Charmian Stewart

professional violinist & avid hiker

San Anselmo, CA 


she plays the violin

...and beautifully at that. she plays for the people with the people (she’s concertmaster of the Mill Valley Philharmonic, part of the Marin Symphony). she plays for her family (her husband and son), and she plays for her students (who range in age from 2 - 18). but oftentimes: she plays for herself. like so many passionate musicians do. 

here’s how she does it.


where do you live? 

“San Anselmo, CA with my husband. our son is in college. i moved to California years ago because of the February weather in Ohio! we have lived in Marin for fifteen years. we moved here for the school, the hiking, the community — and because we can walk and bike almost everywhere we need to go (if we want to).”


what do you do — professionally, personally, passionately? 

“i am a violinist. as a performer, i am a member of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz — the highlight of my year. i am the concertmaster of the Mill Valley Philharmonic. i play regularly with the Marin Symphony (and with other regional ensembles on occasion) and i have a Celtic-Scandinavian traditional music group that includes my son when he is home. [Ed. note: Bay area peeps! Catch Charmain’s next performance here!]

San Anselmo Suzuki Strings is my teaching studio, and i currently have 27 students from ages 2-18. my students recently had fun playing downtown for the San Anselmo Live — they close the main street for dining, live music, and general merry making. pre-COVID, we used perform for assisted living homes and library events. just this week we had our monthly group lesson in halloween costumes! it's always fun to see Batman and Princess Jasmine playing the violin!

the Suzuki method was developed by Shinichi Suzuki in Japan as a way to teach young children to play the violin. his ultimate goal was to end war, having suffered through and survived two World Wars in Japan. his idea was that, if all children could communicate through music, they would not want to kill each other. teaching children to speak a common language, helping them to develop into accomplished and beautiful hearted human beings who "love everything and never stop seeking truth, goodness, and beauty" is the heart of the Suzuki method. 

personally, and passionately, i love to hike (almost daily), have a huge garden / farm, and love to read. and i love dark chocolate.”


what path led you here? 

“i always knew i wanted to play the violin — ever since my siblings started playing violin in public school. my mom started me with Suzuki violin lessons when i was 4 years old. in fact, i just had my first violin teacher over for a family lunch... she is still a part of my life and has had a huge impact on me. i was lucky enough to attend chamber music camps in the summer, which solidified my love of playing music. from there, i went to Walnut School for the Arts, a boarding school outside Boston. every Saturday, we musicians went into Boston for a full day of musical education at the New England Conservatory in addition to the lessons, chamber music, music theory and history classes we took during the week at school. for college, i went to Oberlin Conservatory, and then got my Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from the Cleveland Institute of Music. i was inspired to move to California because of the weather in Ohio, the abundance of freelance work in the Bay Area, and because i could live with my brother and his wife.”


what inspires you? drives you? 

“musically? always improving my ability to play the violin, especially producing a beautiful tone. if i am lucky, about an hour into practicing everything flows and the sound from my violin resonates through my entire body. that is inspiring, and gives me chills every time. teaching: when a student has that AHA moment. when they get to the stage where they care enough about their sound to really listen and fix things. then they start to be their own teacher. the Cabrillo Festival and fiddle camp with my son in the summer are major inspirations, creatively and socially.”


the one piece of music everyone simply must hear at least once? 

“Unless by Hawktail is my total favorite trad (traditional, not classical) tune. my son thinks i listen and practice it too much. Brittney Haas is a fantastic fiddler and i love how they build the tune up. i can really feel their passion for playing in this recording. 

for listening, hands down you can't beat Beethoven String Quartet Opus 132, especially the 3rd movement. he contrasts a soulful prayer contemplating his illness, deafness and mortality with an exuberance joy and thanks for life. 

Anna Clyne, Within Her Arms: when i played this at the Cabrillo Festival, it opened the floodgates of tears it was so beautiful.”

Caroline Shaw, Entre Act. also one of my favorite performances.”


your favorite piece to play? 

“play by myself: the Bach Partita in d minor for solo violin. there is a part in the piece where it's like the sun just starts to peek out of the clouds after a long and violent storm. 

Beethoven for string quartets. string quartets allow you the intimacy of making music just with four people. bigger than solo violin but more personal than an orchestra. 

in orchestra, i love playing Brahms, his music is so dense, complex and deep. and, of course, anything we play at the Cabrillo Festival! there is a kind of high we get from 40-80 people working hard at making beautiful music from dots on a page.”


we are living in crazy times. how has the pandemic changed the way you work and live? 

“when COVID hit, i started teaching my full load on Zoom the first day after shutdown and hardly took a break for about a year. kids didn't have much to do so they really wanted violin lessons! teaching over Zoom taught me to be much more clear and succinct in my use of words. i couldn't use my hands to help shape a bow hold, i had to learn how to describe in such a way that a seven year old could understand. so i became a much better teacher. my students also became much more independent. i couldn't tune their instruments for them, so they had to learn how to. i couldn't really hear their true tone, so they had to learn how to listen better and be their own judge of tone. that made them better students and violinists. the downside was it was hard on the kids, to have everything on Zoom, and when i finally saw them in person, there were a few odd habits that had developed! but those were easily fixed. one huge positive is that i can now confidently teach remotely. i have one young student who lives in Seattle, and i have never met her in person! but she loves her lessons and is doing quite well. i also started a three year old over Zoom and didn't meet her for almost a year. she is progressing by leaps and bounds, and it's nice to have the Zoom option since she lives about an hour away. 

another positive for us is that our son came home to do college remotely, so we feel like we got an amazing and unexpected gift of having him home with us. he was a great roommate! and he helped me when i dug up about 600 square feet of grass to put in a farm. my husband and i also got to hike together almost every day, a habit we still enjoy.”


your holiday plans? 

“we are looking forward to our son coming home for Christmas. we always go caroling in the neighborhood. our more musical friends and neighbors who like to sing get together, get fortified with warm food, spiced cider and hot buttered rum, and then go house to house with caroling books, flashlights, jingle bells , drums and lots of cheer! i will hopefully have quite a few holiday gigs now that we are opening up a bit more. i also get my students to go out and play holiday music for the community whenever possible.”


Best book you read lately? 

“for my Women In Literature book club, we read Mrs. Dalloway by Virgina Woolf. her writing has so much rhythm and cadence. the first time i read it a number of years ago, i wasn't really that into it. the second time, i absolutely LOVED it. i am also really enjoying reading Moby Dick out loud to my husband. i had no idea Melville was so funny! for my translation book club, we just read The Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck. i haven't digested it all yet, but it was a lyrical and heart breaking book that read like a fairy tale. my book clubs are like a dream come true for a serious reader, because all of the women in them are serious scholars of literature: published writers, poets, journalism teachers, feminist studies scholars. i learn so much from these strong and amazing women.”


piece of époque on rotation?

“a month ago, it was the jumpsuit and the one two crop top. now it is the cable knit sweater tee and either the essential pullover sweater or the all day cardigan. i am ALWAYS cold. i look forward to finally wearing my work from anywhere trouser and a wool blouse when i perform with the Marin Symphony this concert set!”


shop Charmian'S picks

three random items you can’t live without? 

“Frownies, Cocofloss and my favorite nail clippers.”

not-so guilty pleasure? 

“Lake Champlain. 72% chocolate.”

all-around life hack you swear by? 

“growing or gleaning all of our fruit.”


EditorS' notes & PSAS!

  • Want to catch Charmian in action? (WHO WOULDN’T!) Snag tix, Bay Area peeps, here.
  • Want to follow in Charmian’s footsteps? Email her if you’re interested in lessons: