When Simeon Brown plays the violin his eyes are almost closed. His face relaxes and he’s neither smiling nor frowning. It’s easy to imagine he sees sheet music, or the audience, or his fingers waltzing across the fingerboard, but what he really sees when he plays the violin is the air in front of his nose.
“I get into this zone,” Brown says. “I’m not thinking. I’m not doing anything. I’m just playing. It’s how I worship.”
What the audience sees are angles and motion. The bow, which stays perpendicular to the violin’s neck, travels in perpetual figure eights, hinged at the elbow and driven by the shoulder and back. The left arm, hidden from Brown beneath the body of his instrument, looks to the audience like an upside-down triangle that expands and contracts at the elbow to move the left hand along the fingerboard. The sight of it all is satisfying in its own right, but culminates in nothing if you cannot hear the room awash with music.
Like so many good stories, Brown’s starts with his mother. When he was 7, she sat him down beside his sister and told them both it was time to pick an instrument. “She told us we better pick right,” he recalls, “because we were sticking with it until we graduated.”
Brown doesn’t know why he chose the violin. “Why do 7-year-olds do anything?” he laughs. But he started with a studio, went to the lessons and practiced diligently. As promised, he stuck with it. At each of the studio’s end-of-the-year recitals, Brown moved closer to the advanced players.
It’s clear to him now that he was supposed to be in that studio. Without knowing it, he was taking the first steps down a path he believes he’s supposed to be on. His sister Tatiana likes to tease him about that. She’s also a musician, and she tells him he’s had “the red carpet laid out in front of him.”
“I get into this zone. I’m not thinking. I’m not doing anything. I’m just playing. It’s how I worship.”
“Back then what I really wanted was to go to the NBA,” says Brown, who still likes to get out on the basketball court in his spare time. “When it became obvious that wasn’t going to happen, it was fine. I loved math, too. Math always made sense to me, so in high school that was my thing.”
When Brown enrolled at George Fox in 2012, he considered two courses of study: engineering or math. He knew he wasn’t interested in teaching or doing research. And his father, a minister, had an engineering degree from Cal Tech. It was a logical choice.
Because Brown had fulfilled most of his general education requirements during high school, he realized he had room in his schedule for a double major. “I remember thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll do music,’” he says. “I always knew I’d keep playing, but I didn’t consider it a viable option, a life path.”
“In engineering there are guidelines to follow and steps to take,” he says. “When you’re done, you know if you’re right or not. Music is similar, but it’s not as well defined. There’s more freedom in music. It’s an art, so it doesn’t always make sense the way engineering does, but I like the possibilities there.”
By his second year at George Fox, Brown noticed a shift in his own possibilities. He felt God was pulling him in one direction. Music, not engineering, began to look like an open door.
Watch Simeon Brown perform with Christian recording artist Aaron Strumpel.
“His playing really opened up and took on a new form,” says professor Rebekah Hanson, Brown’s violin teacher at George Fox. “He was able to express what he wanted to, to display what he wanted to.”
The more time he put into the violin, the more he got out of it. He looked at where he was and how far he had come and finally asked himself, “Why fight it?”
By the summer of 2015, Brown had earned a spot at the Brevard Music Center in North Carolina alongside some of the top musicians in the United States. Last summer he participated in the Chamber Music Camp of Portland.
With graduation coming up in May, Brown is preparing for a master’s degree in music performance. He’s sending out video to Oregon, USC and Rice. Hanson says it’s like preparing for three different recitals at the same time.
Ultimately, Brown wants to join a symphony. He dreams about cities like New York and Los Angeles. He loves that there’s always something going on. He feels he can tap into the energy and the pulse of the city, and he likes the sensation of being alone and surrounded by people at the same time.
Like a spot in the NBA, the odds of earning a place with a top symphony are pretty long. Brown said it’s no secret how you get there.
“I tell my own students that putting in the time is the most important thing, which is something I remember a teacher in studio saying,” he says. “I tell my own students to practice every day, even if it’s only for 15 minutes. That’s the main thing that got me to where I am today.”