Violinist and Clonlara alum Benjamin Sutin lives and works in New York City, where he has performed in a wide range of venues: the pit orchestra for off-Broadway shows, a freelance orchestra gig at Carnegie Hall, salsa groups, rock bands, and various jazz ensembles. He credits his learning experience with Clonlara for helping to equip him with skills to launch a successful music career.
Ben is most passionate about teaching and composing music, and currently has six private students who primarily study jazz and improvisation with him. He also performs his own original music in venues throughout the city and recently released third album, Hard Bop Hannukah.
A Performer in the Making
Growing up in a musical family in southern New Jersey near Philadelphia, Ben developed an interest in string instruments early on. At 4 years old, he went to see his oldest brother’s guitar teacher perform at a local jazz club in Philly (yes, clubbing at age 4!). Ben was intrigued by the bass, but the bassist told him to “start with the violin,” which he did, asking for and receiving a violin and lessons for his 5th birthday. Ben never did take up bass, but he began learning piano at 8 years old when his family bought a local music school. A couple of years ago, he also started teaching himself viola to complement his violin skills, and he still plays piano for fun and to assist in composing.
When Ben began Clonlara’s Home-Based Education Program (now the Off-Campus Program), his older brothers had already been with Clonlara for some time. Ben completed his high school diploma, then moved to New York to attend the Manhattan School of Music, where he earned a bachelor’s in jazz violin performance in 2015. Knowing that the city was the best place for an aspiring jazz musician to launch a career, he decided to stay and build his professional connections.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Ben has shifted the way he performs, adapting to virtual lessons and gigs while also canceling plans to perform. “Performing in front of the screen is not even close to the same thing as in front of real people. It’s definitely taken some time to get used to it,” he says. More recently, he has returned to playing occasional in-person gigs, while observing social distancing and mask-wearing protocols.
The Student Becomes the Teacher
Reflecting on his experience of homeschooling with Clonara, Ben shares that he most enjoyed the flexibility “to craft a curriculum that directly and best reflected who I was and how I learned and grew as a student. It gave me the necessary foundations, scholastically and otherwise, while allowing me to focus on my passions.” These included practicing violin and piano for as long as he wanted, in addition to completing his schoolwork. “What I got the most out of was the ability to manage my own time and schedule,” he notes, adding that for many early-career musicians, managing their time can be a struggle after many years of having course schedules created for them. Homeschooling also gave Ben “a better sense of independence,” and led him to “think outside the box in terms of problem solving.”
“I’ve never been good at classroom teaching,” says Ben. “However, my private teaching is super strong, and I think that can be directly correlated to the one-on-one focused environment of parent to student in homeschooling.” He describes his teaching as “being able to harness what I teach to the very specific needs and personality of the student,” allowing him to support his students as they explore improv and jazz music, even in a virtual setting. “I’ve always thought that was because of homeschooling through Clonlara.”
Ben encourages all students to embrace the words of famed dancer and choreographer Martha Graham: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it.”
Advice for Clonlara Students
For Clonlara students, Ben has more advice: “Do some serious inner soul searching for what it is you’re really passionate about. Take advantage of the time and flexibility Clonlara provides to explore various options. You’ll never know if you like or dislike something if you never try it.” He continues, “Life is really so much more exciting to go through when you love what you do. And remember, never be afraid of who you are or what your passions may be.”
As he continues in his career, Ben aspires to play violin in a Broadway show, go on tour with his own band or as part of another group, and publish his own teaching method books. To learn more about Ben’s latest projects and listen to his music, visit his website or connect with him on social media.
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