Making Beautiful Music
Nicole Peragine can play beautiful music.
Standing in the orchestra room at Pinecrest High School, the 25-year-old orchestra director and teacher cradles her viola in the crook of her neck as she glides her bow across the instrument’s strings.
“It’s just something I made up,” Peragine says, smiling, in response to the question of which song she was playing.
Peragine recently took her musical ability to Carnegie Hall in New York City, where she performed as a member of the Carolina Philharmonic on March 3.
“David [Michael Wolff, the maestro of the Carolina Philharmonic] told us a few months in advance, ‘I’ve booked us at Carnegie Hall,’” she says with a bemused expression. “So we went as an ensemble to Carnegie Hall.”
Peragine has been playing the viola since she was in the fourth grade, despite the fact that she had 70 percent hearing loss as a child.
“For as long as I can remember, I made a lot of sound,” she says. “It was probably because I couldn’t hear myself!”
Peragine says her personality is reflected in her instrument.
“The viola personality is not quite as competitive as violinists’, and we tend to be more of a team player,” she says.
She admits, however, that she didn’t know much about the viola until she watched an orchestral performance at her elementary school.
“Up until that point, all the instruments I knew about were the violin, the one you sit with, and the one you stand with,” Peragine says, jokingly referencing the cello and the bass.
“I love how deep the sound [of a viola] is,” she says. “I like that middle note, that middle range. It gives an awesome sound, and you’re just not sure what it is.”
Peragine continued playing the viola throughout middle and high school, making friends with her orchestra classmates, whom she fondly calls “the orch dorks.”
She continued her musical education at the Crane School of Music in Potsdam, N.Y., where she majored in musical education and performance.
“The musical education degree was just a backup, so it was really serendipitous that I just so happened to like teaching,” she says.
After she graduated from Crane, Peragine furthered her musical training at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she earned a master’s degree in music and volunteered with a string education professor.
“Although my teaching program [at Crane] was as tough as it gets, I still wished I knew how to handle certain situations,” says Peragine, who spent her last semester at UNC Greensboro teaching at Grimsley High School. “There are things they can’t prepare you for. The teaching becomes the easy part. It’s the other part that’s difficult.”
Her experiences as a first-time teacher led her to begin writing in a journal. Today she is using her journal entries to write a book, which she considers a way to “demystify education.”
“The first year of teaching is an education in itself, which is what the book is about,” Peragine says.
In addition to serving as an educator, Peragine is a professional musician. She is a section viola player in the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Carolina Philharmonic.
“Performing actively makes it difficult to manage my time,” she says, “but one of the reasons my kids really took to me is because I have real experience. I’ve been able to help kids decide to, or not to, follow a musical career.”
Peragine is also involved with the Conservatory International, a pilot conservatory program in Pinehurst, where she is the youth string orchestra conductor. She says the organization’s goal is to build a youth orchestra program and make it available to local kids.
“I’m trying to get kids to buy into the idea that there is equal value in going to a youth orchestra as there is a football game,” she says.
Something that may help persuade her students of the relevancy of orchestral music is the string-instrument movement that is embracing American music, as opposed to European music. The movement strays away from the traditional pieces by Bach and Mozart that music students are accustomed to, and instead it focuses on styles native to the United States: Native American, spirituals and jazz.
Peragine is joining the movement by learning to play the electric violin in order to teach her students in a way that is not “overly manufactured.”
“I think it’s important for teachers to still be performing,” she says. “The more authentic it is, the more fresh it can be. It’s always more potent when it’s from a primary source. I’d rather be a primary source.”
Allison Russell, a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, was a summer intern at The Pilot.
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