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.

 

 

Class of 2020 Senior Spotlight!

Emma Barker, violin
Burlington High 

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

 

 

 

What role does music play in your life?

In moments when the world feels overwhelming and full of extraordinary hatred, music never fails to be my reminder that humans are also capable of extraordinary beauty and collaboration and creativity.

 

What do you enjoy most about playing in an orchestra?

I love that we are able to create something together that individually would never be possible. I think it’s pretty amazing that an oboe and a violin and a bass drum and a trombone can all contribute their respective, different sounds to create something unified and beautiful together. Being inside a sound like that is one of my favorite things – you are both singularly important to the whole orchestra as well as just one small piece of the larger puzzle.

 

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

I have always dreaded auditions of any kind – the feedback loop of nerves and then more nerves about being nervous has always been a challenge for me. I would in no way say that I’ve overcome that challenge, but I’ve come a long ways – and, while in the moment I might not have said the same, I am truly grateful for all the opportunities the VYO has given me to practice that skill. It is one that has already translated into other parts of my life in numerous ways.

 

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

Being able to play an instrument is such a gift. I’ve had rocky patches along the way where I struggled to find a good relationship with my instrument, but ultimately I’m so grateful that music has been a part of my life. So, my advice is to both constantly strive to find the joy in your music – build your skills because you love to – and also to push through even when it is frustrating, because you will be so grateful later to have the musical base that comes from learning an instrument.

 

Apart from orchestral music, what other kinds of music do you listen to? Do other genres influence what you hear in orchestral music?

I love folk and traditional music (in a broad sense of those categories!). Any beautiful harmony is the musical key to my heart, and I think that’s what has made these two genres along with orchestral music appeal to me most.

 

What college or university do you hope to attend next year?

Bowdoin College

 

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

I’m planning – at least at this point – to study Environmental Studies. I love the outdoors and I think environmental studies is such a vital thing in this moment.

 

Congratulations Emma! It has been a pleasure having you in our organization for the past 7 years. Your musicianship and friendliness have been a great benefit to your orchestras!

Class of 2020 Senior Spotlight!

Henry Wu, cello
Essex High

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

 

 

 

 

 

How did you choose your instrument over all of the others?

I began playing the cello in fourth grade through the orchestra program at Founders Memorial School. My music teacher, Mr. Valyou, showed the class a video of The Piano Guys (a music group featuring a pianist and a cellist) playing a Star Wars medley. I was awestruck by the video, and at that point I had already played the piano for a few years, so I decided that I wanted to play the cello as well!

 

What role does music play in your life?

Music serves me many purposes; it is a stress reliever, a form of communication, and a powerful expressive medium. Music transcends cultural and social barriers because it can generate shared emotions without the need for shared experiences. I perform music to communicate my emotions and other messages to people. I also use it as a self-centering and reflecting tool to understand myself better.

 

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

In my sophomore year of high school, I joined a social justice band called SoundCheck and learned to play rock and pop music on my cello. I was challenged to share messages with explicit social & political meanings through an instrument while supporting the vocals and other instruments in the band. To do this, I needed to “unlearn” some of my classical training and focus on the direct connection between message and emotion, bypassing technique. Through my two years as part of SoundCheck, I became a more versatile musician able to play different genres of music and learned to form a stronger emotional connection to my music.

 

What kinds of changes would you like to see in the orchestral world?

I hope that orchestra music (and all forms of classical music) can become more accessible to people of all backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. Today, classical music is still largely seen as an archaic, formal activity for the wealthy, which means that many people miss out on the joy of shared emotion that comes with classical music. I would like to see classical music become truly available to everyone through informal performances, increased educational opportunities, and diverse ensembles that reflect the general population.

 

What is your favorite VYOA memory?

One of my fondest VYOA memories is the final day of Reveille in 2018, when we participated in a self-portrait workshop at Burlington City Arts and had a concert at City Hall Park where we witnessed Dr. Klemme juggle.

 

What college or university do you plan to attend and what do you plan to study?

I will be attending Harvard University & I plan to study education and/or quantitative social science with a focus on public policy. I was interested in math from a young age, but I have recently become concerned about the societal issues that we face, from climate change to systemic racism. I hope to combine both of these passions and use applied math or data science to analyze how effective governmental policies are at addressing these issues. The other academic interest of mine, education, stems from the fact that education can provide enormous social mobility and empower people to become changemakers in the areas that they are passionate about.

 

Congratulations Henry! Your musicianship, friendship, and leadership have been an inspiration to us all over the last 7 years. We can’t wait to see what amazing things your future holds!

Class of 2020 Senior Spotlight!

Joe Balkan, violin
South Burlington High

 

VT Youth Orchestra – 4 years
VT Youth Philharmonia – 2 years
VT Youth Sinfonia – 1 year
Presto – 1 session

 

 

What role does music play in your life?

Music is more than a source of happiness for me. I channel something I have learned or developed through my violin studies into nearly everything that I experience in my daily life. Whether it be memorization skills for academics; rhythm and coordination for lacrosse and basketball; creative expression for writing and speaking; or intonation for attention to detail, the skills that I have developed as a violinist enrich my entire existence. Through music, I can also reflect and gain new perspectives on situations, people and concepts. Finally, music allows me not only to connect with others through performance, but form lasting friendships. I am so grateful for my numerous friends and mentors in my violin studio, the Vermont Youth Orchestra, the New England Music Festival and more.

 

What do you enjoy most about playing in an orchestra?

I enjoyed the different positions and people I experience each orchestral season. In the many different VYOA orchestras I have participated in, I have been a follower and a leader. The versatility this required provided me with new perspectives and group skills. I most enjoyed rotating stand partners. This system has allowed me to get to know others from around the state personally and musically, a privilege for which I am grateful to the VYOA.

 

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

My most daunting musical challenge has been performing long solo pieces, memorized or not. I have learned to above all stay calm and keep my mind “flowing” through the piece. Particularly with memorization, I have found that forcing my way through a piece is ineffective.

 

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

Fully explore your passion for music. If you stay committed, music will enhance your life in completely unexpected, unique and incredible ways.

 

What is your favorite VYOA memory?

Eating out with friends on concert days, performing entire symphonies at the Flynn and snapping my bow before a concert rehearsal are some of my favorite, or at least memorable, experiences in the VYO. However, my solo with the VYO and CVCMF in the Bach Double Violin Concerto tops this list because it was an exhilarating performance with great meaning. I was able to solo alongside Lucas, a lifelong friend, neighbor and excellent violinist, while accompanied by fantastic people and musicians. Moreover, the intimate audience included my family, grandparents and teacher. The performance was a rewarding culmination of my musical studies as well as a phenomenal beginning to the finale of my participation in the VYO.

 

What college or university do you hope to attend next year?

Tufts University

 

Congratulations Joe! Thank you for sharing your musicianship with us all these years!

Class of 2020 Senior Spotlight!

Lucas Parascando, violin
South Burlington High

 

VT Youth Orchestra – 5 years
VT Youth Philharmonia – 1 year
VT Youth Sinfonia – 3 years
VT Youth Strings – 1 year
Presto – 1 session

 

  

How did you choose your instrument over all of the others?

I began playing the violin when I was four years old because I liked the sound and wanted to play a string instrument.

 

What role does music play in your life?

Music is huge in my life, as I’ve grown up learning its intricacies through the violin, and later, the clarinet. Playing music allows me to relax and destress, and it’s a lot of fun teaching myself increasingly more complex pieces.

 

What do you enjoy most about playing in an orchestra?

The orchestra is a massive team working toward the same goal, and being a part of the multitude of instruments that make up the machine is a unique experience. In my experience as a violinist, playing the same part as ten or more other people creates a great sense of camaraderie where everybody has each other’s backs.

 

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

I’ve had points (most people have) where I really didn’t want to keep playing and would go a week or two without picking up my violin. In the end, though, I’ve always come back and kept at it, because making music has become a part of my life that I can’t really let go of. Once I pick up my instrument I remember why I enjoy it so much and am reinvigorated to continue practicing.

 

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

Instruments are really difficult technically and there is always someone better out there. Comparing yourself to other musicians is a path to disappointment and an easy trap to fall into. Instead, compare your playing to where you were yesterday, or a month ago. It takes a lifetime to master music, and the perfect recordings we see on the internet or through music apps took years of heavy practice to achieve at that level. Keep striving to do your best, not somebody else’s best.

 

Apart from orchestral music, what other kinds of music do you listen to? Do other genres influence what you hear in orchestral music?

I listen to classical, hip-hop, and rap for the most part. I wouldn’t say I hear orchestral music any differently because of the other genres I listen to.

 

What other activities do you participate in?

I run cross country, nordic ski, sail, and play the clarinet. I’m also an Eagle Scout and red belt in Taekwondo.

 

What college or university will you attend next year & what do you plan to study?

United States Military Academy, majoring in Life Science as I’ve been interested in biology and the human body for years.

 

Congratulations Lucas! It has been a privilege to watch you grow up over the past 10 years!