by Kelsey Hutchinson | photo by Ben Semisch
Science lesson: The brain is divided into two hemispheres. The left is said to be logical and rational while the right is associated with creativity and being intuitive. Generally, most people have personalities that make them a "left brain" or a "right brain" person.
What's with the science lesson? Kaitlyn Maria Filippini uses both sides of her brain as a musical scientist of sorts, with her bachelor's degree in neuroscience and long curriculum vitae as an advanced violinist. We sat down at Caffeine Dreams to talk about her super custom Violectra (one of only 211 in the entire world), how she balances neuroscience and music (carefully) and what question she wished people would ask her in interviews.
Hear Nebraska: Exactly how many violins have you owned?
Kaitlyn Maria Filippini: Yeah, I still don't remember. I had my half size, I rented my three-quarter size and bought my first violin because I was an apprentice at the time at Midwest Violin. He gave me a great deal, and I named it Pig because it looked like a piggy. Than I got my electric violin, the first Yamaha I had. Then I had a Zeta electric violin, which was great. I eventually got a brand new acoustic. And then, I have my five-string violin and then I got my Violectra.
So seven over my life. But I only have five. Oh my god, I have five? Oh my god, no. No, I have four.
HN: Can you describe the process of going from a regular traditional violin to an electric one?
KMF: It's been interesting. It's been finding a niche market and going for it because I never really had. I enjoy classical, but that wasn't really where my heart was. I don't really like the organization of how orchestras work and everything.
So it's been interesting because I've been able to define myself in that niche, and because of that, I've been getting a lot of work because a lot of classical players are like, "Oh, I don't do that. But do you know this girl who does?" It's my own thing, and I enjoy making music that is my voice. It's trying to figure out how you can fit in or how you can get paid.
HN: Would you please talk about your custom five-string violin?
KMF: I'll always talk about it. It's actually right behind you. Yeah, we might have to bust that out. It's so cool, I'll never play another brand of electric instrument. You can't beat the pickups on it. There is nothing out there that compares.
HN: Can you describe how it was made? What was the process?
KMF: I got to pick out the wood, the design, it's actually a hybrid of two of the models. I've been a fan of this instruments for ten years. I just finally, now that I got a degree and I'm out of school, I decided to take the plunge and be serious about my career. I wanted to get it. There was no way I wasn't going to get it, just to be serious about everything.
(She busted out her Violectra that she is thinking of naming Lucy and let me hold it. The weight was comparable to the lightness of balsa wood, and the shape was smooth and curvy. Violectras are made out of a single block of wood and then cut to the specifications of the buyer. The color was a creamy champagne hue.)
HN: While performing, do you switch violins, or do you so to stay favorite a specific one?
KMF: I used to switch violins but now I don't have to because of my new Violectra that sounds great. It saves so much time and money, you can't beat it. I like to think of it more as a tool than a violin. I waited 10 years.
HN: I read you have an album coming out In December/January. Can you talk a little bit about it and maybe what sound/style we can expect to hear?
KMF: I technically released one about a year ago, a year or two ago. I just never really distributed it because it wasn't done, it just wasn't ready. This one is definitely a lot more well-produced. It's a lot of new material but a lot of my older material. I was trying to fit in "Glucose," and some of my movie score themes and just make them into actual songs as opposed to just clips. I'm pretty excited. It just feels like it'll be ready this time and I can move forward to other projects.
We've had to push back the release because we've been working on other commercial stuff. We worked on Red Bull this year, a Jacuzzi commercial. I also worked on stuff for Mannheim (Steamroller) that will hopefully be out next year.
It's perfect, I need to get a bunch of stuff together. I want to be ready for when I get a nice gig, I want everything to be ready and all laid out. I'll have a website that's really easy to use, you'll be able to hear my discography, great looking, it'll all be there. I'm just generating content up until next fall. It's insane, it's good. I'm starting to get into the fashion show scene, which reminds me, I need to send my measurements!
I went to my first world cup game yesterday! So there was really no time to do that yesterday. We drove back, it was long but it was good. I like the game, I don't really follow sports. We sat in the Guatemala section, it was great. It was my first official soccer game. I played when I was younger but, it wasn't the same crowd.
HN: You've tried out for Lady Gaga's band. Is performing with big recording artists something you'd like to continue pursuing?
KMF: Yeah, absolutely. I always love to work with quality artists. We have a ton here in Omaha, like, oh my god, there's fantastic musicians here. But I also enjoy working with other people. Big artists from L.A. and New York because I'm all about learning, and it just really pushes you.
Like when I played with Mary J. Blige, I never heard a voice like that live. It was insane, and it just pushed your musicianship. You pick up on skills, or like how people arrange their music. Up until this day, my favorite musician to play with was Michael Bublé. The jazz band was just perfect. That was awesome, that's my bag.
I learn something from everyone. Anyone who's serious, I'd love to make a project with them. I really hope to build something similar to Mannheim, just build an institution of competition and film scoring with Matt (Hovanec, her fiancée). We have enough material.
"I feel like music should be taught as a language and not as an elective because it uses the same part of your brain. ... Music coordinates you, you connect sound and movement. It's science and music put together."
HN: Will you continue to work with local artists and stick around Omaha for a while?
KMF: Yeah, well, we're back and forth. I think we'll end up here no matter what for family. I work with a really good bluegrass band called Bad Country. We're going to try and get them an album because Matt would record it and mix it. I play weddings with Karly Jurgensen. She's an Omaha musician; I love playing with her. I really like playing with All Young Girls Are Machine Guns. I'm also going to use my tracks for commercial purposes to create a video to recruit neuroscience majors for UNO.
HN: How do you balance your music with your work in neuroscience?
KMF: Very carefully. I try to make it so I try not to do too much of one at a time but also get everything done. It's a balance and some days it doesn't balance and that's OK. They both feed each other very easily.
I feel that music is the brain's interpretation of thought process. Like why do earworms work, or why do you have five people listen to a song and 10 minutes later two people are singing the same hook? I feel like the brain is so complex that the only way to understand it is music.
Music is language at its very basic form, it's just sound. It's always been around. Why do we have music? If you don't have the words for something, there tends to be a lot of songs about it, like love. Really complex things can be taught as a chord.
I feel like music should be taught as a language and not as an elective because it uses the same part of your brain. That's one of the things I'd like to do with my science and music and change the school board. So one day, children can take a language including music. Music coordinates you, you connect sound and movement. It's science and music put together.
HN: What is one question you wish you'd be asked in interviews?
KMF: I wish people would ask, how do music and neuroscience relate? And it makes sense because music is the brains function, it's language at its most basic form and everyone does it. Everyone will get a song stuck in their head, but not a math problem.
I feel like neuroscience helps you understand the mind. So it's like understanding the building blocks of an art, which is actually yourself in return. I wasn't quite sure at first, but they definitely intersect a lot. There's a lot of patterns that are similar in music and the brain.
HN: Are there other neuroscientists that study music? Is it common?
KMF: Yes, there's a lot. It's very common, because music is the only art that exists only in time. To understand it more, you have to go into the person and the person is the brain. It really helps you understand, like why is a minor chord sad? Or why is a major chord happy? Why does a discord hurt? It's cool.
Kelsey Hutchinson is a Hear Nebraska intern. Her favorite food is pizza. Reach her at email@example.com.