Scholar Profile: Dedicated violinist's brush with musical greatness during Global Immersion

Author: Sarah Kubinski

Travon DeLeon (’20) joined the AnBryce Scholars Initiative last fall and by all accounts had the shortest commute of any incoming scholar. Travon is a graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka—which along with Granger, Indiana forms a triangle of communities with South Bend, the home of Notre Dame. In the summer before college he had the opportunity to be part of the United States’ National Youth Orchestra. He played at Carnegie Hall in New York City, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Smetana Hall in Prague and Trivoli Hall in Copenhagen. He has played for renowned conductors Valery Gergiev and Christoph Eschenbach and with soloists Emanuel Ax and Denis Matsuev. “Not only was playing the music a beautiful and almost surreal experience, but the lessons I learned and the friendships I made will last a lifetime.” It is impressive to note that he did not begin playing the violin until 6th grade.

“I became quite obsessed with the instrument. I wanted to play the pieces that exceptionally talented soloists were playing after their twenty years of experience so I pushed myself very hard. I can easily say that I will never part from my violin. The emotions that I feel when I play can be very intense at times and it’s truly a means of expression for me. I have a pretty introverted character and this helps me express myself.”

To illustrate the point, Travon had an exceptional experience last month. He was part of the freshman cohort to travel to London over Spring Break and admitted to feeling anxious towards the end of the week that he had not played violin in too many days. On his own, he researched various shops that would allow him to play for a bit on the last day of the trip. As luck would have it, the shop owner who had offered time to play, was not at his usual location, but rather at his office in  Somerset House in London.

“As walked into his little office with probably 100 violins on the wall I thought to myself this is no ordinary violin shop. The shop within Somerset House’s east wing was called, Benjamin Hebbert Violins, after the dealer, Benjamin Hebbert, a graduate from Oxford University.  “As we walked in, we introduced ourselves and he let me hold a violin he was refurbishing, it was one of Handel’s apprentice’s old violins. I was in utter shock that he let me hold the instrument. I think after he heard that I could actually play a violin he began giving me the instruments in his collection that he loved a lot. He handed me a Guarneri here, a Vuillaume there, and these were the most famous and prominent violin makers of their time. What really shocked me was when he allowed me to play with one of Paganni’s bows. This was especially surreal because in the standard repertoire for classical violin, there is so much Paganini and he’s always revered as the best. At the end of the bow there was a small carving of a statue of Paganini and the Napoleonic coat of arms. One last thing worth noting that he allowed me to do was play a viola, not violin, but a viola that is an exact replica of Hilary Hahn’s (a very famous classical violinist of today whom I adore immensely) 1865 Vuillaume violin. When I played it, I honestly almost cried. It sounded like her! I remember him saying to me 'When you study abroad in London, I’m not even going to say if, but when you do, please come back.' The experience showed me the best of London and Londoners-- I must go back.”