You may ask yourself- when the heck does Danielle have time to make a violin pinata??
Well, I don’t have time.  But for some reason, it became a PRIORITY.   I suppose there was a reason; Ryan and I hosted a party at our house for Mr. Lipsett’s students 21+ and I had this idea that we needed a pinata.  Maybe it’s my “latin blood” kicking in, or maybe I just need to have a hobby outside of playing/teaching violin.  Funny that even though this newly embraced hobby of making a Pinata is about as far away from my profession, it somehow still embraces the Violin as it’s muse.  As I spray paint my carefully crafted giant “violin strings” with silver metallic beauty, I wonder, am I in the wrong business?  Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always loved crafty projects, as long as they were wildly fabulous.  A few of my favorites – a fully realized Mermaid costume complete with shell top, sequined tail and companion Sebastian the crab costume made of red felt (claws were tricky, but that trusty glue gun always wins!) A Sushi costume detailed down to the grains of rice and seaweed belt, a Tinman costume for my husband, etc, etc.  Anyway, back to the Violin Pinata.
HOW TO MAKE A VIOLIN PINATA (on a budget, no less)
No special artistic gifts are required to make this pinata, just pure determination and a little bit of craziness.
Step 1:  Buy a Pre-made Pinata For The Core “Body”.   I should first say that I searched everywhere online for a violin pinata, then I drove by all the party stores in Downtown LA to see if they had anything resembling a violin, even a guitar, and found nothing.  I thought about “custom ordering” one from this famous pinata store, but that would have cost around $100.  Then I thought about making it totally from scratch myself, but quickly scratched (pun intended) that idea as it would be quite time consuming and ambitious, even for me.  Finally, I had a brilliant idea!  They have pinatas in the shape of giant numbers for kids’ birthdays and the number “8” has a body shape similar to a violin!!!!!  This one cost $13 at a party store downtown and is very well crafted.
 Step 2: Gather Other Supplies
You’ll need-
Cardboard (equivalent of about 2 medium size boxes worth), Scissors, Masking Tape, Sharpie Pen, Spraypaint in a “Violin Wood Color”  (I used a color called Cinnamon that was a little over 3  bucks at Home Depot), Black Spray Paint(also about $3) Silver Spray paint (for Strings)
 Step 3: Cut Out Your “Accessory” Shapes From Your Cardboard

 These include a chinrest, tailpiece, 2 f-holes, bridge, scroll, 4 tuning pegs, violin neck/fingerboard (see finished picture at bottom for the neck proportions.  Length and width depends on how big your violin body is).  You can spraypaint all of these black  and then set these aside for later (except for the bridge-the cardboard color is fine so no spraypaint).  You will also cut out  a few things to be spraypainted “Cinnamon” that will help transform our somewhat crude violin body, aka “8”, into a real violin!    First, cut out 4 circles that will cover those holes from your “8” shaped pinata. (You can kind of see those circles in this pic)
Also, cut out 4 shapes for pointed”wings” that will give more of a violin shape to our very rounded “8” shaped pinata body.  These wings will need to be affixed now as it will be part of the violin’s body to be spray painted “Cinnamon”.  (see to the right and below for “wings”)  Don’t worry if the violin at this point still looks a little crude.  Once you add the accessories, no one will notice or even care
Step 4:  Time To Spraypaint
Don’t do this indoors, duh.  Make sure you are in a well ventilated space.  Spray the entire facade  and sides of your violin body with the “Cinnamon” or whatever woodish color you chose.  Don’t forget those hard to reach spots under the wings you just taped on!  After this coat is dry, flip over and spray paint other side and all the nooks and crannies!
Step 5: The Scroll and Pegs
Cut out a strip, or 2 as I did, the same width as your fingerboard and “curl” the top by creasing the cardboard and bending it into something resembling a scroll.  The pegs should be black and can just be glued or taped on from behind and then you can fli p over and spray paint over the tape or anything messy  to match and look nice.  (cover pegs when spraying “cinnamon” color so as to keep them black)  Attach the scroll and pegbox to the top of the fingerboard.
Step 6: Strengthening The Neck/Fingerboard
Ok, I’m pretty impressed with myself on this one.  The neck is very long and thin and somewhat

