There are not, as a general rule, many household names in the world of violin.
A select few from the last hundred years — Heifetz, Perlman, Hahn, Chang, among others — might evoke recognition in an increasingly minute portion of the public, but for most part, even the greatest of soloists live and die in relative obscurity.
There is one exception.
“Whirtuoso”, at time of writing, is the ninth largest channel on YouTube, with approximately seventy-one million subscribers. If one only counts music-based channels, it is the second largest, beaten only by popular Kiwi rapper GnifJnif. It has been active for over six years, and has enjoyed massive success for the last five, with an improvised guitar cover of Little Tybee’s “More Like Jason” having skyrocketed the channel to widespread popularity in early 2033 after going viral. A never-ending flow of constant, well-regarded content has allowed to Whirtuoso to maintain and build upon that initial rush, leading to their current position as one of the greatest critical and commercial successes to have ever crawled out of the bowels of the Internet. Unlike most others to have come from similar origins, Whirtuoso is unique in that it has yet to involve itself with real world. There are no concerts, no meetups, no tours. Its presence is solely digital.
But what a presence that is.
Compared to other popular music channels, Whirtuoso is surprisingly basic in its presentation. There are only two types of content on display, covers and original compositions, all credited to an unknown duo. The first of this mysterious pair is the titular Whirtuoso, who is usually the only one to actually show up in any videos, and is responsible for all main physical instrumentation.
Little has been gleaned from or revealed about their physical appearance, aside from the vaguest of details. Extra care is taken throughout all videos to minimize identifying characteristics wherever possible, with Whirtuoso’s typical outfit of purple gown and goat mask having become indissociable from their persona. After so many years and thousands upon thousands of videos and songs, the only facts that the fanbase has been mostly able to agree on is that they are probably a white female.
Goat, the other member, is even more mysterious, credited for all video editing, sound editing, and mixing present in videos. On rare occasions where they have made a cameo, it has been in a tux and goat mask, both colored to the same purplish hue as their talented counterpart’s. (Fans of Whirtuoso, “Whirlies”, still remain split on whether Goat is meant to represent a single individual or not; regardless, neither have spoken on the manner, or at all, with both members never having been heard to utter a single word while filming or recording.)
Whirtuoso has experimented with just about every manner of string instrument in existence (both electric and acoustic), but is known most prominently for their violin skills, with a number of famous soloists and musicians having publicly insisted on the idea that they must have received a classical education in music. Whirtuoso is known for having intruded into almost every known genre and style of instrumental music at some point or another, with classical serving as their specialty. In the time they’ve been active, they have covered, remixed, and created original compositions in the style of everything from acid-jazz to video game soundtracks. The unmatched breadth and width of what the channel has been willing to cover, along with a pace of content creation that borders on the absurd have widely been credited as the central reasons for their success.
The mysterious nature of the channel lends itself to speculation, and theories have abounded in the five years since its first leap into the public eye, mostly as to the identities of its two known members. Whirtuoso does not do collaboration projects or live performances (beyond carefully curated streams), and they have never specifically denied or commented on any speculation about their true selves, all of which has only further fueled the mystique surrounding them.
Because of this, Whirlies have enjoyed cooking up an endless line of wild possibilities, with theorizers accusing Whirtuoso of being anyone from a long lost granddaughter of Howie Mandel to one of the Spice Girls. The online Whirlies community has a strong reputation for extreme friendliness and maturity, and is frequently regarded as one of the most positive and controversy-free large fandoms in history, with Whirtuoso themselves having been often compared to Bob Ross and Mr. Rogers. In spite of the unavoidable silliness present in many of the theories, they universally lack the dark conspiratorial tone that might have developed on a less chaste area of the Internet. Self-awareness and empathy are celebrated among Whirlies, in large part inspired by the words Whirtuoso leaves in the description to every video, “Only make nice sounds”.
There is one theory has not been discussed among Whirlies, even in light of certain similarities. A flash of blonde hair caught in one the earliest videos, a surprising lack of Paganini-related anything from a channel known for world-class covers of any and all famously demanding classical solo pieces. They do add up, the little details.
Still, it’s generally thought as revolting, among nearly all Whirlies, to imply that. At least it was.
Four months ago, Whirtuoso was doing a livestream of the creation of their newest composition, an untitled piece for what was to be their newest original album, “Graftial”. While standing from a chair to fetch a drink, Whirtuoso accidentally fell over, revealing a suspiciously familiar series of scars running across their left leg and ankle.
That was all it took. Following an immediate outpouring of commentary (as positive and supportive as it was, considering the circumstances), Whirtuoso went dark, not finishing the stream or posting anywhere since, even with an update. For a channel that had not gone more than two days without posting a song in over half-a-decade, this was an immediate cause for alarm. With the country having learned nothing about the whereabouts of Melly and Clementine Williams since the announcement that they had both in placed in the custody of Clementine’s birth mother over fifteen years prior, it was quick to attract the attention of national news outlets. After having found out her new name, they were fast to pounce on any details that could be discovered from the second life she’d fashioned for herself.
Despite the pandemonium that has since ensued, Whirtuoso had yet to make any sort of public statement, prior to now. I was the first person that Hallie Nordhoff contacted.
After meeting her request and conducting a series of short interviews with various individuals involved in the case that had defined the start of her life, I flew out to meet her. We spoke for some time in her small private recording studio, and she explained to me how it was that she became the most popular violinist in the world.
