Class of 2021 Senior Spotlight!

Mason Davis, clarinet
St. Johnsbury Academy

VT Youth Orchestra – 2 years

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Keith MacDonald

 

 

 

Why do you like your instrument & how did you choose it?

I first chose the clarinet because my dad played in middle school when he was a kid. I quickly improved and enjoyed playing. I love the clarinet because it has a large range with many different timbres. While It can handle quick technical passages, it is also is commanding enough to play solo.

 

What role does music play in your life?

Playing music is definitely a huge part of my life. I enjoy practicing and playing every day, and participating in ensembles with my friends. Music allows me to focus my attention and improve at a skill.

 

What has been your biggest musical challenge & how did you overcome it?

For a very long time (into my junior year) I played on a beginner plastic instrument. I knew that it was holding me back and that I needed to upgrade. I saved up and sought employment over the summer from my violin teacher. After a lot of research and many conversations, I visited a Buffet factory outlet in New York City to buy my new clarinet. The instrument made a huge difference in my playing, and I enjoy playing on it to this day.

 

What advice would you give to younger music students as they strive to improve their skills?

As you are learning, make sure to listen to professional players and how they play. However, instead of comparing yourself to them and being discouraged, think about what they are doing differently and how you can replicate it. Never forget to look back at your own playing and appreciate how far you have come.

 

What is your favorite VYOA memory?

I am very lucky to have been given the opportunity to play Debussy’s Premiere Rhapsodie with VYO. It has been an amazing, insightful, and inspiring experience to rehearse the Debussy with the Romantic Orchestra.

 

What other activities or sports do you participate in?

In addition to the clarinet I also play the drums and the violin. I enjoy staying active and playing ultimate frisbee, alpine skiing, cross country running, and Soccer. I also enjoy doing photography and cinematography.

 

How has the pandemic effected your practice & performance of music or participation in your other activities?

All musicians have been hit hard during the pandemic. Music is a form of communication, and for the past year we have been confined to practicing mostly by ourselves in our homes. While the pandemic has given me a lot of free time, it is hard to keep motivation and inspiration during these times.

 

What are some of the things that you have done to help cope with the pandemic’s shutdown & quarantine requirements?

I use regular exercise to keep me healthy and motivated. It helps a lot, especially when we are all stuck at home.

 

What do you plan to study in college & how did you make your choice?

I will be studying either at Boston Conservatory or Jacobs School of Music. I have known for a long time that I wanted to pursue a clarinet performance degree in college. Music has always been one of my favorite activities, and I would love to make a career out of it.

Class of 2021 Senior Spotlight!

Layla Morris, cello
Champlain Valley Union

VT Youth Orchestra – 5 years
VT Youth Philharmonia – 2 years
VT Youth Strings – 2 years

 

Photo: Keith MacDonald

 

Why do you like your instrument & how did you choose it?

I started playing the cello when I was very young, around three years old. I’ve grown up in a musical family; my parents are both professional violinists/violists, but I always wanted to do something different from them, even at that young age. I didn’t like to go along with the crowd, so I decided that I wanted to play the cello. I had been exposed to a lot of instruments, especially strings, and I’d always loved the cello’s depth of sound. So choosing the cello was partially a rebellion and partially a gravitation towards the instrument itself! The famous story in my family is that I kept asking my parents if I could start lessons and they kept saying that I should wait until I was older, so I took matters into my own hands, marched right up to my first teacher (Mrs. Anne Brown), and asked if I could study with her. My family decided that if I was going to be that forthright about it, I could definitely handle the demands of practicing and playing.

 

What has been your biggest musical challenge & how did you overcome it?

I think one of the things that’s been hardest for me musically is learning to focus on my own growth rather than comparing myself to others. I’m actually still working on that. I am a naturally very competitive person, and while most of the musical environments I have been in have been relatively healthy, there is always going to be that element of competition, especially between young kids. I eventually learned that if I focused on my own progress, it was much easier to feel successful. After experiencing a lot of hard knocks and disappointments, I realized that trying to figure out how somebody else judges me in comparison to others is only going to make me feel worse. So, now when I’m in a stressful audition or other difficult situation, I narrow my focus to myself and tune out my surroundings, and it’s really helped me to be more relaxed.

