Fifteen-year-old Elechi, who plays violin and gets treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for sickle cell disease, wanted to know Lindsey Stirling’s secret.
“When you started playing, how did you start becoming big? You went from playing the violin to performing with cool other people,” said Elechi. “I just want to know how you did it.”
The two met during a recent Zoom call in advance of a virtual live concert by Stirling on behalf of St. Jude – and immediately hit it off.
They talked about the violin, of course. About how Elechi’s parents attached a wood stick to a block of wood and gave it to the then-2-year-old so she could get a feel for the shape of the violin and pretend to play. And how Stirling’s parents did the exact same thing, only they used a cereal box attached to a toilet paper tube for her faux instrument – and how those pretend instruments sparked a real love of violin.
Their conversation detoured to other things, too, such as their shared affection for the long-running TV show Grey’s Anatomy, how great it can be to watch the Avengers movies back-to-back, and the best fair food in Nigeria. (It’s the barbecue, says Elechi, who often travels to Nigeria with her parents, who were born there.)
But back to Elechi’s question: How did Stirling make it big? Especially when she seems so easy to talk to, so grounded, so … well, normal.
Because, truth is, Stirling is a bona fide star. She made her first appearance on the world stage in 2010 during season five of America’s Got Talent by combining violin playing and dancing, the "hip hop violinist" – but didn’t quite cinch a win. She used that setback as motivation to come back stronger than before. An early pioneer of YouTube as a way to communicate directly with her fan base, she now has 12.5 million subscribers. She’s released six albums and been on multiple world tours.
She’s also made a name for herself as a St. Jude supporter. On Aug. 20, at 6 p.m. ET, she will up the ante on that support by hosting a virtual live concert for St. Jude made possible by the Wave entertainment technology company.
This isn't just another livestream. Fans will get to see Stirling perform as an avatar of herself decked out for a performance. The avatar will duplicate Stirling’s actual movements so viewers will have a virtual, front-row experience. It will also be interactive, with the names of people who donate to St. Jude appearing on the screen at intervals throughout the performance.
Stirling confided she got where she is today by putting herself out there. She went to local venues to watch bands perform and approached them afterward to ask if she could play with them or perform on their tracks if they needed a violinist. She gave out her business card, and she got a lot of rejections, but eventually people called.
“So I started playing with local bands,” said Stirling. “Then I started to get the confidence to write my own music. And I started to play little shows at college campuses.
“I think it’s really hard in life to get from A to Z. Z is where we want to be. Z is the goal. And sometimes we forget there’s like a million little steps. Just keep stepping!”
Stirling wanted to know Elechi’s secret, too. How does someone not only survive, but thrive, despite the challenges of living with sickle cell disease?
St. Jude has a lot to do with that answer, said Elechi. By providing treatment at no cost to her family, her parents could focus on Elechi and her brother’s development. “And so my parents don’t have to worry about anything, and I don’t have to worry about anything. And they’re so nice,” said Elechi.
Elechi says she’s determined to focus on the positive – a mindset she learned at St. Jude.
She says she wants to be a doctor someday, but she never wants to give up the violin entirely. Not when it makes her so happy to play. Instead, she imagines herself as “that cool doctor that’ll maybe come in and play violin when you’re feeling bad or whatever. I want to turn something I love into my profession.”
Stirling, who forged her own path years ago by combining two things she loved – violin and dancing – thought Elechi’s unconventional career combo sounded just right.
“Oh my gosh,” said Stirling. “That gave me chills to hear you say that.”