The New-Age Violin Virtuoso
With his light-up violin and confident strides towards his audience, Marsellio never fails to paint colourful emotions with his mellifluous tunes. The virtuoso is famous for covering popular songs from a myriad of cultures, and adding the signature tonal lustre he’s most loved for. Marsellio talks to Mayar El-Shamy about how he started, his journey to becoming a soloist, and gives advice to aspiring young musicians.
What age were you when you first started this journey? Tell us how it all began.
That’s actually a funny story. It was around fifteen years back, I believe. I was ten years old at the time, and my music teacher asked me to join the school band. I never really considered such a possibility, and had no idea why she approached me. I remember thinking to myself, “me? A musician? I think I’ll pass” [laughs]. But I ended up being on board with the idea, just out of curiosity, and I guess at the age of ten there isn’t much to be done anyway. When I joined the team, my teacher insisted I play the violin, even when I told her I preferred to play the piano or guitar. She said, “one day, you’ll be a commemorated violinist,” and convinced me to proceed with the violin. I used to only practise at school during music class, and I would sneak to the music room whenever I got the chance. Two years into it, my father surprised me my own violin, and that was when I started practising intensely.
But did all that practising at such a young age deter your social life?
Not really. I wasn’t a very social child, which drove me to spending around five hours practising the violin every single day. I fell in love with the tunes, and felt euphoric whenever I saw improvement, or mastered certain musical oeuvres which I thought would be impossible to perfect. I never really looked at it as practising, it was more of a relationship. At the end of the day, it was my comfort zone. I watched a ton of online tutorials, and a year after I got my first violin, I had already mastered classics by Mozart, Vivaldi, Beethoven and so on. Everyone at school was very surprised, and it gave me the motivation to keep going. I started joining bands, and we performed at a lot of locations. We got featured on television shows a few times, too! This journey introduced me to new people, techniques and genres of music. The young boy listening to music in his room and practising violin was now learning from real life experience.
Do you come from a long line of musicians?
Surprisingly, I’m actually the only musician in the family.
What was your first step in receiving such recognition?
I think it was very gradual, and it sometimes still amazes me how a simple hobby has transformed into the career it is today. I still can’t find the right words to explain how that makes me feel, but it’s extremely exhilarating.
Is this always what you wanted to do for a living, or did you have to shift careers?
I’m actually an Electronics and Communications engineer. I haven’t yet decided whether I’m going to pursue a career in engineering, or keep doing what I love. One thing I’m sure of though is that music is my passion; it continues to grow on me, and I’d definitely choose it over anything. I mean, what’s better than making music and making people happy for a living?
What’s an average day in your life like?
I don’t think there is a simple answer to that question, but if I’m not working, I’m probably exploring music and practising.
Do you play any other instruments?
Yes, I play the piano and string instruments like oud, guitar –including bass, acoustic and electric- and Mandolin to name a few.
Is there a genre of music we’d be surprised you listen to?
I tend to explore and listen to various genres because there is always something out there to learn something new from. I had a very eclectic musical journey varying from Classical, Metal, Jazz and Blues to Oriental, Deep House, Techno, Minimal –you name it.
We heard you joined ‘Ministry of Youth Orchestra’ before graduating university. Will you give us some background on what led to that?
It was a time when I was exposed to a lot of great professionals, who taught me a lot more than I could ever imagine. It was hard for me to keep up though because I was in college and had to balance out both lives. Studying engineering and being part of an Orchestra wasn’t a walk in the park. One day, a DJ friend of mine asked me to join him for a performance at this nightclub, and I decided to tag along. It was a new experience, which I think marked the beginning of a new path. I felt like I was making people happy with my music. I remember it was a bit dark, and I couldn’t really see the faces of the people who were dancing, but there was this inexplicable vibe. It was intense enough to almost numb my body. I just felt ecstatic, and felt so connected with the music and my violin that I started improvising. That was the first time I played solo, so that explains the excitement. The owner of the club then saw me and offered me a job, and this is how my career as a soloist began.
Do you ever get stage fright? How do you keep yourself collected on stage?
I do worry a bit much before concerts and gigs. I’m the kind of person who double checks everything, but once I start playing the violin, I zone out and forget the outer world. It’s just me and my violin.
Do you have a favourite piece of music that’s close to your heart?
Tomaso Albinoni’s ‘Adagio’, especially the version by David Garrett, who is, by the way, my idol and inspiration. I think he is one of the greatest violinists around.
Is there anything you’d like to see improve in the music scene in Egypt?
I believe that there are extremely talented people in Egypt, and I hope that they get a chance to be heard. The music industry focuses more on the mainstream, and there is an absence of eccentricity out of a fear of having that decrease profit. In other words, I’d love to see underground artists get a national reach and actually become an addition to the music scene rather than change it. Someone needs to take a leap of faith in our unexplored talents, and show them off to the world to shake things up a little.
What are your plans for the next few years?
I’ll be working on an album of my own, and perhaps travel to get exposed to new musical cultures and learn more.
For aspiring young violinists, would you recommend some practising techniques?
I cannot describe my techniques verbally, but I can say that the violin is a very delicate instrument. Meaning, meticulous techniques that include the way you hold it, if not done correctly early on, can be difficult to adjust to after a while. You should work on your muscle memory from the start, so make sure your muscles are memorising the right techniques before it’s hard to go back. To do that, you need to seek professional advice, and try to cherry pick the videos you learn from because people on the internet are not always doing things right. Most importantly, you need to practise, practise, and always practise!