 

What advice would you give to younger music students as they strive to improve their skills?

Make it about you. Something I notice a lot with younger students is that the reason a lot of them play music is because their parents want them to, or they think it will look good on a resume, or there’s some other type of external pressure. What’s important to remember is that you are the one playing, and it’s your responsibility to decide if it’s something you care about enough to devote a lot of time to it. Something that really helped me with this was practicing on my own and making sure to take some time to play pieces I really liked and knew well in addition to those I was assigned by a teacher or conductor.

 

What other activities or sports do you participate in?

I enjoy recreational skiing, biking, and kayaking. I also do a lot of creative writing, mostly poetry and short stories. I love singing in choir and I’m currently a member of the CVU Madrigal Singers.

 

How has the pandemic effected your practice & performance of music or participation in your other activities?

Of course there have been many, many personal losses because of this pandemic. One of the biggest things I have missed is not being able to attend any music festivals. I had a wonderful experience at both All State and New Englands during my early years of high school, and I was so looking forward to doing that again. There are only a few years to participate in these events, and it’s really sad that two of those years had to be missed. Along those lines, hardly being able to play music in person with others has been really difficult. Luckily, VYO has been able to meet with its many restrictions throughout this school year. Before that, it was even harder to stay motivated, especially since I am used to playing with other people nearly every day during normal times.

 

What do you plan to study in college & how did you make your choice?

I will be getting my bachelor’s in Cello Performance at Oberlin starting this fall. I am so excited! I’ve wanted to study music for as long as I can remember, it’s pretty much impossible for me to imagine doing something else. I feel like music is already my career, but I know that having this music school experience will strengthen my playing in new ways and help me be better prepared for life after school. I chose Oberlin because of its strong liberal arts affiliation, the amazing faculty, and the opportunity to play historic music (baroque style). It’s been at the top of my list for years so I’m absolutely thrilled to be attending!

Class of 2021 Senior Spotlight!

Grant Bever, viola
South Burlington High

VT Youth Orchestra – 3 years
VT Youth Philharmonia – 2 years
VT Youth Strings – 3 years
Presto – 5 sessions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why do you like your instrument & how did you choose it?

I started playing the violin when I was about 3 years old since it ran in my family. When I was 15 I went to this camp for string players and I tried a friend’s viola and I immediately preferred it due to the larger tone and the larger size fit me a lot better.

 

What role does music play in your life?

Music has been a huge part of my life, I’ve been playing it for the past 15 years. For as long as I can remember there’s always been a performance or an audition I have to prep for. I have also met many friends and done many things I wouldn’t have been able to if it wasn’t for music, like the [VYOA] Spain tour.

 

What has been your biggest musical challenge & how did you overcome it?

My switch from violin to viola was tricky since at the time I was still in VYP on violin and the goal was to make it to VYO on the viola so I had to really learn the viola and get better at it than I was on the violin, while still practicing the violin.

 

What advice would you give to younger music students as they strive to improve their skills?

Practice.

 

What is your favorite VYOA memory?

Hands down just walking around towns in Spain with my friends all day. It’s probably my favorite memory in general.

 

 

How has the pandemic effected your practice & performance of music or participation in your other activities?

Switching to Zoom lessons has been difficult especially with having to prep for New Englands and All States but they were cancelled anyway. It however has given me more time to practice and I’ve gotten better as a player because of it.

 

 

What are some of the things that you have done to help cope with the pandemic’s shutdown & quarantine requirements?

I have been listening to a lot of music, facetiming with friends and family to try and stay connected, and being active.

 

Where do you plan to go to College & what do you want study?

I will be attending Marist College. I will be going to school for Computer science. I really enjoy it and it’s what I’ve wanted to do for a very long time.

 

Class of 2021 Senior Spotlight!

