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Kimberly  Simpkins

Back to School for This 'Late Starter', or My Amazing Musical Journey Part 2

February 12, 2013 at 3:47 AM

Here is Part 2 of my epic musical journey to graduate school 20 years after my Bachelor’s Degree in violin performance…(you can read Part one here:

I got married in 1999, which pretty much ended my “career” as a musical missionary. It was time to settle down. My husband grew up in Knoxville, TN, and that is where we ended up. I didn’t know much about East Tennessee, but soon discovered that in addition to being known for football and mountains, there was also a gem of a symphony here, as well as other artistic offerings. I auditioned and actually won a per service position in the fall of 1999. For 7 seasons, I played regularly with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. It was my first real-life audition, my first real professional gig, my first time playing some incredible repertoire like Mahler and Strauss and fully staged operas like Puccini and Verdi. I worked with some great people. I also kept busy freelancing and teaching, and became a mom in those years. Even though I stayed pretty much in the back half of the 2nd violin section, (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) I was happy. I was able to be a mostly stay at home mom to our beautiful daughter, while working part time in the symphony and teaching. Professionally, I was fulfilled.

Some family situations in 2006 sent us back to my hometown in NC. I found myself in need of a full time job, so I turned to the orchestra program that started it all. Many of my old teachers were still there. In spite of my performance background and lack of teaching experience (and because of who I knew), I was able to get a job teaching public school orchestra in the very program that I had started in all wide eyed and bushy tailed as a 5th grader. I even taught at my old high school (where, at my principal’s request, I had played the National Anthem as a violin solo for my graduating class!). Talk about coming full circle! I ended up teaching there for 2 years, subbing for orchestra teachers for another 2 years, playing in the local symphony orchestra, and doing a bit of private teaching.

Because of certain circumstances in my life, I was under a lot of stress. I went for long stretches without playing at all, and when I did play, my heart and my fingers just weren’t in it anymore. I even cut back on playing with the local symphony…which is saying a lot, because I love playing in the symphony. Life had taken a toll on me, and my playing suffered. I managed to purchase a wonderful new violin, but still, I could only give enough to life, and the violin, to survive and get by. Bottom line, I lost my voice.

Then, it happened.

I turned 40.

Something about that number makes you really take life inventory. I began to think back to good old Trevor Williams, and began to ask myself questions…what was it that he heard in my playing that made him want to go so far as to bring me to his home in England and personally pour into me? What did he think I could accomplish if I “worked really hard?” And…is it too late to accomplish this? Can I not only find my voice again at 40+, but maybe even a whole new song?

I thought about what my husband had once told me…after performances, I glowed. He had never seen me happier than when I was on a stage somewhere, anywhere, playing my violin.

Through a series of events, it so happened that we began to contemplate returning to Knoxville, TN. Thanks to Facebook, I kept up with what was going on there, and artistically, it is one of the few places in the country where the arts are doing well. Since I left, the symphony has had several years of ending consecutive seasons in the black. The area is nice…beautiful Smoky Mountains, unique history and culture, good schools, support for the arts, and fond musical memories for me. I felt like I could find my voice again Tennessee, but it took some time before I was ready to move back.

Meanwhile, I began to dust off music that I had not looked at in 20 years. I pulled out “Havanaise” by Saint Saens, to see if I could still play it.

Um, no.

That’s when I knew…if I wanted to find my voice again, I would have to make some changes.

Last fall, we loaded up a truck and moved back to Tennessee. I knew I wanted get my chops back, and maybe even find some new ones. I even had in mind a teacher. Since I left TN, one of my former KSO colleagues had taken a position at UT Knoxville as one of the violin professors. He had even resigned from the symphony (where he had been concertmaster) in order to focus on this. I thought, how neat would it be to take lessons from him. Maybe I could even go back to school.


On Facebook I mysteriously began to get suggestions to “like” the new “University of Tennessee Violin Studios” Facebook page, beckoning me to check out their offerings. I took that as a sign, and set up a meeting with my former colleague, “just to see.”

That fateful meeting turned into him encouraging me to fill out an application that week! He said there was an assistantship and stipend possibly available and I needed to jump on it.

You mean I could go back to school for free and actually get paid for it?! Seriously?

Suddenly, I found myself preparing for an audition.


He offered to meet with me to get me ready for this audition (which, thank God, was taped!). He even took the time to open up the hall on campus to ensure I got the best sound possible, and ran the camera. I made it through the first couple of pages of “Havanaise” and a little bit of Mozart Concerto No. 5. It was rusty, but evidently good enough, because not only did I get in, I was offered the assistantship and stipend! I have to hand it to my professor; he really moved things forward and pushed it through. I personally believe it was Divine Intervention! It was “meant” for me.

So here I am!

It has been quite a journey to get here…emotionally, spiritually, musically…but I am happy. I feel like I am beginning to find my voice and my confidence again, bit by bit. Once again, I have a teacher who believes in me and has made an effort to make things happen for me. I have no doubt that I’m in the right place. The violin is a part of my identity. I’ve been playing it for ¾ of my life. I would be doing a disservice if I let this gift, this privilege and blessing of being able to play one of the most difficult instruments, lie dormant and underdeveloped.

Next time, I will fill you in on what my first few weeks of graduate school have been like so far! Stay tuned to find out what I’m working on, what challenges me, and what I hope to accomplish while I’m here.

Meanwhile, here’s a link to a clip of one of my audition pieces…an excerpt from “Havanaise”. It took me forever to work up to doing that first 16th note passage at that speed, (it still ended up kind of “pitchy”), and there was one other sour note in the opening that made me cringe, but overall I guess it was OK for a 20 year hiatus. Fortunately they were looking for potential, not perfection!

From Diana Rumrill
Posted on February 12, 2013 at 5:28 PM
What an exciting opportunity to study - congratulations! You have a beautiful sound. :)
From Duane Padilla
Posted on February 12, 2013 at 5:29 PM
BRAVA!!! So inspiring! its never too late to do what you love to do! Thanks for sharing this!
From Kimberly Simpkins
Posted on February 13, 2013 at 2:12 AM
Thanks for stopping by and for the encouragement! :)
From Gail Tivendale
Posted on February 13, 2013 at 11:29 AM
Wow, that is awesome, Kimberly! Beautiful tone. All the best with graduate school!
From Jack Felton
Posted on February 13, 2013 at 9:27 PM
Your video was great. I wish you the best of luck on your journey.
From Kimberly Simpkins
Posted on February 14, 2013 at 2:34 AM
Thank you for your kind words!!! :)
From Nathan Kroptavich
Posted on February 15, 2013 at 11:36 AM
You do have a beautiful voice on your instrument. So happy to see you pursuing your passion!
From Kimberly Simpkins
Posted on February 16, 2013 at 3:29 PM
Thank you, Nathan! :)
From David Wilson
Posted on February 17, 2013 at 8:31 PM
Bachelor degree 1967 (age 23).. Master's Degree 1983(age 38).. record label contract (age 51).. 2013 releasing my 10th album (current album sales over 170,000).. music is my life, can't help it.

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