Kim Spierenburg: Dreams, Talks, and the Violin

Kim Spierenburg: Dreams, Talks, and the Violin

A lot of the speakers at TEDx have a great idea, have done amazing things, or created something fantastic. That’s what makes them inspiring. A few speakers go beyond that. Their life story itself is inspirational. Kim Spierenburg’s is one such story.

As a child, she contracted an auto-immune disease that limited her in many ways. She became confined to a wheelchair and had to battle every day with pain. Her violin offered consolation. Playing the violin made her feel better and made it possible for her to dream big. And dream big she did: a place at the Amsterdam Conservatory; live shows and public speaking; national television and playing for entire stadiums ensued.

Nowadays, the violin is no longer her only way to reach people. Speaking is, in her words, comparably powerful. “Playing the violin and public speaking are both about connecting with people. For me, that connection is important and powerful. It’s what defines me and what I’ll always search for.” In that sense, TEDxAmsterdam is almost a logical next step. I had the opportunity to ask Kim some questions that provide a preview of what’s to come on the 28th:

Why is what you do important to you?

“I want to share something with people–how important it is to dream and to really pursue the biggest and most important of your dreams. I believe I have a story that really makes it possible to make that idea stick. I want to share with people my personal story: what it’s like to live with an affliction like the one I’m constantly confronted with; how for me the violin became an instrument that empowered me to get a grip on that affliction; and how that same violin has made it possible for me to really pursue my dreams.”

What idea will you be sharing with us at TEDx Amsterdam 2014?

“I’m going to use my time on stage to tell people what it is that moves me, and helps me, in the violin. Mostly I would like to tell everyone what the violin has taught me, and how it helps me to battle my sickness. I’ve had to learn to always be positive, even when I’m in pain, and the violin has been the key to this.

And I’m not only going to talk about it… I’m going to play it!”

The violin is the centerpiece of your story. Can you tell us what this violin means for you?

“For me it’s something extremely important. Something that’s a part of every day in my life. If I don’t play, I don’t feel as happy as I could be. I remember the first time I made a sound on a violin. The vibrations of the instrument actually lessened my pain.

But it is more than that. Music for me is a gateway to my fantasy. Back when I was a little girl I created entire stories, complete with castles and princesses, around a composition. And even now music for me is always connected with images. I see what I play, I feel what I play. And it works the other way too. How I feel and what I think are reflected in how I play my violin. In that way it’s an extension, not of my body, but of my inner self.”
Who are your TED heroes? And why?

“Damn, I have so many! People have been sending me TED Talks for years, and I was always one of those people who kept on clicking through. But one of my favorites is definitely the TED Talk by Julian Treasure. It’s really a movie about speaking, and about how speaking really is a form of art. It fits well with the image I have of speaking.

Another TED video I really liked is the talk by Lizzie Velazquez. This one immediately went viral, for good reason. This girl, completely disfigured, talks in such a positive way about where her heart lies.

It’s what I value most–people putting all of their heart into something, people whose main driver is to better the world. Most TED speakers share that attitude, which is why they’re so inspirational.”

And who could be your next inspirational TED speaker?

“Well, Janine Jansen is one of my great heroes. Apart from her, I’ve been really intrigued by an interview by Jaime Hayon, the famous Spanish designer. He talked about his passion for skating and how skaters stand differently in life. Why? Because they know you can only learn something by first tripping and falling a few times, but also because they know that if you believe you can do something in your mind, you’ll eventually be able to do it in real life.” (Well, programming team: something for TEDx Amsterdam 2015?)
Is there anything you’d like to share with our readers that will help them prepare for your talk?

“Think about your hidden dreams. The dreams you don’t really dare to articulate. What do you always discard as ‘It would be great but it’s just too …’? Keep that hidden dream in mind while listening to my story. That’s all you need to do!”

At the start of this interview, I asked Kim whether she would like to tell her story without focusing on her affliction and its limitations. At the time, it sounded like a good thing to ask, mainly because I didn’t want to make it more important than all of her accomplishments, and because I hate pity as driver for interest in someone. Her reaction was not what I expected: “I don’t really care”. At the end of our conversation, she asked me whether I now understood why I didn’t need to worry about it. And I do: it is part of her and part of her story, but really it’s already far away in the background. A little bit of inspiration for me on a Thursday afternoon… It probably means much more is to come in Kim’s talk on the 28th of November!

Oh, and if you’re wondering whether Kim will deliver her story while sitting in her wheelchair, her answer was simple: “I’ll stand!”