Gianna Stevens, horn
BFA St. Albans
 

VT Youth Philharmonia – 1 year
VT Youth Winds – 1 year

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why do you like your instrument & how did you choose it?

I like the french horn because it challenges me every day and I chose it because I loved the sound.

 

What role does music play in your life?

Music is something that I do for fun and because it’s my creative outlet. I also love to be a part of making music with other people.

 

What has been your biggest musical challenge & how did you overcome it?

My biggest challenge was when I tried taking my playing to a higher level and I got really frustrated. I overcame it because I realized that I wanted to work hard to get better at playing.

 

What advice would you give to younger music students as they strive to improve their skills?

I would tell them to stick with their instrument even when it’s hard and you want to quit because it’s really rewarding to improve!

 

What is your favorite VYOA memory?

I loved playing “Smoke on The Water” at the [Fall VYP] concert!

 

What other activities or sports do you participate in?

I take piano lessons also.

 

How has the pandemic effected your practice & performance of music or participation in your other activities?

I started to practice more.

 

What do you want study in college?

I plan to study something music related.

Class of 2021 Senior Spotlight!

Ruth Leech, trumpet
Mount Mansfield Union

 

VT Youth Orchestra – 3 years
VT Youth Philharmonia –  1 ½ years

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Why do you like your instrument & how did you choose it?

I like the specific kind of control it takes to make a trumpet sound beautiful – the challenges of playing trumpet align with the way I like to solve problems: you need to be detailed, mindful, and driven. When I was younger, I really looked up to my sister in every way. She played trumpet into high school, and I wanted to be like her, so I picked it up.

 

 What role does music play in your life?

Music is one area where I know I can always be better, which is a strong motivator. It keeps me humble and grounded.

 

What has been your biggest musical challenge & how did you overcome it?

It must be this pandemic. With in-person auditions, rehearsals, concerts, and festivals wiped off the map, it was really hard to stay motivated when everything first shut down. Eventually, I overcame it by learning to play for the joy of making music for myself and improving on my own terms because it felt good to get better. I shifted from external motivation – a good score in an audition, a rewarding seat at a festival, a successful concert – to an internalized one. I would say it feels much healthier and rewarding.

 

What advice would you give to younger music students as they strive to improve their skills?

Be kind to yourself. Sometimes, you will sound bad. There will be days when nothing clicks together and stretches of time when, try as you might, you just can’t progress. It will be frustrating, but you have to remember that you are deserving of self-respect and kindness. Ultimately, all that matters is doing the thing you love and enjoying it.

 

What is your favorite VYOA memory?

The VYO trip to Spain and Portugal is full of rich memories for me. Every one of the concerts was a powerful experience, each in its own way. The last one in particular felt emotional because it was our final concert with the beloved Dr. Klemme. The bittersweetness – playing amazing music with a tight-knit group, but having to say goodbye to Spain, Portugal, and Dr. Klemme – made it a memorable one.

 

What other activities or sports do you participate in?

I backcountry ski around Vermont and anywhere else I can get my skis on, and I love to bake for myself and friends. I also work backstage at my school’s theater performances.

 

How has the pandemic effected your practice & performance of music or participation in your other activities?

It’s been pretty difficult! Theater really changed this year, which has been an adjustment. Neither Districts, All-States, nor New Englands are happening in-person this year, including auditions being virtual video submissions. These changes have made it hard to stay motivated, but learning to play and prepare music for myself and for the joy of playing music has made the pandemic not only more bearable, but also much more enjoyable.

 

What are some of the things that you have done to help cope with the pandemic’s shutdown & quarantine requirements?

My family got a dog last May! He is a wonderful addition to our family.

 

Where do you plan to go to College & what do you want study?

I’m not quite sure where I’m headed, but I resolve to trust my instincts and follow my gut. That’s the best advice I can give to anyone feeling unsure about their future.

Class of 2021 Senior Spotlight!

