Throughout her undergraduate and graduate studies at Roosevelt's Chicago College of Performing Arts (CCPA), student violinist Sarah Kovich has struck a balance between multiple chronic illnesses and her academic workload.
Receiving diagnoses for autoimmune and neurological disorders, the O'Fallon, Ill. and Scott Air Force Base resident needed to find a way to adapt to the rigors of a music conservatory lifestyle.
Kovich consulted with a specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He expressed concern about her physical ability to complete her academic work, as his own mother had attended CCPA decades earlier, leaving him to understand the demands of the Roosevelt program.
"Even though her illness resulted in extreme physical discomfort at times, Sarah never let her pain get in the way of her violin playing," said MingHuan Xu, an artist faculty member in violin at CCPA who taught Kovich energy-saving alternative practice techniques.
"Due to her determination and perseverance, Sarah's violin technique and artistry have grown tremendously. If you did not know her well you would never know that she struggles mightily with her physical health," Xu said.
Kovich credits the love and support of family, friends and CCPA faculty for making it possible to complete both her bachelor's and master's degrees of music in violin performance at CCPA.
"As musicians, our life experiences inform the way we approach our craft. Despite the physical and mental toll that illness can take, music remains my source of expression."Sarah KovichMM '19
Her grandmother's love of the violin initially drew Kovich to the instrument. After numerous military moves, she began private violin lessons in Okinawa, Japan at the age of seven.
A 2013 graduate of O'Fallon Township High School, Kovich was a member of the St. Louis Youth Symphony Orchestra and received training in chamber music and music theory through the Webster University Preparatory Program in St. Louis.
Before starting her undergraduate studies at CCPA, she suffered a sudden onset of symptoms that doctors attributed to autoimmune disease.
"At times it has felt incredibly difficult and overwhelming to manage my academic work, practice schedule, and health needs while adjusting to college life," she said, "but I was ultimately driven by my desire to continue pursuing violin performance."
While experiencing an array of symptoms including fatigue, fever and joint swelling/pain, the violinist sometimes had difficulty finding the energy to practice for several hours each day.
In consultation with professor Xu, who is an active chamber musician and soloist, the two developed an individualized practice plan combining mental and physical strategies.
"On days when I found myself at my physical limit for playing, I would spend time visualizing the score to test my memorization or visualize a practice session where I focused on the feel of the violin, bow distribution, and fingerings," said Kovich. "While it absolutely does not replace physical practice, mental strategies such as these help supplement efficient hands-on work."
Kovich completed a bachelor's of music degree in violin performance from CCPA in 2017. She will receive a master's of music in violin performance degree on Friday, May 10.
At the American Musicological Society's Midwest Chapter in September 2018, she presented her research on Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich's physical and psychological struggle with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and its influence on music, which received the organization's A-R Editions Outstanding Student Paper Award.
She became the first CCPA student to enter a dual studio, studying with internationally recognized CCPA faculty member Almita Vamos, as well as with Xu.
She also received a graduate assistantship in the conservatory's music history department with Assistant Professor of Music History Thomas J. Kernan.
"Through frustration, pain and discomfort, Sarah has been a highly effective learner who has never missed an opportunity to grow in every setting she has been provided," said Kernan. Upon completing her master's degree, Kovich hopes to continue as an active performer, scholar and teacher.
"As musicians, our life experiences inform the way we approach our craft. Despite the physical and mental toll that illness can take, music remains my source of expression," she said.