All Things Entertainment (ATE) interviews: Vov Dylan
Watching violinist Vov Dylan light-speed his way through Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee is an exercise in exhilaration. The intricate movement of his violin bow, his intense concentration, imagining the frantic bee speeding up and buzzing towards a crescendo… Will it drop dead from exhaustion? Will we remember to breathe while watching? Will Vov’s fingers survive?
All Things Entertainment caught up with the World’s Fastest Violinist for the answers to these and other questions…
On finger blisters and sore necks…
Vov Dylan holds the record for getting that bumblebee to finish his foraging in about 38.1 seconds. That’s 22 notes per second. We’re pretty sure real bumblebees are not grateful for this extra pressure. On average, a good violinist usually manages the same feat in about 80 to 104 seconds. When asked how on earth he got to his record-breaking speed, Vov responds with typically charming tongue-in-cheek humour. “I am known as the world’s fastest because I AM the world’s fastest: unbeaten, unchallenged – I now hold the record for holding the record the longest!” And how does he get his fingers to go so fast? “Lots and lots of coffee!”
In seriousness, though, Vov explains that one of the core pieces of his training focused on how to “take a piece of music fast – so application of speed to the bumblebee to get to that speed did take a bit of effort. For about a week: and then I was there.” This might sound blasé, but don’t be fooled: Vov’s training schedule is serious business. “On average I have my violin under my jaw for around six to eight hours a day in a combination of performance, teaching, practice… So, it’s a fairly rigorous amount of regular playing.” Which makes us wonder: how often does he have to delve into the emergency medical kit? Vov laughs. “Nothing much to brag about here – a few finger blisters, a sore neck at times, occasionally a few tight muscles – but nothing that a hot bath and massage can’t fix!”
“Child prodigy” is a term that Vov is rather uneasy with, but it’s true that his talents revealed themselves very early. He was first recognised in a local paper when he was 21 months old, had his first paid performance at the age of 6, and has been performing and playing constantly since. It can’t be any other way, either – it is fundamentally who and what he is.
“I played the violin, I always played the violin, from the earliest moment I can remember all I ever wanted to do was play the violin. For me playing the violin is like breathing. It is my mode of expression – without it, I am not me.”
Vov hasn’t ever regretted his choice of career for a moment. He feels that music opened doors for him that otherwise would never have been possible. There were, of course, challenges – but not exactly what one might expect from the life of a child musician… “The most challenging thing I had to deal with is that while I knew what I wanted to do with my life – and I was dogmatic about it – not everyone else around me did. That led to a few interesting childhood moments… But on the whole, I would not change it for anything.”
Vov was born into a fairly huge musical family, which recognised, supported and could nurture his talent right from the start. His grandfather, Fred Elsley, was a highly acclaimed pianist whose performing career was cut short by WWII, although he then went on to become head of music at Scotts College in Sydney.
Vov’s grandmother, Beryl, “learned piano in order to woo my grandfather, and evidently it worked – my grandparents became a fabulous teaching team in Earlwood!” Vov laughs that they
then went on to “create two musical children – my uncle Ransford, who pursued piano and is now one of the longest-serving piano teachers at Sydney Grammar School. And my father, Evan Elsley, who ‘broke the family tradition’ and became a violinist.”
Evan Elsley’s formidable career took him to great heights in Australia and abroad. Vov speaks with pride when he says that his dad has also achieved something that is very rare in the music business: career longevity. “He has achieved something I believe many in this industry yearn for – as much work as you want, while having the luxury to say ‘no’.”
It was perhaps inevitable that Evan would be Vov’s teacher – but was it challenging to be taught your trade by a parent? “While I’m sure that there must have been challenges, the overall impact of my dad being my teacher was that he also became my best mate. He was the best man at my wedding, and he and I have such an exceptional bond, thanks to music.”
Dancing for love
Given his intense performance schedule and devotion to the violin, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s nothing much else that Vov can do… However, this man is as versatile as he is talented, having worn the hats of conductor, presenter, choreographer and even dancer at times. Even though everything he’s done has been “in support of or because of the violin”, it’s still impressive to think that this is a guy who’s had his own Salsa Dance school and choreographed routines for the Sydney Latin Festival… Where on earth did he fall in love with dance? “I got into dancing when I was in high school, as a way of getting out of playing football! I found the idea of being in a ballroom, dancing with women, much more appealing than running around a cold field chasing a ball… But from there on, it became a passion!” We don’t blame him for his choice. Especially since dancing led him to meeting his wife, Toni. “It’s something I’m eternally grateful for! Nowadays dancing isn’t as much a part of our regular life because I’m so busy performing. But every now and then, my wife and I will head out…”
Vov regularly performs with the orchestra he’s put together. It’s here that he wears another hat: that of conductor. What kind of personality do you need to guide other strong musicians?