Sofia Andersen Harrington, cello
Lake Champlain Waldorf

 
VT Youth Orchestra – 1 year
VT Youth Philharmonia – 2 years
Presto – 3 sessions

 

 

Why do you like your instrument & how did you choose it?

I love the tone of the cello. When I was three, I was a part of the Suzuki group in Indiana and there was a concert and I saw cellists sitting down while they played and I was jealous. When I was in first grade, I picked up the cello and have loved it ever since.

 

What role does music play in your life?

Music helps me stay grounded. It has always been a huge part in my life. Whether it is me playing my cello, singing in my car, listening to music and seeing concerts. Music is what keeps me going.

 

What has been your biggest musical challenge & how did you overcome it?

Staying motivated has been really hard. Remembering how much music has affected me throughout my life is how I overcame it. Yes, there are days when I don’t practice but when I do practice, I feel better. I just remember how much I love it and how it makes me feel and the joy it brings to others.

 

What advice would you give to younger music students as they strive to improve their skills?

Don’t give up when it is really hard. Playing my cello centers me and I really love it even when it is hard. Practice a little part over and over till you feel okay with it.

 

What is your favorite VYOA memory?

Going to Spain and Portugal the summer of my junior year was amazing. Being surrounded by a beautiful culture and going somewhere and doing something I love made my summer. Getting to go on the tour was an eye-opening experience and would love to do it again in the future.

 

What other activities or sports do you participate in?

I am a figure skater. I have been skating for 13 years, I am on a theater on Ice team and an Ice Dancer.

 

How has the pandemic effected your practice & performance of music or participation in your other activities?

Last March, everything went remote, and I lost the motivation. With everything online, it made it harder to do things because I was in my house and couldn’t leave and go do the things I love.

 

What are some of the things that you have done to help cope with the pandemic’s shutdown & quarantine requirements?

I have been listening to a lot of music, facetiming with friends and family to try and stay connected, and being active.

What college and what do you plan to study?

I will be studying American Sign Language and getting my phlebotomy license while attending the Community College of Vermont

 

Class of 2021 Senior Spotlight!

Esther Koo, violin
South Burlington High

VT Youth Orchestra – 3 years

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why do you like your instrument & how did you choose it?

Violinists Sarah Chang and Ji-Hae Park opened my eyes to the beautiful instrument and inspired me with some of the most powerful, memorable pieces in the world, in my opinion.

 

What role does music play in your life?

I started playing the violin to praise God. I give thanks to God for giving me this gift of music and for allowing me to meet wonderful people through this art.

 

What has been your biggest musical challenge & how did you overcome it?

My family and I have always prioritized honoring God through music. At first, memorizing and performing music weekly at church seemed almost impossible. Through encouragement and lots of time spent focusing on my goal and practicing diligently, I have played solos/duets (with my mom, sister, and brother) for as long as I can remember. I cherish and value these times so very much and wish to continue playing music for God’s glory for many years to come. I have grown stronger musically and spiritually through my open-mindedness and persistence.

 

What advice would you give to younger music students as they strive to improve their skills?

A violin in its case is a gift you can open over and over again. There’s a reason (or five) why people have been playing it for over 400 years 🙂 Remember to always believe in yourself — confidence is a very important skill for success.

 

What other activities or sports do you participate in?

I enjoy biking with my family, getting lost in good books, listening to K-pop, and pursuing environmental scientific research. I also enjoy filming and editing videos in my free time.

 

Class of 2021 Senior Spotlight!

Nora Cannizzaro, bassoon
Essex High

VT Youth Orchestra – 4 years
VT Youth Philharmonia – 1 ½  years

 

 

 

 

Why do you like your instrument & how did you choose it?

I started on piano and clarinet for 5 years, but after going to a rug concert where the bassoon was showcased, I fell in love with its low notes, and how beautiful it sounded. After that, I completely switched over to bassoon, and have been playing ever since.

 

What role does music play in your life?

Music plays an immense role in my life. I have grown up in the artistic community, and have always been passionate about making music, and the importance of having music in your life. I love to play, and can’t imagine a future where I am not playing.

