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School of Music

Violinist Spencer Day Confronts Performance Anxiety, Develops Artistry in School of Music

Day — from Sandy, Utah — will graduate with a BM in music performance with an emphasis in strings on April 24, 2020

For Spencer Day, the decision to pursue violin performance as an undergraduate student was the most natural thing in the world. “I started playing the violin when I was 5 years old,” said Day. “I knew early on that I really loved the violin and that I wanted to see how far it could take me.” Despite this clear sense of direction as to what he wanted to study, the road to a music performance degree became unexpectedly rocky after Day returned from his mission and started his classes in the BYU School of Music. “When I first got here, I developed pretty severe performance anxiety — I still struggle with it,” said Day. “I didn’t have it before, when I was in high school; performing was never a big deal for me. I’ve had to work on overcoming that, so it’s been a huge focus for me during my time at BYU.” Resolved to not let this new obstacle hold him back, Day threw himself into his studies and various performance opportunities in the hopes of an eventual breakthrough. “I read a lot of books and practiced performing to see if things would get better,” he said. “I think the best thing for me was to really understand why I was performing what I was performing and to try to make the experience meaningful for somebody else rather than just about technique or the notes I play.” As Day nears his April 2020 graduation, he can look back on his time in the School of Music and see progress. “I’ve been starting to see real improvements this last year,” said Day. “Along with working on my performance anxiety, I’ve really started to feel more comfortable with being an artist in music rather than a student just working on a degree. I’m taking more ownership over what I’m doing and being authentic about it.”

Day has continually worked to develop both his technical skills and his personal approach to musical artistry in various ensembles, including the BYU Chamber Orchestra, the Philharmonic Orchestra — where he has especially enjoyed playing for the School of Music’s opera productions — and the BYU Honors String Quartet. His most beneficial undergraduate experience, however, was the one-on-one instruction he received from his private teacher, violin professor Monte Belknap. “Monte has been able to help me get to where I am,” said Day. “I really think I couldn’t have auditioned at the places I auditioned if it hadn’t been for him and everything he’s taught me. He’s also helped me find opportunities and get into festivals that have allowed me to get my foot in the door at some great schools.” While Day has yet to choose a graduate program, he has been accepted to several schools and looks forward to this next step in his academic career. He offered advice to students who are just beginning their higher education in the BYU School of Music. “Violin is very competitive everywhere you go, and we're always looking at what other people are doing and how they're judged for it — it can be pretty toxic,” said Day. “Just work as hard as you can and focus on your own improvement rather than how you're perceived, or how your improvement is perceived.”


What did you want to be when you grew up? “My dad is a lawyer — and he always thought I was good at arguing — so I thought maybe I’d be a lawyer.” What was your favorite class that you took at BYU? “My private lessons. We also have an orchestral excerpts class that prepares you for orchestra auditions, and that was helpful.” Is there a specific work or practitioner in your field that has had a particular influence on you? “I really love Midori. She’s a violinist and a teacher, and all of her recordings are so inspirational for me. I think she’s underrated.”