Violinist Catherine Manoukian (BA 2004 Trinity) has an unusual cure for stage fright. Looking out into the blackness of the concert hall, preparing to put bow to strings, she meditates on questions of philosophy. Not on brain-bending metaphysical conundrums, mind you, but on a branch of philosophy called esthetics, which examines perceptions of beauty and art. Manoukian is particularly fascinated by how audiences respond to musical experiences. “When I stand on stage I have these academic issues going through my head, and it’s surprisingly good for the nerves,” she says. “I feel part of a collective rather than having the burden entirely on my shoulders.
“Despite the competing demands, the 23-year-old has managed to expertly merge her lives as a student and virtuoso. The daughter of two violinists, she received formal musical training from Professor Dorothy DeLay at New York’s Juilliard School of Music. Her orchestral debut at age 12 with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra launched her career as a much-sought-after soloist. In the last year Manoukian has travelled overseas almost monthly to perform everywhere from Tokyo to Istanbul. She has also started work on her fourth CD, maintained top grades and been accepted into U of T’s master’s program in philosophy.
Her two passions bring different but equal rewards, she says. “With performing, it’s like an instant transcendental experience. With academics, it’s more of a cumulative process.” She doesn’t yet know how she will sustain a hectic music career while pursuing a professorship. People tell her she may eventually have to choose one over the other, but for now she has no plans to relinquish either love. “Most of the philosophical problems I study are derived from music. And I think my playing is enhanced by some of my academic work. So they fuel one another.”