PASADENA, Calif. – At first glance, it looks like an ordinary violin lesson, except the student isn’t physically in the room.

“Hi, Lisa," Nathan Cole said to the woman on his computer screen.

What You Need To Know

  • Nathan Cole is the First Associate Concertmaster for the LA Philharmonic.

  • He first picked up a violin at the age of 4

  • Launched the Violympics, a virtual 12-week program

  • 3,000 people signed up for the program

In a way, Cole was ahead of the digital curve. COVID-19 forced a lot of instructors online, but he has been building his digital presence for a decade, with YouTube videos that get more than 100,000 views.

“I have people writing to me from all corners of the world saying, ‘Oh, what you said about this very specific, very nerdy violin issue really spoke to me," he said.

Cole is the First Associate Concertmaster for the L.A. Philharmonic. He first picked up a violin at the age of 4, but in March, he put it down for a bit.

“I had about a two week period when I just didn’t really want to open the case," he said. "I couldn’t think of a reason to practice, and it just kind of made me sad to see the violin.”  

It is an understandable reaction, but one he says musicians need to work through quickly, because with concerts and festivals canceled, now is the perfect time to work on technique.  

Cole launched the Violympics, which is a virtual 12-week program that is part instruction and part contest. It is designed to keep musicians motivated through positivity and a shared purpose. Last month he held a one week free trial, acting as a dress rehearsal of sorts.

He only expected a few dozen people to sign up. In the end 3,000 people participated, including Mathew Kinnear, a student at Ohio State University. Participants were challenged to learn a piece Cole composed specifically for the program.

“Nobody’s going to learn a virtuosic piece perfectly in a span of five days," Kinnear said, "but it’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it.”

Kinnear put his mind to it, and his fingers, ultimately earning the gold medal and a full scholarship to the summer-long program. During the trial week he says he practiced at least four hours a day, fine tuning his technique, posting his breakthroughs, and communicating with other players.

“Finding ways to connect with people," Kinnear said, "because at the end of the day our industry is connecting and playing."

When will orchestras play together again and what will that look that? Cole suspects it won’t be the same, not at first, and that will bring a new set of challenges professional musicians will have to master.

“It’s difficult to play sitting further apart," he said, "but we’re flexible.  We’ll adapt.  What’s important is being able to play together again.”

Cole looks forward to sharing a musical connection that won’t require an internet connection.