Cameron Blake Warne ’05 has been on a journey of healing.
Warne is a classically trained violinist who earned a bachelor's degree of music in violin performance from GVSU. Yet 15 years ago, he gave up the violin after encountering an abusive teacher at a high-profile music conservatory. Over the past year, Warne has found healing from his past and, in the process, he learned to honor imperfection and found a deeper connection to music.
Warne started playing violin when he was 12. In high school, he performed a solo recital at St. Cecilia Music Center in Grand Rapids, and was accompanied on piano by Robert Byrens, a longtime faculty pianist at GVSU. After high school, Warne was recruited to study violin performance at Grand Valley, where he often performed alongside Byrens. Warne described his experience at GVSU as incredibly positive.
“It was a wonderful and healthy community for me to develop with students of different ages and from other parts of the world," Warne said. "We performed for each other, offered feedback, hung out together and explored musical ideas.
"So much of your time as a classical musician is spent in your ‘practice room bubble,’ but our studio class was a transition point between the practice room and the stage. You could make mistakes and you'd be encouraged and supported.”
In 2005, Warne graduated from GVSU and moved a step closer to his dream of becoming a classical violinist. That summer, he studied with a teacher from a prestigious East Coast music school. Warne had a positive experience with the teacher and said he was happily accepted a spot at the instructor’s conservatory studio. Once classes started that fall, however, his working relationship with the teacher quickly turned toxic.
“Trauma manifests in your body, and my body was starting to fall apart. I could not vibrate the string. I was playing worse and worse”— Cameron Blake Warne
From the first class, the teacher harshly criticized Warne’s playing. Over the coming months, Warne said the teacher insulted and manipulated him; at times, even prevented him from playing his instrument in classes. As the emotional abuse continued, Warne began exhibiting physical symptoms.
“Trauma manifests in your body, and my body was starting to fall apart. I could not vibrate the string. I was playing worse and worse,” he said.
Halfway through his master’s program, Warne reached a breaking point. He switched to another teacher, but the effects of the trauma persisted. Warne managed to pass his master's recital and graduate, but he felt like he could no longer play. When he picked up his violin, the physical sensation was sheer tension — no music, nor joy. He decided to put it down for good.
For the next 15 years, Warne carved a new path for himself as a singer-songwriter. He learned to play the guitar and piano, taught himself to sing, and started writing and recording songs under the stage name Cameron Blake. He got married, started a family and moved back to Michigan.
Last year, Warne’s path to healing came from an unexpected place. He found himself wondering about his old conservatory instructor. Was he still teaching? Warne looked up his instructor online and was surprised to discover that he had recently died.
His instructor’s death prompted Warne to reconsider the trauma he experienced. Repressing the pain had not worked because he still could not play his violin. He booked an intensive therapy weekend and watched his instructor’s funeral online. Working with a therapist, Warne saw photos of his teacher lovingly interacting with his children and grandchildren and listened as former students from around the world shared glowing reports of the teacher. These stories helped Warne to humanize him.
“He could not be a monster anymore. I had to make him a man if I was to forgive him," Warne said. "If I could push flesh and blood on him, then maybe my flesh and blood could heal.”
Healing did come and Warne began playing his violin again. The tension eased and the joy returned. And Warne discovered something else: a deeper connection to music.
“I had always approached the violin as ‘guilty until proven innocent.’ When I would pick up the violin, even before I played a note, I was wrong," he said. "Now, I do not have to be perfect. I am learning to stop those voices in my brain, to have self-compassion and honor imperfection. In doing that, I am playing better than I ever have."
On June 5, Warne performed his first violin recital in 15 years. Warne selected St. Cecilia, the music hall where he performed in high school. On stage, Warne was once again joined by pianist Robert Byrens. In 2020, Bryrens retired from GVSU after more than 20 years as the artist faculty pianist and vocal coach.
“The concert felt like the completion of the final stage of healing, a real triumph over many obstacles. It has taken me many years to regain my voice on the violin. Healing has no shortcuts. I still have the scars, but they have been integrated. We can all do hard, brave things”
“Playing with Robert is so fluid and natural, which stems from his warmth and kindness as a person,” Warne said. “We had so much fun catching up after so many years and pulling this program together.”
With about 100 friends, family and community members in attendance, Warne began the concert by sharing his story of trauma, healing and learning to honor imperfection. He and Byrens then performed a selection of classical music — music that had sat dormant in Warne for so many years, including pieces by Korngold, Kreisler, Bartók, Copeland and Theresia von Paradis.
For Warne, the concert was a cathartic and transcendent experience. He described it as a celebration of healing and hopes his story inspires others.
“The concert felt like the completion of the final stage of healing, a real triumph over many obstacles. It has taken me many years to regain my voice on the violin. Healing has no shortcuts. I still have the scars, but they have been integrated. We can all do hard, brave things," he said.
On August 26, Warne will release a new EP of music, "Mercy for the Gentle Kind." The album will include classical violin pieces performed by Warne as well as a new, original song.
Visit cameronblakemusic.com to learn more about Warne and his music.