Vov feels that his conducting is a little different to that of a ‘normal conductor’ because it’s done in front of his own orchestra. “I would say the best way to be a
conductor is to have a firm musical idea of what you are trying to achieve, while being open to listening to the musicians at hand as to how to achieve it, or for other ideas, but still having the ability to strongly say ‘we are going to do it this way’ and have the musicians (on the most part) happy with the direction.”
It’s an approach that seems to be working, with Vov believing that his orchestra gels well together. “They may say different if you ask them, of course! But I always endeavour to book musicians who all contribute to the overall group, and I try to book musicians who are on an equal playing field. In that way everyone is feeding off each other, and hopefully everyone walks away from the job having had a good and satisfying musical experience.”
The violin as enchantress
When talking about his violin, Vov often calls it “she” or “her”. There’s a good reason for the use of the feminine pronoun, too… “You can find a few different reasons and thoughts around the world for calling the violin ‘she’… My personal reasoning comes back to my ballroom dancing. In stereotypical male/ female partner dancing it is the ‘male’s job to be the frame for the picture that is the woman’ – and in the relationship of Violin and Bow, I see the Bow as taking the ‘leader role’, encouraging the Violin to shine and sing in all of ‘her’ glory.”
It’s a wonderful way to think of an instrument that has continuously captured the imagination throughout history. Why does he think do violins enchant people? “The Violin can take you on a journey, it can reach into you and grab your heart and decide when it will let it begin to beat again. It can bring memories to mind, paint pictures, bring serenity, make you laugh, cry and dance – how is it possible for this instrument to not be enchanting?”
Sentimental journeys and Titanic moments
One reason for Vov’s success is his ability to develop show concepts that appeal to audiences and suit a variety of performance venues and musical tastes. His own tastes run the gamut from classical to contemporary, and he puts joyous passion into every project he undertakes. Most recently, Vov and acclaimed pianist Glenn Amer worked together on Sentimental Journey: a journey through a hundred years of popular music. Vov and Glenn share a fruitful partnership, and have now recorded and released five albums together, with another two in production.
“Sentimental Journey is sooooooo much fun! Glenn and I are both solo instrumental entertainers who have toured the world in our own rights, and we have a combined collection of several thousand pieces ready to go at the drop of a hat. This means that every single show we do is different – it is geared to precisely the audience we have – and we know which way we will go within the first 10 minutes. This show has no sheet music and is old-fashioned variety entertainment! With classical, gypsy, jazz, country, sing-a-longs, jokes, dancing and something that not many entertainers can do – a request bracket!”
Vov describes working with Glenn as one of the most fun on-stage experiences that he’s ever had, because “I know that we completely have each other’s backs in every regard and at the same time we can both push each other to be the best each of us can be on stage.”
Vov’s latest album, The Band Played On, has just been released and is available at shows, online, and in stores. It focuses on the story of the musicians who played on-board the ill-fated Titanic: a story that still captures our imagination after all these years… “We have taken pieces from The White Star Line Songbook, and stories from the survivors as to what was played by the musicians, recreated the band, found period arrangements, and try to show the different styles of music the musicians would have had to play while on board.”
But don’t expect a tear-jerking experience: “The album is bright and happy overall. This was a cruise, after all – and people were having a great time. For the most part this album will take you on an old-fashioned cruise holiday.”
Why are people still so fascinated by the story of the Titanic? “It’s hard to say – but for the last 15 years when I hold the violin, I get compared to one of two things: Andre Rieu or the Titanic – so this album is dedicated to all those that think of the Titanic when they see me… (Ahem!)”
(Its this album that forms the basis of the brand new show The Band Played On that will be gracing the stages of venues across the country, starting in NSW. All Things Entertainment is exclusively representing the show and will have it available for theatres, clubs, corporate bookings and special functions. A unique and awe inspiring musical tumble through the final moments on the Titanic, peppered with anecdotes and historical factoids.)
