For years, the violin played second fiddle to Laura Frautschi's dream of following in her father's footsteps and becoming a scholar.
The long hours she used to spend at the library paid off in a 3.5 grade-point average at John Muir High School in Pasadena. She also spent considerable time as a member of Muir's swimming and water polo teams.
But somehow she has managed to squeeze in some violin practice every day since she started to play 13 years ago at age 3.
"Up until a year ago she would practice one hour a day," said Laura's mother, Mei Frautschi.
Things began to change after Laura and her sister, Jennifer, also a violinist, spent a summer at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado to perfect their skills.
"I just started liking music a lot more then," Laura said. "The Aspen Music Festival was excellent. You're playing in a big group and it seems so powerful and passionate.
Laura got even more serious when she met conductor Jorge Mester while practicing with the Pasadena Young Musicians Orchestra. Laura had been playing with the Young Musicians Orchestra for a year when Mester recruited her at age 15 into the Pasadena Symphony Orchestra.
"She's a tremendous musician . . . a very natural violinist, and doesn't look like a person who works very hard," Mester said about the youngest member of the orchestra. "It's hard to believe someone that young could be that good," said Mester, who also is chairman of conducting studies at the Juilliard School of Music in New York.
Laura started with the Pasadena Symphony Orchestra in March, and by October Mester had promoted her into the first violin section over 14 more experienced professional violinists. And she still plays in the Young Musicians Orchestra.
She has not always played with the same passion she demonstrates today. "I often went through periods of not wanting to play," Laura said.
But Laura said her mother urged her to continue with her music, even when she became bored and wanted to switch to the clarinet, or when she experienced a "passing whim" to be an Olympic skier.
"My mother gave me reasons not to quit. And when I began starting to like it, I was still playing," Laura said. "Now I feel elated when I play. It lifts me up."
Laura first picked up the violin when her mother took her to a neighbor's home where some young people were taking a violin class. Her first teacher, Elizabeth Mills, said Laura immediately showed a natural aptitude.
"She's very quick to learn, she's quick to grasp and she's quick to perceive," said her second teacher, Noumi Fischer, 79, who taught Laura for seven years, from the time she was 8.
Laura also studied music in France, where she spent from three to six months a year for several years with friends of her father. While there, she earned top honors at the Conservatory of Music in Neims.
Laura's recent decision to become a professional musician came as a surprise to her parents, who had always expected her to follow her father, a professor of theoretical physics at Caltech, into the academic world.
A senior at Muir High School, Laura ranks sixth in her class of 400. "She's a very capable young lady," said Eddie Newman, a counselor at the school. "She's so unassertive it takes a while to see how brilliant she is."
Laura already has been accepted by Yale University and has applied to Harvard, UC Berkeley and UC San Diego. But her sights are set on eventually performing with a major orchestra.
"I'd like to be in a principal position in the Boston Symphony or a major orchestra like it," Laura said.
In the meantime, Laura attends high school in the morning and takes advanced calculus and physics classes at Pasadena City College in the afternoon.
"It's been very hectic," her mother said. "She doesn't get to bed until 12 or 1 at night because she has to do her homework but also insists on practicing."
Now, instead of studying three to four hours a day, Laura spends about that much time practicing her violin.
"I don't study very much, maybe an hour a day," Laura said.
Wherever she goes to college, Laura said the violin will continue to be her top priority.
Playing the violin "can be really frustrating because it seems like no matter how much you practice, you can't satisfy yourself and live up to your expectations," she said.