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When Dr Michelle Starr of Gawler Veterinary Services in Willaston, SA, wants to relax, she plays a favourite piece on her handmade violin.
“I play violin in the Australian Veterinary Orchestra. I joined soon after they started in 2014 and it is a great way to meet people through a common love of music. At present there are over 200 members so there’s a good turn-up every time we play a concert. We perform once a year at the big AVA Conference in whichever state it’s being held. All vets and vet students are welcome to join the orchestra.
“I started playing the piano when I was five years old, but I never really took to it. When I was 13, I changed to the violin and enjoyed it immediately. I’ve been playing ever since. The violin is a fretless instrument so when you start, lines are marked across the neck to help you find the note. Eventually you have to rely on muscle memory and feeling the note. At 17, I achieved a Grade Four level on the violin just so I could attend the state music camp.
“At Melbourne uni, I joined the Engineering and Music Society and played in their orchestra. Starting work as a vet left very little time for music so it was great to join the Australian Veterinary Orchestra. We played Elgar’s Nimrod variation a couple of years ago and that’s just stunning to perform. It gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. I also play with a small ensemble that visits nursing homes and aged-care facilities. That’s very helpful at keeping my hand in.
“My violin is very special to me. My father does woodwork as a hobby and the violin I play was handmade by him. As I’ve grown into it, I recognise that it’s quite bright, but I love it. There’s a modern Italian composer called Ludovico Einaudi who mainly writes for the piano. A few of his pieces have been converted for violin and they are just beautiful to play.
“What I love about music is that it takes you out of whatever else is on your mind. When you focus on music, you can put aside the other stresses in your life. You can forget about work; you can forget about that case that’s really bugging you—it’s very therapeutic. While I like to challenge myself by learning difficult pieces with new fingering, sometimes you have to take it easy. It’s nice to pick a piece I like and relax into it. That’s when I really enjoy the violin.”