Few people can say they have played Carnegie Hall before they have a driver’s license, but for one Stansbury High School sophomore, Christmas came early when she was told she would perform an exhibition solo at Carnegie Hall Dec. 21 during the International Concerto Competition — a venue to choose the top instrumentalists and vocalists in the nation.
Suni (pronounced sunny) Norman, 15, daughter of David and Stacy Norman of Overlake, had competed in the American Protégé International Piano and Strings Competition Dec. 11 through 15 at New York City’s Kauffman Center, where she took third place.
The president and vice president of the sponsoring organization met with Norman backstage after the concert and told her that she deserved to place first, not third. To make up for the inconsistency, the two invited Norman to play at Carnegie Hall the next week.
Performing Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto, Allegro Vivacissimo, Third Movement,” Norman wowed the crowd. Because her normal accompanist was unavailable, Norman contacted a backup pianist who is a college performance major at New York’s Mannes School of Music. The two met the night before for a practice run.
“It was so fun to be in New York City. I took a taxi ride to Carnegie Hall, but I hit my head on the car’s seat and my lip swelled up,” Norman said. “We were there a couple of hours before for a sound check. I practiced and waited, but I didn’t get nervous at all and I didn’t mess up once.”
In just seven years time, Norman had honed what many would call an innate talent. Her rise in such a short time to play the premiere concert hall in the country is definitely a rarity. Her love for the violin came at a young age when she would play her Jumpstart Toddlers game on her computer.
“I always clicked on the violin because it played a song I recognized,” she said. “It was the first movement of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons.’”
On her eighth birthday, Norman’s grandfather bought her her first violin and she began private lessons with Abby Stowe at Tooele’s Stowe Family Music. She progressed quickly and within two months, she needed a new teacher. Melanie Gardner, with the Orchestra at Temple Square, was her next mentor.
From there she stepped into Jack Ashton’s studio in Sugarhouse for private lessons. Ashton is a professor of piano at Snow College and a former orchestra director for Olympus High School. He recently retired from the Utah Symphony, but continues to conduct the Young Artists’ Chamber Players out of Salt Lake City.
“Jack is a very talented man,” said Norman’s mother, Stacy. “He knows how to pull that musicality inside of kids out of them. It is amazing. We like him a lot.”
Other than Carnegie Hall and the Kauffman Center, Norman has a long list of other honors, despite the fact that she has only been competing for two years. She has been a two-time member of the All-State Orchestra, received honors as the youngest to place at the Utah Music Teacher’s National Association, where she has received first place, alternate and honorable mention awards.
Norman became one of four violin finalists the last two years in the Salute to Youth program with the Utah Symphony. She performed a solo at a concertino at Westminster College in Salt Lake City in November. She is also concertmaster (first chair violin) for the Stansbury High School orchestra.
Norman has high aspirations. She has auditioned as a soloist with the Oquirrh Mountain Symphony and the American Fork Symphony. She will compete in the International Stradivarius Competition. If she wins this, she will have an opportunity to play a real Stradivarius violin with the Utah Symphony. In April she will be competing in New York City again for the American String Teachers Association.
“When I was younger, I was big-headed,” she said.
Her parents would praise her and it was easy for pride to get in the way.
As time went on, however, she said, “I found there’s always someone who’s going to be better than you. So it’s best not to get big-headed.”
Post high school, Norman is looking at studying at a music conservatory such as the Manhattan School of Music or Colburn in California. She will become a performance major, which will give her the opportunity to fine-tune her technique.
Norman had been practicing her piece she played at Carnegie Hall for 10 months. Practice runs about five hours per day, she said. Improving her abilities includes drives to Salt Lake for Saturday lessons and Mondays for Young Artists’ Chamber Group. She said giving lessons right now in her life would take too much of her time and be too tiresome. However, she does want to teach down the road.
“Teaching makes you better at playing, because you remember the things you should be doing and are more aware to apply them,” she said.
Before a competition, Norman is known to get up as early as 5 a.m. to get ready for school and then at 6 a.m., she will begin fingering the notes on her violin so she doesn’t wake up her three younger siblings.
“My violin’s very loud,” she said. “One time my dad asked me to put my mute on the violin and I said, ‘It’s already on, Dad.’”
She will sometimes practice as late as 11 p.m., she said.
As far as music she listens to, Norman prefers classical, but said she also enjoys pop music and she really enjoys the Piano Guys (Steven Sharp Nelson on cello and Jon Schmidt on piano).
“I listen to the classical pieces I am working on frequently because I can memorize them quicker if I listen to them,” she said.
Future goals for Norman include playing in the New York Philharmonic and living in New York City.
“New York City is so fun,” she said. “There are so many people there and so much to do.”
So far she has seen the Broadway play “Mamma Mia,” seen the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular, toured the NBC studios, walked the Brooklyn Bridge, seen the Rockefeller Center’s massive Christmas tree and seen the Christmas lights on the Rockefeller Center and Empire State Building. She has taken in Little Italy and Chinatown, but there is much more to do for this petite, brown-haired fire ball with tight violin virtuoso biceps.
In between pumping a bow, memorizing the next Bach or Mozart piece, Norman has another dream. It is to get her learner’s permit to drive by February.
“My mom has to drive me into practices in Salt Lake City a lot,” she said.
She hopes her confidence and focus won’t wane as she enters the DMV, takes the test and smiles for that itty-bitty camera, or as she faces the driving portion of the test. These are just minute matters for someone who’s already experienced being on stage at Carnegie at 15, delivering a flawless and unforgettable performance.