Dancer Tess McCharen studied at Colburn for four years before making her way to New York City where she was recently appointed as one of the founding members of Limón2, a new dance company under the umbrella of the José Limón Dance Foundation. The original Limón Dance Company was the country’s first modern dance repertory company, and Limón2 is dedicated to the development of young professionals and to the creation of innovative programming and accessible community engagement.
“It is a big honor to be one of the founding members of the Limón2, especially with its creation being during such unprecedented and uncertain times, especially for dancers and artists,” Tess reflects. She is one of seven young women that were selected to join the inaugural group, which will share the movement and intention of José Limón while also working to discover their own artistry, embodying a variety of contemporary dance styles. This past fall, they were able to work with Gregory Dolbashian on a piece called “The Bird in Your Hand.” Tess described the freedom of creativity she experienced working on it, recalling “The process was extremely collaborative. We were given phrase work and choreography, but we were also given the space and opportunity to make everything our own.”
Tess discovered her passion for modern dance during her time here at the Colburn School. “I had seen various modern dance companies like Graham, Ailey, and Paul Taylor but had never done modern dance myself.” With the help of her mother—who was also a modern dancer—and Colburn, she discovered a new world. “Once I started working with Tamsin (Carlson), I really fell in love with Cunningham and modern dance.” She discovered Limón during this period of growth as well, and the training continues to serve her to this day.
“Colburn was the best preparation I could’ve asked for,” she asserts. “I wouldn’t be the dancer I am today if I had not gone to Colburn.” Aside from the variety of classes and access to world-class teachers and choreographers, Tess also highlighted another ongoing benefit: community. “I’m still good friends and in touch with the many people I met there…I met my best friend at Colburn when Tamsin gave us a little duet in her piece.”
Looking to the future, Tess feels a sense of optimism in her upcoming work with Limón2 but also for dance in general. “As draining mentally and physically as Zoom dance is, I have to say it has opened up accessibility in ways we hadn’t imagined before,” she says, referring to the restrictions that were put in place during the pandemic. “It opened up the world of dance a lot…Now, almost every show has a virtual viewing option. My family in LA was able to watch me perform two weekends ago.”
As she continues to develop her career in New York, Tess is certain of one constant: change. “Even when I moved to NYC, I had never really done contemporary dance before, so that was already a big learning curve…the best thing I could do and can continue to do is just be open and willing to learn.”
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Learn more about Limón2
Photo by Anthony Collins (@anthonycollins_art on IG)
This year, our Amron-Sutherland Fund grantees are four Colburn alumni in the midst of launching their performance careers: Dominic Cheli (’18), Minhye Choi (’20), HyeJin Kim (’18), and Rodolfo Leone (’19). Established through the estates of siblings Bruce and Mitzi Sutherland, this fund provides financial support for recently graduated Conservatory of Music pianists on the cusp of professional careers.
In conversations with our grant recipients, one thing is clear: the award couldn’t have been a more unexpected and extraordinary surprise. With the grant’s inaugural year coinciding with one of the most uncertain years for performing artists all around the world, each pianist credits the fund for getting them through 2020 and encouraging them to continue pursuing their careers despite concerts and engagements being cancelled indefinitely.
“As performances were starting to disappear, this new ‘cleared time’ was an opportunity to further my career in a different way,” says Rodolfo. Having used a portion of the Amron-Sutherland grant to purchase a piano for his Los Angeles apartment, Rodolfo now had the time and resources to learn repertoire that would be in demand once concert stages opened up again. He chose to focus on works that required smaller ensembles and would align well with social distancing and COVID-19 protocols, like the three early Beethoven piano concertos and the Shostakovich concerto.
Meanwhile, Minhye used this time to focus on collaborative repertoire spanning cello and violin sonatas to orchestral reductions for various concertos. As soon as campus was open and available for individual projects, she began recording piano parts for Colburn students who needed to submit virtual auditions or create recordings for virtual engagements. “Remote collaboration was difficult at first—because of the stay-at-home orders, I had to discuss tempi, rubato, phrasing, and all other musical issues remotely,” describes Minhye. Despite having to learn how to navigate this new virtual reality in tandem with completing recording projects, she makes a point to laud Colburn’s low-latency technology. “We could finally communicate in real-time, and it made all the difference in the world.”
