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Ones to watch: Violinist Nikita Haduong

Her discipline is admirable, her willpower exceptional, her music poignant and haunting

Having read that music lessons support a child’s aptitude for math and science, Mrs. Haduong enrolled each of her children in music lessons at a young age. But she never meant to start her third child, Nikita, on the violin as early as two and a half — that was Nikita’s own doing.

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Jealous of her older brother’s violin lessons, the young Nikita hid an extra violin in the trunk of the family car. Once she’d arrived at her brother’s music lesson, she would have an instrument to offer the teacher and could not be denied a class. The plan worked. Nikita’s been studying violin ever since. It is this intelligence and determination that makes Nikita the exceptional talent she is at 18 years old.

“When she decides what she wants to do, she has a lot of willpower and a lot of discipline,” says Wei-Wei Le, an assistant professor at UNLV’s music department and Nikita’s violin teacher for the last six years. Le knows well how arduous and tedious it can be — particularly for a teenager. “We basically lock ourselves into a small room and stay there doing really boring things, for hours,” says Le, who marvels at Nikita’s commitment — four hours each day, every day, since she was 11.

“The violin is kind of like a sanctuary,” says Nikita, “as well as the tool for me to be able to express myself in a manner that I find satisfying.” So, when practicing feels like a chore, she focuses on the end result: the poignant music.

Speaking of results, her work ethic is obviously paying off. Not only has she performed on From the Top, a nonprofit radio show celebrating youth in music. She’s also been a finalist several times for the Music Teachers National Association Performance, and she’s won nearly every major local competition several times, including the Las Vegas Philharmonic Young Concerto Competition in 2009 and 2011. Her prize: a chance to perform with the symphony at its Youth Concert Series.

“She’s the coolest cat I have ever seen perform, anywhere,” says Connie Beisner Warling, the philharmonic’s education director. “She had nerves of steel at the age of 14.”

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Even Le is impressed by her student’s stage composure: “She’s never scared of performing in front of people. If anything, she’s quite the opposite. That kind of excitement that she gets from performing really almost makes her play even better.”

“I don’t get nervous on stage,” says Nikita, “possibly because I’m having too much fun just falling into the music.” 

It’s her music lessons that set the otherwise self-assured young woman on edge; she doesn’t like to disappoint: “Right now, and probably for the past who-knows-how-long, and probably for the next who-knows-how-long, I’m struggling to feel natural with the violin, to be able to utilize it as an extension of myself, instead of this awkward piece of wood that’s under my chin,” she says.   

Nikita’s newest mentor, Professor Alexander Kerr of Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. — where Nikita has recently been awarded a scholarship to attend the prestigious music conservatory — isn’t nearly as concerned: “She has a very good ear, she is incredibly bright, and she’s tenacious — and those things you can’t teach. Hands, how to deal with the violin — that I can teach,” says Kerr.

As well as majoring in music at Indiana University, Nikita also means to major in math. Mom’s plan worked — and then some.