has become almost as well-known for her unorthodox way of reaching audiences as she is for her playing. She just wrapped up the sixth season of #100daysofpractice on Instagram, where she has 430,000 followers. Her viewers get to see her work progress from unpolished to gleaming, and she responds to viewer comments.

She also recently completed a series of BYOB [Bring Your Own Baby] concerts with the CSO.

“I do that everywhere I can,” she says. “The whole point of those concerts is it’s for the grown-ups, and they bring the babies. I organize it so it’s not too busy — not too many babies, not too many grown-ups. Everyone can stay in a peaceful zone, however they want to be, just like they are at home.”

The “zone” Tuesday felt a bit like home, too, with students lying and sitting cross-legged on the floor. Several of them didn’t know who Hahn is — beyond being a professional violinist.

Hahn’s staccato notes prompted jagged lines and churning oceans of fiery lava; and her dreamier sequences, turquoise-and-purple seascapes and swirling plumes of ebony smoke.

“I was kind of out of it with the music. I was definitely paying more attention, like staring at her body and the way that she was moving,” said student Ora Aika Light, 17. “I’m not so much for instrumental classical myself, but I still can really appreciate it.”

Light drew a charcoal Hahn — all fractured and shifting lines.

At the end, Hahn declared herself delighted with the experiment, urging the students to let music color their work however they can.

“Just hum to yourself as you draw,” she said. “You can listen to a favorite radio station. You can listen to the sounds outside, a jazz band.”

Violinist Hilary Hahn, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s artist in residence, performs for more than a dozen students creating art to the sound of her music in a classroom Tuesday at The Chicago High School for the Arts in Humboldt Park.

Violinist Hilary Hahn, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s artist-in-residence, performs for more than a dozen students creating art to the sound of her music in a classroom Tuesday at the Chicago High School for the Arts in Humboldt Park.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Ora Aika Light, 17, a junior, creates art Tuesday as violinist Hilary Hahn, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s artist in residence, performs in a classroom at The Chicago High School for the Arts in Humboldt Park.

Ora Aika Light, 17, a junior at the Chicago High School for the Arts in Humboldt Park., draws a charcoal of violinist Hilary Hahn, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s artist-in-residence, as she performs during art class.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Violinist Hilary Hahn, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s artist in residence, chats with students who created art to the sound of her music Tuesday in a classroom at The Chicago High School for the Arts in Humboldt Park.

Violinist Hilary Hahn, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s artist-in-residence, talks with students who created art to the sound of her music Tuesday in a classroom at the Chicago High School for the Arts in Humboldt Park.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Violinist Hilary Hahn, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s artist in residence, performs as Maya Payton 17, a junior, and other students create art to the sound of Hahn’s music in a classroom Tuesday at The Chicago High School for the Arts in Humboldt Park.

Maya Payton 17, a junior at the Chicago High School for the Arts in Humboldt Park, and other students create art to the sound of violinist Hilary Hahn’s music in a classroom Tuesday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Violinist Hilary Hahn, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s artist in residence, performs for more than a dozen students creating art to the sound of her music in a classroom Tuesday at The Chicago High School for the Arts in Humboldt Park.

Violinist Hilary Hahn, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s artist-in-residence, performs for more than a dozen students creating art to the sound of her music in a classroom Tuesday at the Chicago High School for the Arts in Humboldt Park.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The Latest
Luis Robert Jr. hit a game-tying pinch homer in ninth
The Sky have only one signature win 11 games into the season — beating the Liberty in the second week of the season. The Sky’s other three wins came against the league’s bottom four teams
Officials responded about 6:35 p.m. to West Jonquil Terrace and North Marshfield Avenue for a crash involving two cars and a bicycle. Five people were hospitalized.
Montgomery’s OPS is more than 100 points lower than his minor league career OPS. “He’s handling it very well,” Paul Janish said.
Bellinger’s homer lifted the Cubs above the Rays in a 4-3 win Wednesday.