flimsy when made out of just a strip of cardboard.
Ryan kept saying “How are you going to get
it to stand up straight and keep from just bending or collapsing over?!”  Reinforcements, my friend.  Cardboard, that is.  I attached several layers of different layers of cardboard strips to the back of the neck/

fingerboard, overlapping them so there is no potential for bend-age.   This is not shown in the picture, but I also made another small reinforcement that went right at the base of where the back of the neck joins to the body of the violin.  I folded a strip of cardboard over several times until it was really thick and tough and attached that like a bracket under a shelf (shown in a picture below)

Step 7: Strings!!
I was trying to figure out how to make strings that would look decent on a giant violin pinata.  I couldn’t just use rope or something because it wouldn’t match all the other paper-based materials that we’ve used so far and it would be the only thing to survive a good beating.  No, I needed something that could be ripped apart like the rest of the pinata, but sturdy enough to hold their place.   Masking tape works perfectly and can easily be manipulated and spray painted silver.  See picture to the left for string making process.  I folded over the tape in half and then in half again, trying to kind of round out the shape.

Once it’s spray painted silver, it looks amazing, so don’t worry about any imperfections.  You’ll need 4 of these strings and they should each measure from the tail piece all the way to the top of the

neck where the scroll will go.  Just approximate on the longer side and you can always rip it to make the string shorter if necessary.

Step 8: Assembly!
This is the most fun part because now it starts to actually look like a violin.  See picture below for the layout of the f holes, chinrest, tailpiece and neck.  If you are a violinist yourself, you don’t need my help for this part.  Just eyeball it!  Notice that the neck looks flimsy in this picture.  As mentioned before, I solved that by adding a little cardboard reinforcement behind it shown in the picture above to the right .
  Almost ready to fill with candy……
You’ll need to cut a small hole in the back to fill with all kinds of goodies.  In this case, I bought lots of different goodies that I thought college violin majors would enjoy; Sour Patch Kids, Pencils, Soap, Top Ramen packets, and even some Wet Wipes.
Final Step : Party Time!!  Hang from a tree with a sturdy rope, blindfold your guest, hand them a bat and go to town!  Pictures below are from the actual party – everyone had a blast.
Total Time to make the Violin Pinata- 5-6 hours, spread over a few days to allow for paint drying time. (I spent about 2 hours a day over 3 days)

  Thank you to everyone that worked on this album – it is a dream come true.  I am also very proud to help promote Lawrence Dillon’s wonderful compositions as I think he is extremely gifted.  Thank you to Norbert Kraft for being a fantastic editor!  Thank you to fellow musicians David Fung, Juan-Miguel Hernandez and Stan Muncy.  Thank you to Sphinx and Naxos for giving me this wonderful opportunity!  This is beginning to sound like an Oscars speech, but I might as well finish anyway.  Thank you to my husband, Ryan, my wonderful parents, Rudy and Deniese, my teacher, Robert Lipsett and to all of my talented students.  This is for you.

The CD will be for sale on the Naxos Website and in stores soon.  Or you can buy it directly from me or at Metzler Violins for $20 and half the proceeds go to my camp, Center Stage Strings.

I recently soloed with the Santa Monica Symphony under the direction of Maestro Allen Robert Gross.  I had a wonderful time and agreed to do something I normally wouldn’t do – talk to the audience right before playing my concerto!  It was Allen’s idea, and turned out to be a great one.  The audience really reacted to the talk and many people came to me afterward, saying it gave them much more insight, focus, and enjoyment while I was actually playing the concerto.

CLICK HERE to watch a video of my foray into “audience engagement”.  Make sure to turn up your volume!

