Young violinist has big aspirations
Apr. 17, 2002
Kristen Milton
Staff Writer

Brian Lewis/The Gazette

Patricia Wnek, 9, plays the violin in her Germantown home.

Like many pre-teens, 9-year-old Patricia Wnek is ardent about music. She falls asleep to CDs and wakes up to her favorite radio station.

But mention Britney Spears and her nose wrinkles in disgust. Most of her favorite musicians have been dead for a century or more.

Wnek, an aspiring concert violinist, cannot remember a time when she did not play the instrument. Two years ago when the then-second-grader had to choose between the violin and school there was no hesitation.

"I love the violin," Patricia Wnek said. "... [and] I didn't have many friends so home-schooling was a good thing."

Father Janusz Wnek said Patricia's private school had allowed her a four-day week in order to devote a day to practice, but it still was not enough.

Seljuk Kardan, a violin teacher at Johns Hopkins University's Peabody Conservatory, has taught Patricia since she was 4. He guessed she practiced about 3.5 hours a day -- a schedule he said was more usual for a high school or college student.

Hearing this, Patricia smiled shyly but said her practices were "much longer" than that.

Between Patricia's violin and the piano playing of younger brothers Paul, 8, and Matthew, 6, there is always music at the Wneks' Germantown home, where there are pianos on two floors.

"Sometimes there's a cacophony of difference pieces going on at the same time and metronomes and my comments," mother Agnieszka Wnek, a classical singer and pianist, said as she shook her head.

In addition to music classes Thursday and Friday, the family often spends Saturday at Peabody as the boys practice, Janusz grades Patricia's schoolwork and Agnieszka observes her classes. Patricia has soloed in more than 50 recitals and plays duets with her best friend as part of the Peabody Prep Chamber music program.

Patricia's immersion in classical music began pre-birth. Agnieszka studied at Peabody throughout her pregnancy. Patricia laughingly demonstrated her mother conducting a concert with her arms straight out to accommodate a bulging stomach, a story she has heard often.

Agnieszka had her heart set on the piano for her daughter, who danced at 18 months and would listen intently to a concert by age 2. However, at 2 1/2, Patricia attended a violin recital and was entranced.

"She was saying she loved the violin, she wants the violin, get her the violin," Agnieszka remembered. She eventually enrolled Patricia in violin lessons, still hoping it would lead to the piano, but Patricia's mind was made up.

"It was a little early [to start violin]," Kardan said. "... [But] she did progress extremely rapidly -- she has always been one of my top students."

Patricia's life has revolved around the violin ever since, in spite of ballet (begun at 3), piano (begun at 5), good grades and various hobbies.

She plays her century-old Grand Jan violin with confidence, seemingly watching her own fingers but never hesitating. At times she closes her eyes briefly or sways with the music but her expression is unvaryingly calm.

"I like music and God gave me a talent," she said, explaining her years of devotion. "I wanted to develop that talent."

Patricia knows what she likes musically although she finds it hard to say why. For example, she was not impressed with a recent performance of Vivaldi's Four Seasons she saw at church. The piece is one of her favorites and she asked Kardan to let her learn it. "Now I've got 'Spring,'" she said.

The church performance "was in my opinion too jumpy -- not the right character," the young critic said hesitantly.

Patricia herself "feels the music" in a way that cannot be taught, Kardan said. "And in combination with talent she does work very, very hard."

The work is no more than Patricia wants, Agnieszka said. "I don't think she will burn out because she has a goal in mind. ... She has envisioned her whole career," she said. "... She also has a lot of success and that probably sustains her interest, her love of it and gives her a sense of accomplishment."

"I think the family made the decision she would be a musician from early on and they're committed to that career," Kardan said. "... I have no doubt of all my students she will be a professional violinist. Of course there is no guarantee in the musical world that she'll be a soloist, but I think she has what it takes."

Patricia reported no nostalgia for the world of elementary school. She has more friends in her home-school co-op, can work in fifth and sixth grade school curriculums rather than fourth grade, and can devote more time to music, which she never tires of.

That time is needed as she prepares a solo recital that will feature more than an hour of work. Kardan has encouraged his student to branch out beyond the "contained society" of Peabody.

The Wneks have secured an auditorium for a May concert and Patricia will conduct a ticketed performance in June at the American Center of Polish Culture in Washington, D.C.

"We hope that everyone can come who enjoys music and wants to hear someone in the community who's doing something hopefully worthwhile," Agnieszka said.

Patricia Wnek will give a free recital May 19 at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Northwest High School, 13501 Richter Farm Road, Germantown.