Acquiring new skills and learning on-the-go wasn’t just unique to Minhye; in fact, all four pianists reported stepping outside their comfort zones in some capacity this past year. Once the pandemic hit in March 2020, HyeJin remembers asking herself, “How do I keep sharing my art?” Even though many agree that there’s a certain inimitable chemistry that we experience from live performance, HyeJin is thankful that technology has advanced to make virtual music teaching a possibility. She is currently in her third year teaching in the Community School and Music Academy and feels fortunate to be able to give back to the next generation of young musicians through her work at her alma mater. “I was originally very nervous about teaching online—I didn’t even think it was possible! But this new way of teaching has inspired me to become a better teacher. I realized I needed to have a clearer idea of what I’m trying to explain so that it translates well through Zoom.”
Dominic, who spent an equal amount of time online this year, emphasizes the importance of using technology to connect with audiences around the globe. “Expanded accessibility makes classical music more relatable,” he says, though he adds that recordings for virtual engagements need to be of a high caliber in order to keep audiences engaged. This year, Dominic became the new Piano LIVE Director at Tonebase, an online platform that aims to make musical knowledge accessible. With the equipment he was able to purchase due to the Amron-Sutherland grant, he regularly hosts Tonebase’s livestreamed events and engages with about 1,000 people on a monthly basis. “I think there’s sometimes an elitist stigma associated with classical music, and I aim to break that stigma by inspiring, empowering, and giving focused advice to [Tonebase] viewers. It’s a rare opportunity for audiences to be able to engage with artists during a performance, and my new position at Tonebase allows me to provide those opportunities more often.”
Though in-person performances were few and far between, HyeJin and Rodolfo explain that the Amron-Sutherland grant made it possible for them to accept engagements that they would otherwise be unable to take due to costs. Artist fees and travel reimbursement were nearly nonexistent, so the grant helped offset some of the financial strain. HyeJin recalls a smaller performance from 2020 that felt like a breath of fresh air, despite the arduous travel and reduced audience size. She was asked to perform Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No.1 in South Korea and remembers being on the edge of joyous tears as soon as the orchestra began to play in the first rehearsal. “It reminded me of why we’re here. This is why we perform music,” she says.
For Rodolfo, being able to take smaller performance opportunities kept him connected. In thinking about his most recent engagements, he shares a sage observation: “You never know what can lead to other projects in the future.” Having just returned from recording a recital alongside the Viano Quartet in New York, which happened as a result of an earlier collaboration in the fall, Rodolfo has clearly taken his own advice to heart and has seen his efforts bear fruit as his schedule continues to grow for the coming year.
When asked what they’re most looking forward to in 2021-22, it’s refreshing to hear what big plans each of these tenacious artists has in mind. From self-produced solo and chamber music albums, to working on their individual artistic brands, to becoming dedicated ambassadors of arts accessibility and education, we couldn’t be prouder of our Colburn alumni. We extend our congratulations to this year’s Amron-Sutherland grant recipients and wish them the best as they continue on to fulfilling, well-rounded careers. We can’t wait to see what they do next!
The Colburn School congratulates alumni Geneva Lewis (Community School ’16) and Oliver Herbert (Music Academy ’15), who were among the five recipients of the prestigious 2021 Avery Fisher Career Grants, given annually to solo artists or chamber ensembles who exhibit great potential for major careers. Each artist will receive an award of $25,000 to be used towards furthering their careers. Previous recipients include Hilary Hahn, Yuja Wang, and Joshua Bell.
New Zealand-born Geneva Lewis studied with Aimee Kreston in the Community School of Performing Arts until 2016. “I remember like it was yesterday when I first met Geneva,” recalls Kreston. “She was seven years old. Even at that young age, it was evident to me that Geneva not only had the talent, but the heart to be a great musician. She studied with me until she went to college, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my time teaching her.”
