Strings of Success: A Violinist’s Journey
By Caroline Gerber Junior Aidan Watts’ musical journey began 15 years ago, at the age of two, when he attended a youth musical class that introduced him to the violin.
After watching other children playing the violin, he was captivated by the instrument and asked his mother if he could learn to play it as well. She was initially skeptical because of Watts’ young age and instead gave him a guitar for his birthday.
"It would be great if I could keep playing in a college orchestra,” says Aidan Watts.
But Watts’ desire to play the violin was sparked once more at the age of three when he witnessed a music teacher perform a violin demonstration with a younger student at St. James School.
He once again asked his Mom if he could take violin lessons, and this time she agreed.
Now at the age of 17 the violin has become an integral part of Watts’ life. In pursuing his passion, not only has he found joy but tremendous success has followed. As a competitive violinist he has compiled an extensive list of prestigious awards.
LFHS Orchestra Director Robert Bassill said, “Aidan is one of the most advanced violinists we have had at Lake Forest High School during my 20 years here. He is able to play repertoire that would be difficult for many college music majors.”
Watts has accumulated an impressive list of accolades, including All-State Orchestra in 2023, All-State Honors Orchestra in 2022, and many top finishes at competitions across the North Shore and Chicago. He has played solos at the Lake Forest Civic Orchestra, District Spirit of 67 and Lake Forest High School Symphony Orchestra.
Watts’ favorite performance was in October 2022 when he was invited to perform as a soloist with the Lake Forest Civic Orchestra, where he played the Bruch Concerto in G minor.
“It was really fun to work with the orchestra and conductor… to put that together and to perform for the community was really nice,” said Watts.
Watts practices between one to one and a half hours daily. He finds playing the violin to be a source of peace and refuge from the stress of daily life.
“If I come home from school after a stressful day it’s very nice to be able to sit down and play some music and get your mind off things,” said Watts.
While playing the violin in daily practice is calming for Watts, performing for judges and an audience can at times be stressful for him.
“Before big performances your heart starts racing, that seems natural for everybody, because it is stressful performing before judges,” said Watts. “I just take deep breaths and don’t overthink.”
Performing the violin requires extreme precision and concentration, especially during competitions.
“When I’m playing long pieces, where the first movement is 20 minutes or so, I have to really make sure my mind is focused on the music. If you lose focus for a moment, you can ruin the whole piece,” said Watts.
Some of the pieces that Watts has repeatedly performed over the years especially resonate with him, including his favorites, Brahms and Beethoven.
“There are pieces I’ve been playing for a long time that I have developed an emotional connection to and I express that emotion through the music,” said Watts.
On his musical journey, Watts has drawn inspiration from several mentors. One of his primary influences has been one of his three private instructors, Charles Pickler.
“He has pushed me to play pieces I never would have been able to play without him,” said Watts.
Pickler is highly complimentary of Watts dedication and musical ability.
“Aidan is an extremely talented violinist and distinguished young gentleman,” said Pickler.
If Watts could play with any violinists past or present, he would choose world-renowned violinist Bronislav Gimpel, who was Charles Pickler’s violin teacher, and Maxim Vengerov, who many consider to be the greatest living string player in the world.
Being the oldest of four, Watts has two younger sisters and a younger brother. His younger sister Keelin Watts has followed in his footsteps, as she too has become a talented violinist.
“Playing with my brother is one of my favorite things to do involving music, and working together to prepare duets has certainly made me a better musician,” said Keelin Watts.
Looking forward, Watts is not certain where his musical journey will take him next.
“I’m not entirely sure if I will go into music as a career; however I would consider doing a double major with music or a minor in music,” said Watts. “I would definitely keep performing in college, I don’t want to drop the violin, it’s been a very big part of my life. It would be great if I could keep playing in a college orchestra.”
The violin, which started out as the fascination of a two-year-old, has come to mean far more to Watts than just an instrument that produces music. It has come to provide a source of meaning, joy, and passion in his daily life.
Regardless of what the future has in store for Watts musically, his experience with the violin will always be viewed as a profoundly positive one. This story was first published in The Forest Scout.