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Life in a House of Music with Zara B’Far

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Zara B’Far (Photo Credit: Kristin Elridge Photography)

Their house is brimming with music. Lily B’Far, age 11, studies violin; Anna, age 14, plays the piano; Zara, age 17, studies cello. Their mother, Susan Boettger, teaches music keyboard at Irvine Valley College (IVC). Susan is also the artistic director for the IVC Keyboard and Chamber Music Series.

Recently, I spoke with Zara, accompanied by her mother, on my patio overlooking Shady Canyon. The weather was ideal for an interview. I asked Zara what it was like living in a house filled with music. Her response delighted me: “I don’t think I’ve sent a single voice message from my house that didn’t have piano or violin in the background.”

Zara is beginning her senior year at Woodbridge High School. Soon, she will be off to a university to study for a degree in music. When asked how she had spent her last summer in high school, Zara said: “It was a big deal. It was all college prep.” The big summer event had Zara, along with her mom and two of her sisters, traveling on a 10-day Italy Honors Music Tour.

Twenty-five music students, along with 40 parents and family members joined the tour. The students were selected from the top groups of the Orange County Junior Chamber Music (JCM) program, which consists of roughly 300 members. (Susan is JCM’s founder and executive director.) During the tour, Zara and her trio performed throughout northern Italy — including Venice, Verona and Florence.

Zara performing the Dvorak Cello Concerto

The JCM has played a key role in Zara’s musical development. Susan told me: “It’s hard as a parent to get your children to practice. They have their own minds. But when you match a kid with other kids who love music, that really motivates and inspires them.”

When I asked Zara about the source of her motivation, she replied: “Absolutely number one is my dad (Reza B’Far). My dad is absolutely the god of work ethic. Truly unwavering motivation.”

I then asked whether any type of music was out of bounds in the house. Zara said: “We have ultimate freedom over our music choices. We can pretty much listen to whatever we want.”

Curious about her musical evolution, I asked how the cello became her instrument. Zara’s response spoke volumes: “It just clicked with me. I love it. I found a beautiful skill that I liked. I had this thing that I needed to make perfect and shape and refine. I also got better every time I played. It was like wow! This is so fun!”

Wondering about the downside, I inquired as to whether Zara suffers from stage fright. “Not really,” she answered. “It’s the before. It’s the lead-up when I have a lot of anxiety. But when I sit down and start playing, I really enjoy that.”

Zara on cello; Susan on piano. (Photo Credit: Angelina True)

So, what happens if she loses her place during a performance? Zara‘s response was illuminating. “It can happen. If I am not fully in sync, I basically shut my brain off and let my fingers do whatever they need to do. I immediately revert back to my muscle memory. If I think about it too much, I will mess it up even further.”

Susan added: “When Zara plays in front of faculty, or performs a whole concert, she’s enormously comfortable with what happens. She’s so relaxed.”

I decided to dig a little deeper, asking Zara, during a concerto, when the pressure is really on, what does it feel like? Zara’s observation surprised me: “It can be so incredibly bodily fatiguing. Even two or three pages through, everything is aching. I’m just trying to get through this as fast as I can.”

Imagining myself starting out on a musician’s path, I asked Zara what advice she would offer. Her response was a lesson in itself. “If you simply cannot see yourself being happy in any other career path, you need to be immersed in music. Practice. Literally just practice. I admire the stability in other careers, like my dad’s. To be a musician is a very hard life. You cannot skip a day of practice.”

Zara continued: “Sometimes I want to quit. But then you just get back in. Sometimes before I go to bed, I’ll sit down and I’ll play through a piece. Just so my fingers at least touch the strings.”

In my opinion, musicians commit a large part of their lives to the pleasure of others, the audience. Having the opportunity to look behind the curtain into the mind of an aspiring master cellist, Zara B’far, was more than a conversation. It was a genuine pleasure.


Video Links:

Zara and Susan performing “Salut D’amour”

Zara performing Mendelssohn Piano Trio No 2 in c minor with the JCM Trio

Terry Schilling

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