 

What has been your biggest musical challenge & how did you overcome it?

The biggest musical challenge I have faced thus far is learning how to develop a good practice model. It took me some time to figure out how to practice efficiently and really work on what I need to improve. Now, though I am still learning, I have figured out a good practice structure that works for me, and has helped me be successful.

 

What advice would you give to younger music students as they strive to improve their skills?

Practice! It can be hard to get yourself started when you’re not motivated to practice, but even just playing around on your instrument a little every day will make you better. Go slowly, and try to have fun with your practice time. It’s easier to practice well once you’ve begun, and when you have a designated space to practice.

 

What is your favorite VYOA memory?

My favorite VYOA memory is when we were rehearsing Blue Danube, and our conductor had us sing our parts for the entire piece. We all thought we would only sing for a few measures, but we ended up going through the entire piece, and you don’t normally get to do that with your part, so it was really fun for us all to just have fun and sing through our parts.

 

How has the pandemic effected your practice & performance of music or participation in your other activities?

With my school being partly remote, I am at home three days of the week, so I have more time to practice. A lot of activities have been canceled this year, so I am so grateful that the VYOA has found a way to keep going.

 

What are some of the things that you have done to help cope with the pandemic’s shutdown & quarantine requirements?

To make up for the fact that I can’t really hang out with my friends inside as much, my friends and I find more activities to do outside now where we can distance ourselves. I have a group of buddies that I hike with in the warmer seasons, and now that it’s snowy we go skiing a lot together.

 

What do you plan to study in college?

I plan on going to college next year to double major in both math and music.

Class of 2021 Senior Spotlight!

Jessy Chen, clarinet
Essex High

VT Youth Orchestra – 2 years
VT Youth Philharmonia – 2 years

 

Why do you like your instrument & how did you choose it?

I like the clarinet’s rich and unique tone. I appreciate it because I think that it is a very versatile instrument that can blend well into any type of ensemble. I picked up the clarinet in eighth grade, after learning more about the high school band. I was a keyboard player in the middle school band and I wanted to pursue band in high school as well. However, I learned that there was no position for piano. Since I hoped to continue my band experience, I started to learn to play the clarinet as a remedy. Most of my friends were clarinet players and their interest in the instrument encouraged me to pick it up as well.

 

What role does music play in your life?

Ever since I started playing piano at 5, music has been a big part of my life. While being a hobby, it has also encouraged me to become a more confident person and to learn to take initiative. Music has taught me the importance of persevering through hardships.

 

What has been your biggest musical challenge & how did you overcome it?

My biggest musical challenge was probably the switch from piano to clarinet. The musical concepts were the same but I had trouble with the practical skills. Finding an appropriate embouchure and maintaining it was very difficult for me as it was my first time playing a wind instrument. The only way I improved was through rigorous practice every day.

 

What advice would you give to younger music students as they strive to improve their skills?

In my opinion, perseverance is crucial to improvement. Getting frustrated when practicing and giving up is very easy. It’s totally normal to struggle and to take a break but it’s important to remember to come back and push through the annoyance and to keep working hard. After all, practice can only be beneficial.

 

What do you plan to study in college?

I plan to study biology in college. My father is a biologist and, since a very young age, his passion for his work has inspired me to pursue a career in the science field as well.

Class of 2021 Senior Spotlight!

Welcome back to our Senior Spotlight! Its has been a difficult year, but we have been continually impressed by our students’ ability to adjust and persevere through sudden schedule changes and cancellations that Covid-19 has forced upon them. We begin our celebration of the Class of 2021 with two seniors from our oboe section!

 

Why do you like your instrument & how did you choose it?

