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The Reluctant Fiddler

Christina Courtin, 25, entered Juilliard to master the violin but came out a singer-songwriter—and then got signed to Nonesuch Records.

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Juilliard’s a really conservative place, and I didn’t want people to think I wasn’t serious about the violin. But I’ve always known I could sing. Early on, a friend and I made a secret record of songs I wrote, which was very therapeutic, a nice escape from school. I can barely stand to listen to it now, but it’s not fully terrible.

By my junior year, I performed in a multimedia event in the dance studios at Juilliard, and the cat was out of the bag. My teachers knew that I sang, which was kind of weird. They would say, “Why don’t you just play the violin as if you were singing it?” But it doesn’t work that way. Playing a Mozart sonata is not the same thing as singing a song you’ve written.

Maybe my mom wishes I was some violin virtuoso, but singing is what makes me get up in the morning. I had a paper route and a Walkman growing up, and I was really into the Cranberries and Alanis Morissette and Michael Jackson. At some point I thought I needed to be a serious violin player, which I guess I am now, but it didn’t really work out that way.

Courtin’s self-titled debut album is out June 23, and she plays at (Le) Poisson Rouge June 24.

As told to Rebecca Milzoff.

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