At 15 years old, Oak Bay’s Ryan Howland is well on his way to becoming a professional world-renowned violinist.
“He loves the music, but I think more specifically, he loves being a violinist,” said Michael van der Sloot, Howland’s violin teacher of five years at the Victoria Conservatory of Music.
Howland has been playing the violin for 10 years. It all started when his mother was working as a piano teacher at the Conservatory.
“She would have to look after [my brother and I] at the same time. So instead of just doing nothing, we decided to do violin lessons,” said Howland.
Although he takes lessons at the Conservatory once a week, Howland also practises four or five hours a day on his own.
“All along the way, we’ve really focused on being goal-oriented and striving to get to the next level,” said van der Sloot. “Because of [Ryan’s] work ethic, he was able to progress through these goals.”
This past summer, Howland won first place in the Victoria Performing Arts Festival, as well as first at the provincial competition in Penticton.
For the past year, Howland has been going back and forth to Interlaken, Switzerland to take masterclasses with Zakhar Bron, a premier violin teacher in Europe.
Howland’s current goal is to do well in international competitions.
He has been accepted to compete at the International Boris Goldstein Violin Competition in January in Bern, Switzerland.
“The [competitions] I’m doing now, the level is so high [and] I’ve just started getting to that level.”
To pay for all of his trips overseas, Howland has to busk on the streets downtown. For a two-week trip to Switzerland, Howland busked for two months almost every day. He does it for the money, but also for the fun and experience, he said.
“I like to perform for other people and of course violin is a great way to do that and express yourself to others.”
Van der Sloot said funding is often a cause for concern in these situations.
“It’s a major issue, because the families see this major talent in these kids and want to give them every opportunity, but it’s tough,” he said. “It’s a lot of money.”
Howland is in Grade 10 at Oak Bay High, but in March he auditioned for the International Piano Academy in Imola, Italy and was accepted. His classes there with Bron’s assistant Mauricio Sciaretta started in October.
“It’s an intensive course where I go for two weeks every time and I have 10 lessons every time, for a total of 40 lessons in one year.”
Despite being so advanced, Howland said he still gets nervous every time he goes on stage.
“After a few minutes of playing it begins to feel better,” he said.
Once he graduates high school, Howland plans to study violin in either Switzerland at the Zurich University of the Arts, or in Germany at the Kronberg Academy.
Howland said he feels he still has so much to learn.
“A few years ago I would think what my success would feel like and I would think that I would be so happy when I would achieve some of those goals, but once I have, I feel like I’m still not quite there yet. I still have a long way to go. Every time, my standards increase.”
Howland hosts a fundraising concert for the upcoming international competition on Jan. 11 at James Bay United Church at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets, $15 each, are available at Long & McQuade (756 Hillside Ave.), Ivy’s Book Shop (2188 Oak Bay Ave. and via Michelle Howland at 778-432-3777 or firstname.lastname@example.org.