UI student shares “universal” language of music


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The face of the 28-year-old changed from pensive to focused the moment he rested his chin on the base of his violin and slowly rocked its neck in the cradle of his hand.

His pristine John Norwood bow sat tentatively on the E string as Andrew Uhe, a third-year doctoral student at the University of Iowa, breathed in to initiate the music.

“Andrew combines a very keen intellect with a beautiful, clean sound, wonderful coordination, and a level of detail that’s unusual for musicians his age,” said Katie Wolfe, a UI associate professor of violin and Uhe’s adviser.

The visible connection between the musician and the worn violin makes it seem as though it’s been there forever. But that passion didn’t start until 11 years after he started playing — when he was 14 and about to start college early.

“I always knew I had a special connection with music,” Uhe said. “But I didn’t enjoy practicing. I wasn’t very serious.”

Uhe grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich. as the second oldest of nine children. His parents, huge fans of classical music, encouraged all of their kids to learn a string instrument.

Uhe gravitated toward the violin.

“Its clarity and register really resonated with me,” he said. “The violin has agility and a special range. I love the intensity and precise detail.”

So he continued playing violin, but when he started taking college courses at 14, he finally realized that he wanted to stick with it. He took his passion further in school, earning a master’s degree from Ohio University.

The latest piece that he performed at the UI Hospitals and Clinics was 45 minutes long. But he memorizes most pieces.

“Some pieces I can memorize in two to three days,” he said. “More difficult pieces, such as Bach, take some time to percolate. Sometimes months.”

Uhe has been teaching children at the Marion Music Academy in Marion since he arrived at the UI two years ago.

He said growing up with his brothers and sisters gave him patience that has helped him in the art of teaching — what he said is his true passion.

“I’d love to keep playing, recitals, and other opportunities, but I cannot imagine a life without teaching,” he said.

He said watching his siblings learn how to read and play music allows him to tap into the psychology of young children.

“Teaching makes you sensitive to how other people respond to music,” he said. “It’s very easy to get involved in one’s own musical process, and having to explain music and really expand those concepts to someone younger gives new perspective.”

While at the UI, Uhe pursues his performance and teaching but also takes two courses in music theory and music history.

“Theory helps articulate and process the insights of a particular piece, which can have wonderful consequences for performance of a piece,” said Jennifer Iverson, a UI assistant professor of music theory and Uhe’s theory adviser.

Uhe often tries to verbalize why people love music and attributes it to people feeling the need to express what they feel.

“Music is a universal and nuanced way of emoting,” he said.

But music doesn’t have to come from a string instrument, he said. To Uhe, nothing compares the raw humanity of the human voice, and he also plays the piano.

“If there’s no pianist at church, I’ll fill in,” he said with a smile.

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