Connecting with the audience
Audiences share Vov’s enthusiasm for the magic and emotion of music, and often make a point of letting him know how they feel. He describes “making people happy” as one of the most gratifying aspects of performing. “An audience member came up to me once and said, ‘I love coming to see your shows because there are no pretensions, you aren’t snobby about what your skills are, you are down to earth – and the show feels like you have invited a whole auditorium into your living room, and that we are all here to relax and have a good time.’ If this is how I make people feel when I play and put on a show – then I feel exceptionally successful.”
Audiences also happen to be one of the main challenges that face the Australian music industry today, Vov feels. “Aussie audiences are different to anywhere else in the world – and it is not because of their tastes, it is because of our small population. In America or Europe, you can tour one show for years without running out of audience members to see it for a first time, whereas in Australia, you do one lap of the established theatres and clubs, by which stage you have to rely on the ‘die-hards’ to keep the show going.”
He also believes that younger generations aren’t necessarily being brought up to enjoy live entertainment in the same way as previous generations did, and thus going to see a show isn’t at the top of potential new audiences’ priorities anymore.
“The challenge is – how do we change thinking to get new generations to come, or how do we change where we perform to create the new audiences?”
There are, of course, also loads of opportunities to embrace, and Vov believes in putting yourself out there. “Don’t wait for the phone to ring, take rejection as an opportunity to find a different ‘yes’, and also if you are available say ‘yes’ – because you never know what that ‘yes’ will lead to…
A question of pride
Vov takes pride in the legacy that he might leave behind. “From the perspective of a violinist, each album showcases a part of who I am as a violinist and a musician. You get to hear my innermost soul, and all the shades to my personality in them. These albums are also the way future generations will be able to look back and see who this Vov Dylan person was… All of these albums are made as much for the public as they are for my family!”
There’s still plenty of time left to build a legacy, of course – time that Vov will spend touring and sharing his love of music with audiences all over the world. And while it comes with challenges – “social media is filled daily with a new disaster story on musical instruments being broken while travelling!” – touring is something he loves.
“Somehow, I seem to always love the place I am in – as long as there is good food! I love touring through places where I get to eat like a local and experience life as a local. If I have the bonus of some good friends and family with me – all the better!”
Vov is living his dream – and the world is a better place because of it. And even when the touring stops, the music won’t… “I am a violinist because I love the violin, not because I love the stage. If I were to never step on stage again, I would still be playing every day.”
Vov Dylan and his orchestra are available for live performances, concerts, club performances, corporate entertainment and private events. Queries and bookings through All Things Entertainment.
Lost uniforms and bills…
Vov doesn’t want to give too much away about what audiences can expect from “And The Band Played On”, but does tell this one anecdote about the Titanic that isn’t shared in the show…
“The musicians on board the Titanic had just had all their contracts re-negotiated: they were no longer full crew members but were part crew and part guest (very much what the current entertainers on cruise ships are). The results of this were: a) They were paid less and b) They had to ‘borrow’ their uniforms (as opposed to being issued them).
Upon the sinking of the Titanic, the musicians did not return their uniforms – so the families received a bill for the uniforms…
What song do you play when you want to feel challenged?
Any of the solo Bach pieces.
Which song do you really hate to play?
Canon in D.
Who inspires you?
Who inspires me? No one person, but I always looked to Fred Astaire for how to make something exceptionally complicated and intricate look easy and timeless.
What captures your imagination?
Lush harmonies that make you catch your breath.
Who is the coolest/ most interesting person you’ve ever met?
And the weirdest/most random one?
Tim from Big Brother!
Best band/performance you’ve ever seen live?
Person you wish you could meet – and why?
Tony Bennett – the ups the downs, the stories, the people – what a fascinating tale he could tell.
Five people you’d invite to dinner… And why!
Fred Astaire, William Shatner, Yehudi Menuhin, Johann Strauss II and Artur Rubinstein – all of these are performers who have had longevity in multiple fields beyond what they are most famous for, and all have helped to create art and performances which have impacted most of the world.
What is the best advice you ever got?
Don’t try and educate your audience
And the worst advice?
“The ONLY way to succeed in this industry is to do a Tribute show”
When not working – how do you relax?
If at home, I’ll spend some time waxing my classic car, while cranking up some of my favourite CDs to stupid levels. If I have to get away from it all I would either go the the water or to the country, where you can’t hear anything but nature… No sounds of electric anything, no TVs, radios, cars… Even better if there isn’t mobile phone reception! Just a place where you can hear nature. Combine this with a good glass of wine and my wife by my side and I am an extremely happy man.
Written by Donnay Torr from the Torr Collection on behalf of All Things Entertainment