Christina Courtin (B.M. ’05) came to Juilliard to study classical violin, but by the time she graduated she had already begun attracting notice as a singer-songwriter on the New York City club circuit. Since leaving the School, she has happily pursued her diverse musical passions with an active schedule performing at well-known New York venues such as Joe’s Pub, the Living Room, and the Bell House, and elsewhere throughout the country; singing in Germany on a program with one of her most important mentors, Dawn Upshaw; playing violin with the Knights, an innovative chamber orchestra founded by fellow Juilliard alumni Colin Jacobsen (B.M. ’99) and Eric Jacobsen (B.M. ’04); and releasing her first album, a self-titled CD on Nonesuch last June. She spoke to The Journal recently from California, where she was performing at clubs in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
You came to Juilliard as a classical violinist with a covert singing habit. How did your identity as an artist evolve during your time here?
Well, when I first got to school I was pretty alone for my first year, and kind of lost, and trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I was lucky to meet some really great friends, but I was having so much trouble my third year of school and I wasn’t really happy. I really missed singing, and I really missed that side of my musical identity, so I started a band and then … everything in my life got a lot better, and everything was a lot more fun. It really changed my perspective and how I interacted with my teachers and colleagues.
Before you came to Juilliard, did you think of singing and violin more like an either/or thing?
No. When I got to school I was pretty shy about the singing thing, I was definitely scared to tell my teacher. I was just kind of nervous about what people were going to think of me. [I was shy] about performing in general when I got to school.
I’m surprised to hear you say that, because watching you perform in YouTube clips, you seem so comfortable.
Yeah, I am. I mean, I love being on stage now, it’s really fun, but it’s taken me a really long time to harness my energy and get control of it. I still get nervous now, but it’s better. When I started singing in the band it helped my violin playing so much, and still does, to not be nervous playing the violin.
How does your violin playing fit in with your life as an artist now?
I love playing the violin now! I used to not love it as much as I do, but I really love it now. I mainly play in the group called the Knights. We just have a great time and it’s really like a community of friends.
Tell me about your CD, which came out just a few months ago.
It’s songs that I’ve piled up over the years, and some of the songs from my Juilliard dorm room actually. The first song on the record I wrote in my dorm. I recorded it with a bunch of great musicians in Los Angeles and did some stuff in New York, and I got the Brooklyn Riders playing on it, which is a great string quartet, [and] also the Jacobsen brothers, Colin and Eric Jacobsen, and [Juilliard alumnus] Nick Cords and Johnny Gandelsman. I’m really proud of it and just hope people like it!
When you were at Juilliard, besides the contacts you made with other musicians, what was the most valuable aspect of your education?
I guess I learned a lot about what I did and didn’t want to do. I loved ear training, actually. It was hard, you know, and the tests were rough, but I really enjoyed the challenge of it. I also really did learn a lot from my peers about what I wanted to do and what I wanted to be like as a performer. And checking out other people’s recitals was really fun for me, too. When it’s right at your fingertips and all your friends are involved, it’s great, and really cool, and educational.
Do you have any words of wisdom for current Juilliard students contemplating their futures?
Just do what’s good for you. It’s hard when you’re a student, teachers are always telling you one thing and people are telling you another thing and you’ve just gotta figure out what works for you and go with that, you know? And trust yourself, and have faith. ’Cause it’s hard. It’s a rough world out there. Just have faith and try and be confident and do your thing as best you can.