Faculty Spotlight: Scott St. John

Scott St. John, Director of Chamber Music, was a member of the esteemed St. Lawrence String Quartet and faculty member at Stanford University for seven years. Before moving to Los Angeles this year, he was Associate Professor of Violin at University of Toronto.

This interview has been lightly edited for style, content, and clarity.

What brings you to Colburn?
My position, the Director of Chamber Music, is kind of a dream job for me. I am very passionate about chamber music. As a violinist myself, I’ve always kind of been involved in chamber music, including a professional string quartet for many years. So I guess the combination of the excellence of the Colburn School and a job that’s all about chamber music, which I love, felt unbelievably attractive.

What do you hope to achieve with the chamber music program?
I think the biggest achievement that I’m looking for is a more cohesive direction in the program and a chance to make students feel like chamber music is actually a viable professional direction, instead of just a side thing. The interesting thing about my position is that it straddles both the [Music] Academy and the Conservatory, so I think especially on the Academy side, my mission is to also provide a level of inspiration to make sure that everyone is participating to their maximum ability.

What do you think students can learn from chamber music in general?
I feel like chamber music is basically an analogy for life. To be a good chamber music player, of course you have to play well, but that’s actually not the most important part. You have to be able to work with people, be receptive to ideas, and be really open to opinions and solving things in a democratic way. I find that there can be personality clashes in chamber music groups—it happens all the time—and it really takes some serious diplomacy to make those situations work. It’s exactly an example of what students are going to need to do when they leave Colburn. The music world is all about connections and those bonds that you make, whether it’s here at school or in any part of your life. I think chamber music can really represent all those worldly things.

Why did you decide to pursue chamber music?
It’s basically what I’ve always loved doing. When I was in school myself, I gravitated towards chamber music because it was more social, and it allowed a lot of discussion about what one was doing musically. I always found that more gratifying than just sitting in the practice room working on your Paganini Caprice or whatever.

I also had teachers that were very involved in chamber music. One of my teachers was Arnold Steinhardt, who’s also here at Colburn. His quartet, the Guarneri Quartet, was a great inspiration for me because I saw how wonderfully they worked together and how they were ambassadors for music. I loved that idea, that chamber music is a way into interpreting ideas even from folks who don’t know very much about music. I think it’s a great entry point.

What is one piece of advice you’d share with students?
My advice to students would be to treat all of your fellow students as future colleagues. The folks that you’re working with now are the folks that you’re going to be working with professionally, probably way more than you expect. The music world is not that large and so I think it’s good to work on those skills. Not that you need to tell everyone that they’re fabulous, but you need to be aware of those contacts and how important your environment is to your future.

What are some of your interests outside music?
 First of all, I could say that I’m a huge Disney fan. I especially enjoy the history of Disney animation and the planning and imagineering of Disneyland and the parks. I’m also a runner; I like jogging. I’m a big fan of healthy eating. I do a quasi-paleo diet myself so I enjoy getting involved in that sort of lifestyle. Otherwise, family. I have a seven-year-old daughter, and it’s nice to spend time with her.

Favorite Disney movie?
Little Mermaid.

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