Hallie is twenty, but when speaking to her, I often found it hard to remember that. Despite never having performed in public, she moved and spoke with almost the grace of a dancer, not once veering away from a soft, gentle tone.
Her eyes rarely met mine.
“It isn’t from anything they did,” she made sure to stress. “This is recent, in the past eighteen months. Glaucoma. I’m at… at the moment, it’s 20/400, which is past the point of being legally blind. Most of the time, they can slow it down or stop it almost completely with early detection and treatment, but I haven’t been that lucky with it, unfortunately. We’re still not sure at what point it will stop, if at all. It’s already where I’ve needed to change my whole lifestyle. It’s a learning process.”
Goat stood in the side of the room for most of our conversation, monitoring, twice bringing us some water. Unlike her, he’d chosen to keep silently wearing the mask in my presence, and stood almost menacingly while he watched us, much more taller and broad-shouldered than he came across on camera. Hallie had no trouble acknowledging his gender during our interview, delving just a little into their relationship.
“He’s not the type of guy who likes to make a big deal about himself. But he’s amazing. He’s my rock. We’ve known each other a long time. I’d go nuts without him, especially with this, you know.”
She pointed to her eyes, smiling.
“I feel like a toddler, sometimes, with how it affects what I can do. You can still do just about anything, I’m finding out, but you have to relearn it, and that whole process is miserable. I know I’m going to eventually get to the stage where I can be totally independent with stuff, but the transition sucks. If I thought I was a klutz before…”
Following the conclusion of the Williams Trial, a separate custody determination was made, placing both Clementine and Melly in the guardianship of Clementine’s birth mother, Alice Nordhoff. All three ending up changing their legal names afterwards in order to protect their privacy and live away from the eye of the media, and Melly Williams became Hallie Smith.
“My sister and I changed it back to Nordhoff after Mom passed away five years ago, and I lived with Clem until I graduated high school. I did the online home school thing, which was… okay, I think. Not the best for learning, but I was more concerned about having time to play. And I have a thing, with people. I’m embarrassed about it.”
With how smoothly she was coming across, I was surprised to hear what she said next.
“I want to do performances, to meet fans, all that. I really do. But it freaks me out so much, when I’m with people. Like with you, with one person, with five or six or so, I’m fine. But more than that, I get real, real wobbly, like a chicken without a head. We were going to drive out to this tiny event Goat wanted us to go to last year, maybe fifteen people, to try and push me out of my comfort zone a little. I got so nervous I threw up like four times in a row… on the car ride. If he hadn’t been there with me, I think I would’ve stroked out.”
Goat chuckled. She shot a look in his general direction, still smiling.
“…I want to get better. I wanted to come out a few times since I got popular, and I felt bad about keeping it a secret in the way that I did, but… I just kept thinking about people, people, people. Ugh. And I love people. My listeners are awesome, and I’m insanely lucky to have them. I think it’s so silly to be scared of fans… It’s not like they’re going to eat my brains, but that’s what it feels like, for whatever reason. Obviously no one who you really connect with through art is ever going to have the capacity to hurt you, but…”
“I know it has to do with them, ultimately, what they did. It’s…”
“Frustrating, I would assume.”
“That’s not the word I’d want to use. I don’t hate them.”
She didn’t seem thrown off by my expression.
“That sounds dumb or naive, but I truly don’t. I used to. For what they did to me, to Clem, to Mom. For what they should have done differently, for all that they owed me and never gave. I used to want to kill them, over and over, for them to come back to life so I could throw them off a cliff into a pit of fiery spikes and watch them die and burn and hurt forever, in an endless loop. That might have been gratifying, I was so sure. And then I thought about it more, and as I got older I started learning about who they were, where they came from, what they went through as kids. And hearing that didn’t justify it, but it explained it. And then I thought about it, felt better, and eventually I let go. And that felt wonderful, for me. To let go.”
Gard Williams died three months after his conviction. He was attacked and stabbed by another inmate while being transported from one segregation area to another, his cell having been scheduled for renovations. Salina was found dead in her cell less than two years later, officially having rammed her head into the wall with enough force to cause fatal blunt head trauma.
No serious investigation into the circumstances of her death has ever been conducted.
“And I don’t think that people are obligated to forgive those who hurt them. But me, personally, I wanted to, so I did. And it felt amazing. I’ve come to that conclusion, after all this, and it’s super corny but kinda true, that hate is cyclical. They were messed up people who went through shit. And they tripled down on that instead of trying to be better. So I’m not going to do that. I’m going to let go and be a good person. That’s super cheesy, but it’s how I’m moving forward. Suffering, reliving the past, it isn’t going to do me any good.”
“I’m going to start putting stuff out again, real soon. I just needed a break. And I’m going to get over my fear of people, too, with time. I want to do shows, I want to meet them, to meet everybody. I’m a very lucky person! I’m not saying that out of stubbornness or some weird fixation with not wanting to be pitied. I am. I have a sister, I have a partner, I have an art that I can throw whatever I’m feeling into. And that’s amazing. There’s nothing in the world like that, to know that people will hear you out.”
Shortly after, Goat brought her a violin, and she began to play for me. She started with what she said was a transcription of a short Mozart song, but laughed when I asked her which it was, telling me that it didn’t really matter. She seemed to be happy, having laid herself bare.
“As is, I’ve been at this for seventeen years, and I haven’t ever wanted to keep going more than I do right now.”