Lewis was the Grand Prize winner at the 2020 Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh Competition and First Prize winner at the 2019 NEC Concerto Competition. In 2015, Lewis won the First Place Medal in the Junior Division of the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition as a member of the Incendium Quartet. She has performed as a soloist with Pasadena Symphony, NEC Philharmonia, Diablo Symphony Orchestra, and Culver City Symphony. Currently, she is pursuing an Artist Diploma at the New England Conservatory of Music.
Oliver Herbert studied under Clive Greensmith in the Music Academy until 2015 before going on to the Curtis Institute of Music. Greensmith remembers Herbert fondly, “I have always considered Oliver to be part of the Colburn cello family. Our year spent working together at the Music Academy was so meaningful, full of discoveries and new ideas, and it has been a great pleasure to watch him grow into such a compelling young artist.”
Herbert’s awards include a top prize and special prize in the XI Lutoslawski International Cello Competition, first prize and Pablo Casals prize in the 2015 Irving M. Klein International String Competition, and the Prix Jean-Nicolas Firmenich at the 2017 Verbier Festival. Recent solo performances include debuts with San Francisco Symphony, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Warsaw Philharmonic, and Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is known for his powerful social justice work during the landmark Civil Rights Movement of the mid-twentieth century, and the work he led in the segregated South continues today across the world. The federal holiday established in his honor has evolved from a quiet day of remembrance into a call to action, and that call extends to every arena of human life. In the performing arts, this call is especially impactful. Culture is a key driver for social change, and the Colburn community joins in answering the call.
As part of a number of new initiatives across campus that touch on curriculum, training, and performance, Colburn’s Amplify Series will include week-long residencies by artists of color that will include master classes, lectures, and work with current students and community partners. The goal of these efforts is to amplify these artists as well as the artists that they’ve drawn inspiration from in their own work, and the inaugural class includes violist Nokothula Ngwenyama (Community School ’93), bassoonist Andrew Brady (Conservatory ’13), bassist Marlon Martinez (Conservatory ’15), and former New York City Ballet member Silas Farley.
Watch a virtual roundtable with the 2021 Amplify Artists
Last fall, the alumni of the cohort discussed their thoughts on the social justice work to be done in the performing arts, from celebrating the work that’s already been done to envisioning a better future for the arts and setting out to achieve that vision.
The performing arts community has always been an active participant in social and political conversations, but some members of the community have been overlooked or omitted. One piece of the puzzle lies in finding ways to amplify those voices that have historically been silenced or continue to be drowned out.
Bassist Marlon Martinez spent his time as a student in the Conservatory of Music perfecting his classical technique on double bass, but he also found himself immersed in the jazz scene in Los Angeles through the young musicians in the Community School of Performing Arts. Marlon has focused his residency on uplifting Black jazz composer, Billy Strayhorn:
“Strayhorn was a legendary black American pianist, composer, and arranger of the 20th century. Although he was a pioneer in modern jazz, he deserves far more praise than what was given him, and even today he is underrecognized. I’ve loved Strayhorn’s music for a long time, and his style resonates strongly with me. I grew very interested in his life story while discovering bodies of work that was uncredited in his lifetime, often misattributed to his collaborator, Duke Ellington. At Colburn, I’ll introduce known and lesser-known Billy Strayhorn contributions to American music and civil rights.”
Bassoonist Andrew Brady is currently principal bassoon at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and a regular guest at summer festivals. For his residency, he is looking at the possibility of a recording where the focus is on those who have inspired him:
“I’m still working out what that’s going to look like, but I know that I do want to feature music by composers of color. I’d like to feature music by a woman composer…I want it to be about musicians of color [and women] in the classical music world in general, to bring more attention to the work that is being done and has been done.”
A second piece of the puzzle lies in the awareness that the story is ongoing. Music and dance are often viewed as historical and cast, but in fact, they are responsive, evolving with the world they exist in. Pieces that were once controversial are now canon. With that awareness, artists can begin to ideate the kind of landscape they want to help create.
Violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama (Community School ’93) recently composed a piece inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. entitled “Finding the Dream,” which will debut next month. She was a student of one of Colburn’s founding faculty members and supporters, Dr. Herbert Zipper himself, the namesake for the school’s main concert stage, Zipper Hall. In her interview during the So, How’s That Going? alumni podcast, she encouraged those in the performing arts to freely conceptualize the conversations they want to see in the field:
“If people actually want to bring compelling programming and push their audiences a little bit, this is the time to do it and to not be afraid. I actually think there’s a hunger amongst the general public for that education. It’s just imagining what things can be and starting to mainstream things that have been pushed out to the fringe because, quite frankly, of the systemic racism within the field.”
On a similar note, Andrew hoped the community would embrace a more inclusive understanding of art as part of a vision of growth and forward motion:
“There are so many cultures around the world and so many styles that we can learn and grow from. And it enriches our own playing when we learn those styles and have that dialogue with composers about how they envision a piece going based on their cultural heritage. It just enriches our music making. So, not only does the community miss out on that if we don’t do it, but the musicians miss out on it.”
There may be many other steps in assembling a diverse and inclusive puzzle, but perhaps the most crucial piece is understanding that putting ideas into action, even on an individual level, is what will lead to change.
Nokuthula reflected on the excitement and energy around social justice that had emerged in force during the summer of 2020 and pushed many to begin reflecting deeply and resolving to do more:
“There are a lot of great intentions out there right now, and I love hearing about them and talking about them. But then we have to actually put it into action and start collaborating with each other…to really try hard to invite a diversity of approaches to the field.”
In light of his own experiences and periods of reflection, Marlon experienced a renewed sense of purpose in his work:
“As an artist of color, I feel an even stronger calling to express my roots in Black American music, in light of the racial injustice and violence that exploded [last] year. I see the times as an opportunity to present myself, to uplift souls through my art, and to get more people to recognize the dignity of all people. I’ve felt hurt, seeing the suffering of people who have been tortured and killed because of the abuse of leadership and police brutality. I’ve cried while reflecting on personal experiences where I was treated differently, or being threatened, on account of being Black. This is why I keep making Black music: it’s a call for freedom, justice and equality.”
Nokuthula spoke about her commitment to writing as the culminating act of this cycle that begins with understanding the world as it is, imagining where it’s going, and then bringing it into existence:
“I work with all of my students on writing when we do concertos. They need to write their cadenzas…because when you write, the writing is the synthesis of everything that you’ve read and everything you have learned…You don’t fully absorb it until you try to express it in your own way, infused with your personality…Students need to have real agency…Everything they are doing right now is valid as part of their art. It’s about making music and sharing. And sharing the drive without compromise.”
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Read more about Colburn’s commitment to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and our initiatives in that effort.
This interview has been lightly edited for style, content, and clarity.
To start, how are you doing? What is your life like these days?
I’m currently a trainee with Ballet Idaho [in Boise]. We’re in-person and we all wear masks. There are ten of us, and it’s a really big studio, so we’re able to social distance. We have to do an intake form every morning that asks you questions to make sure you’re not having any symptoms and stuff like that. But it’s been nice to be in a studio and learning and feeling like I’m actually dancing again. I’ve been here for a month almost.
You like Ballet Idaho so far?
I do. I really like it. I’ve loved all the teachers. The group of trainees—I think we’re all just super excited to be back. So, everyone is super positive and just really uplifting.
Most of us haven’t been really dancing for several months, so everyone’s figuring out their place, and at least personally, I’m trying to remember, how did I do this? Muscles are definitely very sore, but it’s been nice. And I really love it so far.
Has there been any issue or hesitation around getting back into it and being around people?
I think most of us try and social distance a lot. And most people aren’t going out just because if we want to dance, we all have to make sure we don’t have COVID. And I think we all have that trust with each other that we are staying as safe as possible so we can all dance in person, because it isn’t fun doing it on Zoom in your small apartment or trying to figure out the space.
When did you begin dancing?
I began dancing when I was 12. I used to do competitive gymnastics, and I stopped that in middle school.
What made you make the transition from competitive gymnastics?
