In some ways, Julia Salvaggio is just like every other 13-year-old. She goes to school, hangs out with her friends and jokes around with her little brother.
But she’s also one of the world’s most promising musicians, and has a shiny new trophy to prove it.
Earlier this month, Julia placed absolute first at the Paolo Barrasso, a prestigious international music competition in Italy.
Some 500 people from across the world participated in the competition, and only 20 placed absolute first by scoring 100 out of 100. Of those, only two played the violin, including Julia.
The teen is also the first person to participate in the Paolo Barrasso from Qatar.
Qatar Music Academy
Originally of Italian and Belgian descent, Julia has spent most of her life in Doha, and has been playing the violin since she was three years old.
Musical talent runs in her family – her brother plays drums and will soon be auditioning for a youth orchestra, her father used to play the clarinet and her mother’s uncle was a successful professional pianist.
In 2012, Julia joined the Qatar Music Academy (QMA) at Katara Cultural Village.
QMA, which is part of Qatar Foundation, opened in 2011 to promote music education.
There, she honed her violin playing with private tutoring, became a part of a trio and ensemble, and took music theory theories – a subject she has found difficult, Julia admitted to Doha News.
She added, “at QMA we have teachers from all over the world who are qualified and help us improve.”
Being part of an institute has also helped her expand her social circle with like-minded people.
“We all share the same passion, so that’s also really nice to meet people like this at QMA,” she said.
In addition to training at QMA, Julia said she practiced at least an hour and a half a day for weeks before attending the competition.
This may not seem like a lot of time, she said, but the key was focus:
“A little bit of practice with a lot of concentration can do more than a lot of practice without concentration. I just put my gears on, and realized that I was going for a competition here.”
Still, maintaining focus hasn’t always been easy.
Julia is also a Year 8 student at Park House English School and has a tough time managing her schoolwork with QMA, which she goes to twice a week, including on the weekend.
While Julia said she enjoys QMA-related opportunities such as performing with its Youth Orchestra and alongside the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, she added that it’s still difficult to stay committed to her instrument at times.
And getting out of bed on weekends to practice can be tough.
Julia said when this happens, she gives herself a pep talk. “I have to think, ‘What would happen if I didn’t play the violin today?’ ”
Mastering the violin entails continuous practice, including preparing before a lesson, she said.
“There’s nothing worse than arriving to a lesson unprepared. It’s not a nice feeling and you have no sense of accomplishment,” Julia said.
“I won’t get anywhere if I stay in bed,” she added.
When her daughter gets stressed, mother Sylvie van Roey said she encourages Julia to take a break and go for a walk or engage in sports.
“I always let her… choose what was the best option for her.
She is my daughter but also she is becoming my best friend and I will always support her in what makes her happy. In (a) few years she (will) start to see a big result in the huge efforts she has put to reach her level and I am just proud of her,” van Roey told Doha News.
Salvaggio said she plans on partaking in even more prestigious competitions in the upcoming years, but only after she gets through her IGCSE exams. “It’s good to balance both,” she said.
But despite her potential, she has yet to decide whether to play the violin professionally.
“I also have other ideas,” she said, adding that she is considering a career in either computer sciences or electronic engineering.
However, just like many 13-year-olds, she remains unsure.
“If I happen to become better at the violin, and if I happen to keep going on the track I’m going on right now, I guess there’s a possibility of me playing the violin professionally,” she said.