October 16, 2013
13-299

Jessica Pope
Communications Specialist

From UF to VSU: Natalie Chang’s Destination is Success

VALDOSTA — As an undergraduate studying violin performance at the University of Florida, Natalie W. Chang, 24, of Ocala, Fla., briefly considered pursuing a career as a doctor. She completed all of the coursework desired of a medical school applicant — with a perfect 4.0 grade point average — but when it came time for her to decide the next phase of her life, she opted to continue her music studies roughly 110 miles up the interstate at Valdosta State University.

Chang was born in Santa Clara, Calif., and raised by her mother, Elaine Tsou, in a few different cities across the United States. She began taking piano lessons at the age of 5 and violin lessons at the age of 6. She played sports, and she excelled in school. She graduated from Vanguard High School in Ocala, Fla., in 2007 with the highly coveted International Baccalaureate diploma. 

“My mother made me take karate, piano, violin, swimming, running,” Chang shared, explaining that Tsou’s goal was to help her daughter discover her hidden talents and passion. “She signed me up for so many things … and pushed me very hard. It wasn’t until I was maybe 13 or 14 years old that I started to really fall in love with violin. It was my first experience hearing the third movement of [Felix] Mendelssohn’s violin concerto. I was watching a 9-year-old girl perform this piece and win a competition. I was like … I want to be just like her. I didn’t know you could do that with a violin.”

As a student pursuing a Bachelor of Music in violin performance, Bachelor of Arts in East Asian languages and literatures, specifically Chinese, as well as the pre-medical school curriculum, at the University of Florida, Chang finally got a chance to perform Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64. She described that very moment as exciting but not as challenging as she initially imagined.

“I am definitely now trying to push boundaries with my music,” she noted, “beyond what is typically thought of a violinist. I would like to do quirky pieces, but my forte is mostly with the classical music. I have been told that my vibrato is so distinctive and that I am very much a romantic kind of girl.”

When Chang graduated from the University of Florida in June of 2011, she knew that she did not want to further her education in the field of medicine; she did not want to be ruled by her rational, scholarly side. 

Rather, having had her eyes opened to the world of violin performance by one of her music professors at the University of Florida, she wanted to continue studying music and live the expressive and individualistic life of an artist.

And she wanted to do this in Valdosta, under the direction of Dr. M. Brent Williams, noted violinist and VSU Department of Music faculty member. She met him when he taught a master class at the University of Florida.

“I really enjoyed his teaching style,” Chang said. “I took the time to talk to him about opportunities available to me at VSU. After graduation, I took a year off and worked to save money for graduate school.”

“Natalie Chang was someone that I recruited voraciously prior to her time here, not just because of her performance abilities, which are outstanding, but also due to her work ethic and perpetually positive attitude,” said Williams. “Anyone that meets her is immediately aware of this latter quality and is usually struck by her relentless energy as well. I have no doubt that she will achieve whatever musical goals she sets for herself.”

Chang entered VSU in August of 2012 and was awarded a graduate assistantship to help fund the cost of her education. When not attending classes or spending 10 to 12 hours a day performing and rehearsing her music, she works as a teaching assistant for the Music in Film course; serves as an administrator for the South Georgia String Project, a program that offers low-cost, after-school string music lessons to children and adults ages 8 and older; performs with the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra, Ocala Symphony Orchestra, Albany Symphony Orchestra, and several smaller ensembles; and studies piano with VSU’s Dr. Lyle Indergaard.

She finished her first year at VSU with a perfect 4.0 grade point average and began her second and final year this fall. She works hard, stays focused on her goals, and refuses to let anything derail her — not even a dislocated shoulder.

The reoccurring, sports-related injury nearly prevented her from performing during the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra’s first concert of the season in mid-September. It happened during rehearsals but was treated in time for her to take the stage.

“I guess you could say that I really do suffer for my art,” she said. 

Chang performed her final graduate solo recital six days later, even though she is not scheduled to graduate until May of 2014.

“I chose to have my recital earlier so I could focus on auditions for the next phase of my life,” she shared. “I hope to get into a good doctoral program, and those auditions are coming up soon. I am working on the pre-screen recordings now. If selected, I’ll audition live. It’s tough, and I’m very nervous. I thought the final recital was the hard part. Nope. It seems like the real work started immediately afterwards.”

After VSU, Chang plans to continue her studies at either Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla.; Yale University in New Haven, Conn.; Rice University in Houston, Texas; the University of Washington in Seattle, Wash.; Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La.; or the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. She said that she hopes to live in a big city and looks forward to being a tiny fish in a big ocean.

“I think I have to get outside my comfort zone, push myself, and expose myself to as many life experiences as possible,” she said. “I think that will only make me a better musician.”

Fun Facts About Natalie Chang

• She carries her violin in a pink case, which she straps to her body when riding her bike to campus. She does not care that other musicians poke fun at her and find the color unprofessional.

• She has never won an award for her violin performance and hopes to never win, at least for right now. “I’ve gotten a lot of second places,” she said, “and I am okay with that. It keeps me motivated to work harder, and it keeps me humble. I don’t enjoy all of the pressure that comes with winning and don’t want to risk becoming stagnant. I hear ‘second place’ and know that I am good, that I am capable of being the best, but I just haven’t gotten there yet. It keeps me striving to be better and better.”

• She knows, without a doubt, that her mother is her No. 1 fan and strongest support system. “She forces a sense of balance in my life. She’ll call, ask me how long I’ve been on the violin, and then tell me to put it down, eat some dinner or go for a walk or play with the dogs.”

• She hopes to secure a tenure-track teaching position at an accredited four-year university someday and continue performing in large orchestras and even smaller ensembles. “That’s my ultimate goal,” she said.