Danville teen violinist bold yet humble, mature beyond years
By Lou Fancher
There's a bit of firecracker in 16-year-old violinist Jaclyn Thach.
Asked to describe herself, the Dougherty Valley High School junior says, "I have a martial arts black belt in taekwondo. I stopped ice skating before violin competitions because I might fall or chop off a finger. I'm not sure what I want my identity to be outside of music. It's hard to separate myself from the violin because I'm so infused with it."
Thach performs in her school's Chamber Orchestra and the Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra and studies privately with Dr. James Greening-Valenzuela. With victories in local and regional violin competitions validating her abilities, she says preparing for future events means continuing to practice, "even if you've done it right already," and accepting that there will always be people who are superior players. "Even if you beat them once, you won't beat them every time," she says.
Growing up in Livermore, Thach says her family's home was never quiet. She likes to tell her mother's story about listening to music when Thach was still in the womb. "She listened so that I was exposed to music early on."
Her mother, Audrey Thach, plays the piano and, while listening to Tchaikovsky's violin concerto when her daughter was 5, decided she wanted to have a child who could play the work.
"When I was growing up, playing piano was almost like therapy," says Thach's mother. "When I had kids, I wanted to show them how I feel about music. But a piano isn't portable, so ... the violin."
But music wasn't all about lessons, because Thach says her mother and father only encouraged whatever interest came naturally. Often, she and her younger brother, Arthur, who plays viola, were shown by their parents the joy of music.
"We had a CD with classical pieces with words set to it and we'd sing along to it in the car at full volume," Thach recalls.
Perhaps due to that foundation, Thach defies categorization as strictly a classical artist and has a voracious appetite for everything from Romantic period composers like Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn to Broadway musicals to pop rock band Maroon Five (Thach calls "She Will be Loved," released in 2002, "an old favorite") and other contemporary genres. Despite the mixed playlist, it's easy to pin down her performing preferences.
"I like to try whatever I'm listening to," Thach says, about the pop music she transposes for violin. When performing classical music, she says, "I like to focus on the musicality. If you know what the composer is trying to convey, you use your personal expression to play the maturity of the music. Playing it technically is different from playing it expressively."
Of course it takes both abilities to distinguish oneself as a musician, something Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra Principal Conductor Omid Zoufonoun says comes naturally to Thach.
"Jaclyn plays the violin with poise and elegance. She uses her hands and body with efficiency, power and grace, resulting in a beauty of sound that is all too often missing among young string players. Jaclyn has a boldness of personality and character that comes through in her playing."
Dougherty Valley Orchestra Director Patty Drury says Thach is "a natural" who plays with ease and passion. "In orchestra at DVHS, she is a strong yet humble leader who has mature musical instincts."
Greening-Valenzuela, who has taught Thach for about six years, says his student's easygoing demeanor is accompanied by a "real fire inside for music."
Analyzing her progress during the last five years, Thach is specific and says that because she has small hands, she's worked hardest on double stops (playing two notes simultaneously) and now considers them one of her strengths. But fast passages, she says, continue to be a challenge. "My brain goes faster than my fingers can go, so it all just jumbles together."
Anticipating the winter season concert Feb. 21 in San Leandro with the youth orchestra, Thach appreciates the "gorgeous melodies, expressive long notes," and fast-note interludes of Borodin's "Polovtsian Dances." Beethoven's "Symphony No. 5 in C Minor" -- a work so familiar most people know it if you simply say, "da, da, da, dum," with a certain intonation -- she says will be thrilling to perform. "I've been listening to it my entire life, and to play it will be great."
The orchestra's July 2016 tour to Cuba has Thach back in firecracker mode. "I'm most excited about the food," she says. "I went to Argentina on my first tour, and we did tango dancing, played with an orchestra and saw that it was really different from America. I can't wait to get to Cuba."