See Tina Violina live at Wanderlust O’ahu this February! For more information and tickets, click here.
O’ahu-based musician, yoga teacher, chef, and environmentalist Tina Violina embodies the true Wanderlust spirit. Guided by her creativity and curiosity, she is continually exploring new ways of expression through improvisation and collaboration. Her music is a unique fusion of influences, with a foundation in classical and an incorporation of genres ranging from folk rock to Middle Eastern music to Hawaiian music to flamenco.
Tina came to music when she was just four years old. “My parents themselves weren’t musicians,” she says, “but they understood the importance of music and the benefits of exposing kids to music at an early age.” She was enrolled in a music program in Germany where she had the opportunity to first learn the glockenspiel and to then pick up the violin at age five. “Classical instruments are typically taught in a very structured way with lots of emphasis on technique and practicing scales and skills,” she said. “There is very little room for improvisation or going with the flow.” Her brother was the first to introduce her to improvisation at a young age. He played the piano, and the two would improvise songs together for their artist grandmother.
Tina moved to Hawaii for college and had to put down her violin for a while. There was no orchestra at her school, and she didn’t think that she could go on playing without the structure she’d had back in Germany. It was daunting coming from a classical background to Hawaii where people “just jam” (kanikapila) all the time. People would often invite her to jam with them but she recalls being “convinced that (she) needed sheet music written long ago by others in order to bring music to the world.” She did, however, carry with her the inspiration instilled by early collaborations with her brother.
“I always knew there was a hidden improv talent slumbering within me,” she says, “I just didn’t know how to tap into it yet.” At age 25 she discovered yoga, and it was then that music and improvisation just seemed to come to her naturally. It “allowed (her) to open up to life in new ways” and “slowly but surely (she) started discovering and unleashing (her) slumbering inner creatrix.”
Yoga teaches us to be strong and centered while also exploring fluidity, and this is precisely the method of approaching improvisation. She had already built a strong base in musical expression, and practicing mindfulness allowed her to explore without fear the omnipresent flux of life and sound through her instrument. “These days” says Tina, “I prefer improvising over any sheet music. It just allows you to get so creative and express yourself freely with…nothing constraining you.”
Yoga = New Ideas
Studying yoga also brought with it new musical influences. “Even if you are a whiz at music theory as it applies to Western music, you will be humbled by the find shades of demi-semitones in Indian music and the incredible expression non-western scales allow.” The Sanskrit word for musician, she tells me, is “Bhagavathar,” which means “he who sings the praises of God.” Learning this, Violina says, was eye-opening and transformed the way that she viewed music completely.
“It is so much more than entertainment,” she says. Tina incorporates these ideas into her yoga teaching practice, and also often plays live music for yoga classes. Sometimes she will have an idea of what she’s going to play when she goes into playing a class, but it is largely improvisation. She watches the class and interprets the energy of the room to inspire her sound and adjusts the music on the fly. Because she is also a yoga teacher and has collaborated with many live musicians in her personal teaching, she is savvy at anticipating the flow and energy of the room. It always depends on the teacher and what vibe they are generally going for, but for the most part the mutual energy leads the way. “It feels unreal,” says Tina.
Interestingly, in her own personal practice, Tina often prefers silence because “it is usually at the beginning or the end of an otherwise loud day and I just need to bring my nervous system down a notch,” she says. Tina doesn’t necessarily believe that music is an integral part of a yoga class, and she teaches both silent and musical classes. In the classes that she teaches, she keeps the tone relatively mellow to allow her students more room for focus. The effect that yoga has had on her music is more an internal one—whereby she is able to use her strong base to expand outward and explore without inhibition or fear. It allows her to collaborate and to transcend the reliance on structure, which now serves as a foundation from which to grow.
Collaboration truly does have a power that can feel positively ethereal. “More often than not” says Tina, “fusing together different styles…happens naturally” and produces an “amazing synergy.” There usually isn’t a even a need for talk about an end goal, rather the music just flows naturally. If it is for a more specific project such as a dance sequence, the group will jam and then “go back to the drawing board (to) talk about what worked and what didn’t,” but the core is always born from the improvised collaborative spirit.
Nothing short of a Renaissance woman, Tina is fueled by the binding aspects of community, nourishment, and vitality in each of her practices. She loves to throw yoga dinner parties, where she will teach a yoga class, cook for her guests and play live music. “It brings all the important things together that contribute to good health, which includes friendship, community, and having a good time with fuel for the body and soul.”
Jillian Billard is a poet, yoga teacher, cellist and avid wanderer. A native New Yorker, she is often caught daydreaming of sprawling green fields and mountains. She trained and received her ashtanga yoga teacher’s certification in Goa, India and works at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in Brooklyn. You can often find her with her head buried in a book, doused in lavender. Follow her on her (very newly developed) Instagram page for class schedules and updates at @jillboyoga.1