Anna Vosbigian and Youjin Lee, my students at the Colburn School of Performing Arts and the Colburn Academy, recently won competitions to perform their concertos with orchestras.  Anna will perform the Vieuxtemps concerto in January with the South Coast Symphony as part of the Young Stars of the Future concert this Friday, February 4th.  More information Youjin Lee will perform the Conus Violin Concerto with the Downey Symphony under conductor Sharon Lavery in October later this year.


Thank you to James Seligman for his incredible work on a 15 minute documentary about our summer music camp in Three Rivers, CA.

Click here to view video.

The 14th Annual Sphinx Competition, held in Detroit, Michigan February 3-6th welcomes semi-finalists from across the country to compete for a myriad of prizes.   Danielle was the Grand Prize Winner in 2008 and was invited this year to join the judging panel along with Pamela Frank, Michael Tree, Sanford Allen, Richard Aaron and others.   For more information, visit

Also, thank you to Laurie Niles for her wonderful article on about a panel discussion called “Musical Toolbox” about the different paths a young musician can take toward a career in music.

A big Thank You to Ken Elias for his wonderfully extensive and passionate narrative!  Ken recalls the events leading up to the creation of the camp and reminisces about the week itself.  Click here to read the full story.  An excerpt is listed below.

I. Eleven Weeks

About four months ago I got a call from Bill Haxton.  He was excited about something. He had met a visitor to Three Rivers outside Sierra Subs, an engaging young woman, who told him that some months earlier her parents had moved to Three Rivers, and she was visiting them.  It was her first time seeing our town, and she was interested to learn about it and its people.

At some point in the conversation, quite by chance, she mentioned she played the violin.  “Really!” said Bill.  They then had quite an animated conversation about the Concert on the Grass, and Bill expressed our eagerness to welcome her to our town and have her perhaps participate in our annual Fall outdoor concert.  They exchanged contact information and resolved to stay in touch.

A day or two later Bill sent me an email with an internet link.  It was to a YouTube video of this same woman playing a beautiful violin solo with a symphony orchestra. Bill implored me, “You simply must hear her!”  He was right.  And since then, some of these YouTube links have been making the rounds in Three Rivers, and now, everyone knows her name, she is Danielle Belen.

Subsequently Bill and Anne invited some folks to their house for dinner to meet Danielle’s husband, Ryan Vaughn, and her parents, Rudy and Deniese Nesmith.  The conversation centered on an idea that Danielle had gotten, based in part on her warm welcome by Bill and other people in town.  What if Three Rivers were to host a summer music camp for extraordinary students, the kind of students that she taught at The Colburn School in Los Angeles? What would it look like? What would it take to make it happen? How much would it cost? Where could it take place, what facilities were available? What pianos were available? How many people might attend a concert or two? Lots and lots of questions were thrown about, and possibilities considered………click to read full story



My good friend and Center Stage Strings cohort Bill Haxton is a talented writer and has graciously agreed to share this wonderful poem with us. .  We share a mutual admiration and wonderment at the masterwork that is Bach’s Chaconne.    Bill took an interesting approach and actually wrote this from the perspective of a skeptic.  Enjoy


Let me see if I understand you.

This moment began three centuries ago

when Johann Sebastian Bach poured his soul into a constellation

of pen strokes?  And you say those notes on paper are like

tiny stars bursting to radiate beyond their musical

fieldlines?  What?  Are we supposed to believe there’s something

more to this—what did you call it—a chaconne or something?  As if

this music had some special power to penetrate, like neutrinos

passing through Earth without touching a single atom of it?

I don’t think so.  There’s not enough space in us, not nearly enough

to enable these ephemerals to get past the hammering clamour

between the ears.  No.  And it doesn’t mean a thing, all us sitting here

transfixed—and I admit it—me too—because it’s not the music,

it’s just the collective consciousness working, our synchronous

background radiation, the human universe in D minor,

which Bach couldn’t have known a thing about.

Or could he?

Oh my god.

©William Haxton 2010

Thank you to Mariano Correa for this lovely article in Hoy, the Spanish newspaper division of the Los Angeles Times!!