Criollo-Rivera: I primarily play the oboe. My love for music began when I lived in Puerto Rico. The first instrument I ever played was the clarinet. I began playing the clarinet when I was in the second grade and I performed with the First Presbyterian Academy Band. From there, my first performance was at Disney for the 2011 Disney Music Festival. I had many other wonderful performances with this amazing band. Eventually, my family and I moved to the United States. I resumed playing the clarinet in the elementary school band. I won many awards and received recognition for my playing. Soon, my band teacher recommended that I try playing the oboe. Unfortunately, I could not begin playing the oboe until the end of 8th grade since I had moved again to a new town. I absolutely fell in love with the beautiful sound of the instrument and continued to practice improving my skills. In the midst of my sophomore year of high school, we moved to Vermont. I soon learned about the Vermont Youth Orchestra Association about two weeks before auditions were being held. Now, I am a proud musician in the Vermont Youth Orchestra, and I am super excited to see what the future has in store.

Graham: I like the oboe because I think it can have a really lovely sound when it’s played correctly. After a year of clarinet in middle school, I decided to switch to the oboe because I thought it was cool and wouldn’t be too much harder to play. The jury is still out on my second reason…

 

What has been your biggest musical challenge & how did you overcome it?

Graham: As I’m sure a lot of other instrumentalists know, auditions can be pretty stressful. For me, exposure from numerous auditions to various groups over the years has helped me handle auditions in the moment, but I’ve found it’s also important to feel prepared and confident going into the audition. Feeling ready for an audition is often more than just knowing the material, it’s about trusting yourself and your ability to play.

 

What is your favorite VYOA memory?

Criollo-Rivera: My favorite VYOA memory is the 2019 Orchestrapalooza Concert at the Flynn Center when I was a musician in the Vermont Youth Philharmonia. We performed a medley of Phantom of the Opera and the orchestra was absolutely amazing. Additionally, the combined piece with the other orchestras was very exciting. Overall, this is my favorite memory as a musician in the VYOA.

 

What advice would you give to younger music students as they strive to improve their skills?

Graham: The most important thing when you’re starting out is to have fun with your practicing. There’s nothing worse than a miserable practice session all alone when you could be out doing fun kid stuff with your friends, so practicing in ways that you find entertaining is going to help you enjoy music more. A lot of people say “Practice makes perfect”, but the saying should go “Practice makes better”. The best way to improve your skills is by working on them via practice.

 

What other activities or sports do you participate in?

Criollo-Rivera: Outside of playing the oboe and being a musician in the VYOA, I am an artist. I paint artwork on beach stones. I sell my artwork using social media to market my art. It is called Rock of Arts by Mara. Additionally, I teach an online art class called Rock of Arts Youth Workshop through La Casita of Syracuse University. I absolutely love teaching this class and seeing the artwork of my students. To add, I am a member of the Green Mountain Chapter of the National Honor Society. As part of my membership, I do a lot of projects to help our community and do good for others, especially during the times we are currently living in.

Graham: At my school I’m on the student council and I also play volleyball, ultimate frisbee and dance.

 

How has the pandemic affected your practice & performance of music or participation in your other activities?

Criollo-Rivera: Surprisingly, the pandemic has given me more time to do the things that I love. Firstly, I have more time to paint. During the pandemic, I was able to start selling my art and I was able to begin teaching the online art class. I was also able to coordinate a rock painting project with members of the Green Mountain Chapter of the National Honor Society. We painted and donated rocks to a shelter through the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. Lastly, I have more time to practice my instrument and improve my skills as a musician. Sadly, there are less in-person rehearsals that would be beneficial towards concerts, but right now, practicing social distancing and COVID-19 protocol is of the utmost importance for the safety of everyone. 

Graham: At the start of the pandemic, everything was cancelled and I wasn’t able to participate in a lot of my favorite activities. So now, even though all of the activities I used to do aren’t quite what they were before, I’ve learned to appreciate the time I get to spend with my classmates, teammates, and friends before high school is over.

 

What do you plan to study in college & how did you make your choice?

Criollo-Rivera: In college, I plan to study entrepreneurship/business management and minor in studio arts. During the pandemic, I turned this negative into a positive and got back to what I love to do most, art. I absolutely love teaching my class and seeing the artwork of my students. These experiences have made me want to pursue my dream of opening my own business one day and inspire kids to do what they love to do.