The violin is one of the last instruments you might associate with Jimi Hendrix, but for USC junior Antonio Pontarelli, the two go hand in hand.
Pontarelli, a business administration major, is a renowned violinist who is not only skilled in playing in the instrument’s traditionally classical style but also in the newer genre of rock ‘n’ roll.
At age 3, most kids can’t even color inside the lines let alone learn an instrument. Yet, it was at this age that Pontarelli picked up his first violin.
Fast-forward 16 years and not only is Pontarelli still playing but he has also built himself an impressive résumé that includes singing and songwriting.
In fall of 2003, Pontarelli was the grand champion of NBC’s America’s Most Talented Kid and since then has performed at venues such as the Hollywood Bowl and the Greek Theatre. He has performed alongside artists such as Jethro Tull, Earth, Wind & Fire, Seal, Jason Mraz and Brian McKnight. His manager, David Sonenberg, also manages the Black Eyed Peas.
On top of these musical accomplishments, Pontarelli graduated high school early and began his education at USC at only 16 years old. He is currently studying entrepreneurship, which he hopes will help him establish his career in business.
His family has a deep appreciation for music, which inspired him to learn to play so early on in his life. His father always played rock music around the house, so that was what he was exposed to most growing up.
He enjoys covering rock artists since he can complement the original work with his own brand of uniqueness.
“Whenever I do covers, I try to change them and make it more into my own,” he said. “It’s always nice to experiment with songs people have already done.”
In addition to his father’s rock ‘n’ roll influence, Pontarelli’s grandfather also served as an inspiration to the budding violinist.
“My grandfather was a famous accordionist in Germany,” Pontarelli said. “He played in World War II and went around to the pubs so he didn’t have to fight.”
Pontarelli loves the spontaneity within his grandfather’s music and believes it’s a trait all good artists should acquire.
“Improvise on the fly and make music for the moment that you are in,” Pontarelli said. “That is what being an artist is all about.”
Pontarelli’s grandfather also taught him that music is meant to be shared.
“The people who have really been successful have always tried to connect with the audience and connect with the listener’s souls,” Pontarelli said. “That’s the goal of the songwriter, and that is my goal.”
Another goal of Pontarelli’s is to use his music to make the world a better place. He recognizes the far-reaching capabilities of song and is a firm believer in its powers.
“We can only understand the world and our life through our senses, and music is one of those things we can relate to our lives through,” Pontarelli said.
He has seen firsthand the impact that music can have in bringing groups of people together. In 2009 he performed at the Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival in Indonesia. The audience included people from all races, religions and walks of life to sit and enjoy the music.
“Music brings people together,” Pontarelli said.
In addition to wanting to use his talent to draw people together through music, Pontarelli is also invested in spurring further artistic pursuits.
“I really feel strongly about the music I write,” he said. “I wanted to be able to share my music with as many people as possible and generate more interest in the arts.”