PORT ORCHARD — Tell Ellie Binnington the violin is a stuffy instrument confined to playing classical music and she will likely pull hers out to shred a Disney hit or other popular song.
“I play Mozart and Vivaldi, but I can also play cool pop songs from ‘Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean,’” insists the 18-year-old Port Orchard musician who has made a name for herself playing her violin around town.
Binnington is now making herself known beyond the Kitsap Peninsula by releasing her first music video on YouTube.
“It’s such a versatile instrument. You can play it many different ways,” she said of her violin instrument.
One place Binnington enjoys playing is street-side at the Port Orchard Farmers Market.
“Whenever I see a little girl, especially if she is wearing a ‘Frozen’ shirt, I ask her if she would like to hear me play ‘Let It Go’ or ‘The First Time in Forever.’ For little boys, I’ll play ‘Star Wars.’”
Her musical skills have been showcased in local talent shows and with the South Kitsap High School orchestra, in which she competed at state in the violin competition. The teenager also composed several songs for the school’s production of “Argonautika” and performed with the Kitsap Community Chorale.
When not playing her four-stringed instrument, she acted in two high school plays and was a prom princess in her senior year.
The 2020 high-school grad would eventually love to open her own school and become a music teacher. In the meantime, she would like to see more kids learn to play the violin, an instrument she started playing at age 3.
The violin, cello and viola — all instruments she plays — are not limited to classical music, she said.
“If you watch ‘Bridgeton’ (a popular Netflix drama series) they do classical music, but they play pop songs from Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift — really big pop stars. They play the songs on the violin, cello and viola. It’s insane!” she excitedly pointed out.
The violinist has been inspired by several musicians who play contemporary songs with instruments traditionally relegated to classical music. Her idol is Lindsey Stirling, a 30-something violinist and dancer who performs cutting edge, highly-choreographed violin performances on her YouTube channel for nearly 13 million subscribers.
2CELLOS and Taylor Davis are her other favorites.
These successful recording artists offer a modern take of classical instruments and go a long way in dispelling the stereotype that the violins are “really stuffy” instruments limited to classical music, she said.
“These artists and I are trying to get a more modern, younger audience to realize you can have fun with the instruments. You don’t have to be a professional classical musician, but you can if want to do that.”
Music video debut
Binnington’s just-released debut music video features “Artemis,” a song by Stirling. The video was recorded in January on wooded acreage in Olalla, south of Port Orchard.
The day the video was shot, the weather was overcast.
“At first we were a little disappointed about the weather, but I think the weather added to the music,” she said. In the song, the sounds of her melodic violin are juxtaposed with a driving bass and an electronic dance beat that adds a touch of modernity to the sound.
The video was shot and edited by local videographers Hallie Scott and Mason Austin. This was the first music video for the two, who normally do wedding videos. The nearly four-minute production features drone footage and showcases not only Binnington’s talents but shows off the beauty of the Kitsap Peninsula.
To truly appreciate Binnington’s talents, one needs to hear her play. Her video can be viewed on YouTube at https://tinyurl.com/feyypfy8 and on her Facebook and Instagram pages.
The budding artist grew up listening to her mom play the violin. Binnington’s mother, Clara, has a master’s degree in violin pedagogy and has taught violin for 18 years.
“I’d watch her teach violin and I just wanted to learn so badly that she started me off. Obviously, you don’t learn a ton when you are 3, 4 or 5, but I started taking off in my high school years.
“Mom claims that in 11th grade, I bloomed into the violinist I am today and surpassed her in skills because I was playing pieces that she had never even touched,” she recounted.
The oldest of four siblings, Binnington expanded her musical skills as she grew up. She started playing the cello and viola in the eighth grade and picked up the guitar in her senior year of high school.
While an accomplished musician today, there were times growing up that she, like most kids learning an instrument, wanted to stop playing.
“I wanted to quit so many times, but my parents wouldn’t let me. They were like, ‘Just keep going and if you don’t like it in high school, you can quit.’ There would be times I was ready to throw my violin across the room, I was so upset.
“What I learned is [that as] I watched older kids playing these beautiful pieces, I wanted to learn them too. That kept me going. Now I hope to be the person younger kids look up to. They may want to quit but [will] decide to keep going because I kept going.”
Binnington lives in Port Orchard with her family. Her mom is a music teacher at Orchard Heights Elementary while her dad, Richard, is a computer programmer. Her brother and sister, Tommy and Katie, attend South Kitsap High School and her youngest sibling, Anna, is in middle school. And not surprisingly, everyone in the family plays an instrument.
“I am incredibly ambitious and a self-starter. I came up with the idea for the video. I paid for it myself. I worked really hard to get where I am today. I have big dreams and I know how I want to achieve them,” she said.
She heads to college this fall at the University of Montana in Missoula. She took a year off after graduating from high school and was a teacher’s assistant at a Port Orchard pre-school. Binnington delayed college because she wanted to allow time for the pandemic to resolve, not wanting to engage in virtual college courses.
“I learn better in person than online. And I’m a music major, and it’s definitely harder to play music through a computer screen,” she noted.
The young woman is counting down the days to starting at the university, where she plans to double major in violin performance and music education.
“I am so excited! I can’t wait until I start my college journey to becoming a music teacher. I met my future violin teacher. She is absolutely amazing.”
Looking beyond college, Binnington points out that her long-term goal is to start a school in Mexico for teen moms.
As a youth, Binnington went on a mission trip to Mazatlán and got to work with kids at a local school.
“I watched how people taught them. It was absolutely amazing. I decided that teaching is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” she said.
“Eventually, I want to start a school down there that incorporates music and helps teenage mothers so they don’t have to choose between raising their kids and getting an education. They deserve to finish their high school education — and a lot of times don’t get to.”
An ambitious goal indeed.