Not many kids in rural Minnesota can say they've been in the same room as a Stradivarius violin, much less heard it played by a person who seems to have been born to hold it.
Orchestra students in Willmar got the chance Monday when 17-year-old prodigy violinist Chad Hoopes performed for them on a violin made by Antonio Stradivari in 1713.
Hoopes has been visiting schools around Minnesota as the Classical Minnesota Public Radio artist-in-residence with MPR Classical host Steve Staruch. The visits are intended to promote the importance of music and the arts in students' lives.
Hoopes played selections from Bach, Mendelssohn and Wieniawski. He also played "Watching the White Wheat," a piece based on a Welsh folk song which was written for the 2008 Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition. He won first prize in the Young Artists Division in that competition.
Between his musical performances, Hoopes answered questions from the students of Lisa Zeller and Michelle Suter. He talked about his training and technique and he gave details about his instrument.
Stradivarius violins are rare, and they are as much historical treasures and works of art as they are musical instruments, he said. The instruments carry the names of former owners. The one he plays is called the Cooper; Hakkert; ex Ceci. The violin is on loan from a wealthy patron who wanted to be involved in his career.
Instruments made by Stradivari can be worth from $6 million to $15 million, and Hoopes said he wouldn't be able to play one without a sponsorship. His bow, also provided by a sponsor, was made about 150 years ago by Dominique Peccatte and is valued at about $200,000.
Hoopes answered questions about his life and interests -- he listens to all kinds of music, and his current favorite artist is Adele. "One of my dreams is to actually play with her." He likes to hang out with his friends, like most teenagers, he said, and he's anxious this weekend to get a chance to see "Hunger Games" with his sisters.
Staruch said part of the purpose of the artist-in-residence is to encourage young people to find their own passion in life, whether it's music or something else.
Hoopes never thought about giving up the violin, he said. He's been playing since he was 3, and it has been his passion.
"It's something you love to do," he said. "It's not a job; it's just something you have to do."
Hoopes also answered more specific music-related questions: One girl asked how long it took him to perfect his vibrato. "To this day, it's something I keep working on," he said. "I guess it evolves."
Asked why he moves while he plays, Hoopes said, "I don't think about it; I just feel the music."
Young violinists, in particular, were enthralled with Hoopes' performance. I thought it was amazing, and I could never do that," said eighth-grader Emily Carlson, 14.
"You can tell he works very hard," said 14-year-old Kierra Miller.
Kierra and other students said they were amazed at Hoopes' ability to memorize music, too.
As the students left the room with autographed CDs of his music, Hoopes said he loves his visits to schools. "I think it's the least I can do, to share my talent and share my music."
He is concerned, he said, that arts education is one of the first things to be cut when school budgets get tight.
"It's proven that music helps the mind," he said.
"Playing a musical instrument is hard," and it helps students develop skills and a work ethic.
Hoopes has played since he was a small child, growing up in Minneapolis. He currently lives in Cleveland, where he is in high school at the Cleveland Institute of Music.