It was a Jewish adaptation of “Sesame Street” called “Shalom Sesame” that inspired Immanuel Abraham to pick up the instrument that would shape his life and career.
Filmed in Tel Aviv, “Shalom Sesame” regularly featured renowned violinist Itzak Perlman performing and Abraham was amazed by his craft.
“I thought it looked easy and cool,” Abraham says. “But only one of those turned out to be true.”
Born to an Ethiopian Jewish father and Christian mother, Abraham and his siblings were raised in a Chicago neighborhood called Rogers Park where there wasn’t a large Jewish population.
Unfortunately, Abraham couldn’t start playing the violin until age 14 with an instrument from the Salvation Army.
But the late start and second-hand violin didn’t deter him from giving the instrument everything he had.
“Hours before school I would practice, I skipped every lunch in high school to practice,” Abraham says. “Prom, my birthday, you name it, I skipped it to
Abraham knew that if he really dedicated his time to this endeavor that he loved, it would pay off in the end.
“As long as I worked as hard as humanly possible, good things happened,” he says.
He performed in every concert he could get into in Chicago, learning the music upside down and even backward.
This level of devotion and strong work ethic helped Abraham become an assistant concert master at a fine arts camp and landed him an audition with the International Youth Symphony.
Even though he felt that “Europe was something rich kids got to do over the summer,” he took the audition and when he was accepted, his extended family put the money together to send him on the tour.
He then spent every summer for the next five years touring Europe.
Abraham was accepted into the University of Michigan where he graduated magna cum laude for his bachelor’s degree and summa cum laude for his masters, receiving a scholarship to pursue graduate school.
A teaching position at the University of Arizona drew him to Tucson, where he is also working on his doctorate degree on a graduate fellowship for the Fred Fox School of Music.
Abraham’s credits in Tucson include being a former concertmaster for the Arizona Symphony Orchestra and the Arizona Contemporary Ensemble, and being a substitute violin for the Tucson Symphony Orchestra.
There is almost never a time when Abraham isn’t studying, practicing, teaching or performing the music that he is passionate about.
This month he’ll take on a multitude of roles for The Scoundrel and Scamp Theatre’s production of “This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing,” a play by Finegan Kruckemeyer.
Not only will Abraham play the violin, he’ll play the main characters’ father and serve as musical director, writing and performing all the music for the play.
Although his focus has been on performance of string instruments, Abraham was eager to expand his repertoire because he feels it is important to be well rounded in the arts.
“I’ve always said the arts are like the knife, the fork and the spoon,” Abraham said. “Different tools but all serve the same purpose to communicate the human experience.”
The next step in his journey is to teach full-time in higher education.
“I love teaching, it’s a chance to pass on,” Abraham said. “Music is a language used to communicate feeling.”
As a teacher, Abraham would like to advocate for late starters in the arts because he says there is a stigma against those who don’t pick up an instrument before the age of 10.
He wants to show people through his accomplishments and dedication to music that anything can be done with hard work.
“Fast forward a decade from that point and I am earning a doctorate,” Abraham said. “It is never too late to learn a new language.”