Get to Know DCYOP – Ruben McFarlane

Get to Know DCYOP is a regular feature that introduces you to some of the many people who make DCYOP the amazing organization that it has been for over sixty years. Visit our blog regularly to see who you’ll meet next! 

Ruben McFarlane has taught violin and viola at DCYOP for over four years. Most recently, he became the new conductor of our Sinfonia orchestra. Check out the video below and read our Q&A to learn more about this amazing musician, teacher, and conductor!

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in a very small town called Canajoharie, NY about 45 minutes west of Albany, New York. I moved to Burke, Virginia in 2018 and have lived in Northern Virginia for 4 years.

How did you get started on your instrument?

My parents wanted me and both my siblings to play a string and band instrument while we were in school. I was drawn to the viola because my older sister choose the instrument in 4th grade, and I wanted to be just like her. Along with playing the viola, I also played trombone in the band starting in middle school.

Did you always want to become a professional musician? What was your path?

By middle school and early high school, I knew I wanted to go into music and pursue a career in music education/performance. Joining the Empire State Youth Orchestra in Albany  was so impactful in giving me rich experiences with other like-minded players to share music in a variety of locations including China and South Korea. That led me to earning my bachelor’s degrees in Viola Performance and Music Education at Penn State University, along with my master’s degree in Viola Performance from The Catholic University of America.

Fun facts: I was a three-sport athlete in High School with Cross Country, Swimming, and Track & Field. And if I didn’t go into music as a career, I would have pursued a career in Meteorology (I still am obsessed with weather even to this day!)

Do you do perform or teach outside of DCYOP?

Outside of DCYOP, I teach at a middle school in Woodbridge, Virginia, and teach violin and viola lessons through my private teaching studio. As a performer, I freelance and sub for the area’s regional orchestras, including the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra.

What do you like most about teaching?

The main reason I went into music and music education was to pass along the lessons I’ve learned from my past teachers and experiences on to the next generation of performers, teachers, and audience members. There has been so much music has taught me that is transferable in life that I strive to instill with my students. Seeing that impact and the growth in my students over a semester or year is what excites me about my work.

Who is your favorite performer? Why?

While I don’t have one singular favorite player, Ray Chen comes to mind as one of my favorites. Not only is he a fantastic violinist with all the flare and power of a soloist, but he has been influential in connecting the youth to classical music both in social media and in-person meetups.

What is your favorite piece of music? Why?

I was fascinated with Holst’s The Planets since I was in elementary school when I saw an old VHS movie of the suite played over video clips of each planet. After convincing my mom to buy me the conductor’s score in high school (which I still own!), I would attempt the luscious Jupiter theme on viola or the war-like Mars theme on trombone. There is so much depth, playfulness, and mystery that Holst puts into the entire suite. Finally being able to play this piece at Penn State was a dream come true for me.

What are your interests outside of music?

I’m a big sports fan for both college sports and professional sports, which includes cheering on the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Brooklyn Nets. I’ve also gotten more into golfing over the last five years, although I still need some more practice!           

What is your favorite thing to do in DC?

My favorite thing to do in DC is explore the National Mall and the monuments. It’s been a privilege to really explore the monuments since it’s rare to have a huge part of American history right in your backyard. I also enjoy eating at my go-to DC restaurants, including Asia Nine, Papee, and Old Ebbitt Grill.

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