Young violinist takes music from concert hall to the streets

By Jingzhe Kelly Wang

Four days into Lollapalooza at Grant Park in Chicago, another crowd heard a different tune a couple of miles south in Chinatown.

Shannon Kollasch, 5 feet 1 inch tall, in a light-weight black and white maxi dress, stood across from Joy Yee, a popular bubble tea vendor. Amid people waiting in line to get their cold drinks, Kollasch held her violin up and started her hours-long performance with “Mo Li Hua,” a traditional Chinese song.

“It’s beautiful,” said Maria Morales, a suburban Chicago resident, during a trip to Chinatown with her children and her niece and nephews. “I mean everything, the music, her expression, everything.”

Kollasch, 19, started her violin career when she was 3 years old. With many soloist awards and the title of concertmaster of Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, Kollasch said performing on the street helps her engage with the audience and feel the music more than in a concert hall.

“I try to get really into the music,” Kollasch said. “If I were in a violin competition, sometimes people would say ‘you are too expressive,’ but out here, that’s a good thing.”

Kollasch just finished her freshman year at Northwestern University. On weekends when the weather is nice, Kollasch commutes from Evanston to Chinatown, where she plays Chinese music for about four hours.

A Chinese tourist, who preferred to remain anonymous, and her daughter joined the crowd listening to Kollasch. 

“I heard her playing “Liang Zhu” and “Mo Li Hua.” These are all very familiar songs,” the Chinese tourist said. “I told my daughter to give her a little [money]. It’s not easy, and it takes a lot of courage for a young girl to do this.”

Kollasch grew up in an upper middle-class family in Naperville, She started performing on the street to fundraise for Illinois Youth Environmental Network, an environmental advocacy organization that she founded in 2014. When she was in high school, she became passionate about involving young people in environmental projects.

“When I tried to get involved in environmental organizations, the organizations in the area were always just like five retired people,” Kollasch said. “They are really sweet and nice, but to me that indicated nobody actually cares.”

As she performed on a recent Sunday, many young children danced around Kollasch’s music stand and placed dollar bills in her violin case.

“The kids enjoy it a lot,” Morales said, while keeping an eye on her almost-2-year-old niece. “We’re just walking around, and she is pushing me to come here.”

Maria Morales’ 2-year-old niece enjoying Kollasch’s music in Chinatown.  

Kollasch enjoys the interaction, too.

“I love people watching, especially with all the kids who stop in front of me and just stare at me. That happens a lot,” Kollasch said, chuckling. “And some people stop and talk, and I really enjoy those moments, just to meet new people.”

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