Four-year-old Naftzger saw a Christmas concert and immediately fell in love with strings. She asked for violin lessons from her mother, who promised she could take lessons once she turned five.Her mother assumed the obsession would just be a phase in which her daughter would lose interest, butby her fifth birthday, Naftzgerhadn’t forgotten. She took up the violin and played the instrument until her sophomore year of high school, when she switched over to viola.
“It has all the same mechanisms and technique, once you learn to press harder on the C string,” Naftzger explained.
The viola, unlike violin, has a more limited repertoire. The sparser corpus made it easier for Naftzger to “progress exponentially.” However, it wasn’t always easy to stay motivated. Devon confesses that she almost quit several times and owes much of her commitment to her mother, who would come up with various incentive structures. These included rewards and punishments, such as the threat of paying for her own lessons.
Naftzger played in her high school orchestra and also participated in other groups such as the Midwest Young Artists which met on Saturdays. Music opened numerous doors for her. With the Midwest Young Artists, she toured China and Korea, among other places. In 2012, she was selected as a prestigious YoungArts National Winner. She was the only violist chosen that year, giving her the opportunity to attend a week of classes and workshops with musical masters in Miami, Fla.
More recently, Naftzger worked with world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell. As part of the YoungArts alumni network, she was contacted to participate in a follow-up to the 2007 Washington Post social experiment, during which the Grammy Award winning classical musician Bell played as a normal busker in a busy train station and was largely ignored. As part of the followup, Naftzgerperformed Bach and Mendelssohn for a crowd of hundredswith Bell and eight other YoungArts students. This time, the audience knew about the performance —and each performer's talent —beforehand, unlike the 2007 incognito study. What was it like to work with Bell? “Awesome,” Naftzger said, who added she has idolized the violinist since she was young.
On campus, Naftzger still plays viola for the Princeton University Orchestra and is majoring in politics. She added she believes she made the right choice in attending a liberal arts school rather than a conservatory. Still, music will always be a big part of her life, she said of the skill that has surprised her with many transferable skills.
“One thing which has always struck me is the idea of a universal language,” Naftzger said. “Even when I’ve played in Germany or China, I have always been able to communicate to the people I’m working with, even though I don’t speak their language.”