I loved gymnastics, but I was always scared, and I loved to dance. My floor and beam routines were always extremely dance-y. And I was like, I really like dance. I wonder if I would just like to do that and not have to do flips from a bar four feet off the ground. I mean, there’s some scary things [with dance], but it’s completely different. If you fall, your injury is probably going to be a little bit worse if you’re ten feet off the ground. It’s about your movement and not so much the tricks that you’re doing.
How did you join the Colburn dance community?
I was at Los Angeles Ballet Academy for about a year and a half. One of our friends, her son actually did music at Colburn, knew there was a dance program. Colburn was a lot closer for my family, and so I auditioned for the advanced program in the Community School and got in. So, I started Colburn in my freshman year, and I was in the Dance Academy for two years.
What was the experience like? What did you think of Colburn?
I loved Colburn. The teachers are amazing. I mean, from the ballet teachers to the contemporary teachers and the tap teachers we had. I’d never done tap, and the teachers knew a lot of us hadn’t. They were just like, “Just try it.” I always felt really comfortable just going for things and feeling like I was in a non-judgmental space. I feel like I’ve grown so much from Colburn, and the experiences that I’ve learned, I’ve taken them to Ballet Idaho.
The Dance Academy curriculum introduces other genres while you’re focusing on ballet. Can you say more about that experience?
We always have technique ballet classes and pointe classes and variations, but sometimes, in different parts of the semester, we’ve had tap, contemporary, urban movement, which is kind of hip hop, but not. We had eurythmics, which is learning about music and moving with music. And we learned piano, which I love. That was probably one of my favorite things that wasn’t ballet based.
Do you still play piano?
I don’t because I don’t have a piano in my apartment, but I wish I could.
When you think about the cross genre experience at Colburn, how much of that informs your movements today?
I think you are able to have different movements and different dynamics. So, if you’re doing a movement that’s a little bit “sharper,” you can relate it to tap. Or contemporary, it’s really the upper body I’ve noticed. So, you can use that contemporary movement technique in ballet, which is fun to play with. You have more of a vocabulary with your body.
When did you know dance was the goal and not just an extracurricular activity?
I think when I went to Colburn. I was really falling more in love with it, and I really liked progressing and having to work for things. If you love what you are doing, you might as well go for it. Not to say you don’t have days you don’t like, but there’s still something inside of you. You wouldn’t be there on those days if you didn’t love it. You get driven, and you work for things. It’s fun, but it’s hard.
What were your favorite or most memorable experiences at Colburn?
I loved the connections I made with my teachers. In Dance Academy, we would go on field trips, and everyone would be there. Sometimes, we’d go see shows or we would go to a museum. Those were always fun for me because I felt like we bonded a little bit more.
This is a pretty big question. Why do you dance?
For me, I’m very active. It’s something to be able to do that, [to dance], that I can let out energy, and it’s definitely a more expressive thing. I’m not a competitive person, [but] it’s like a game in a way, where it’s more of your self-competitiveness. What can I do better today that wasn’t great yesterday, or yesterday that was really great? Why isn’t it working today? That’s how I stay motivated and just continue to do what I do because it’s this constant cycle.
What are your interests outside of dance?
I’m currently working with the Biden campaign in Idaho, which I love. I think it’s so cool. It’s so interesting. We phone bank. We text bank. We have discussions of how to reach out to people who either aren’t registered or don’t know what to do or who to vote for—not just presidential, but down-ballot. I think it’s super important because it plays into everything. The arts should be, in my opinion, funded more. And that starts with our government. It’s really nice to do something different outside that feels meaningful.
I’m registered to vote [in Boise]. I just got confirmation a couple days ago. It’s my first election, so it’s super exciting, and one I will definitely remember.
The conversation around equality and community activism happens so much faster in the cultural sphere because there’s just a free exchange of ideas.
There’s so much creativity with that. There’re so many ideas—good, bad, whatever. But there’s a way that people are able to bring them together and make it work. If you want it to be different, then vote for the change that you want. May not happen. But soon enough, if you also tell your friends or post about it, in a couple of years it could be different.
Composer David Hertzberg (Community School ‘02) is scheduled to release the studio recording of his 2018 one-act chamber opera, The Rose Elf, on Halloween (October 31). The tragic Hans Christian Anderson fairytale it was based on tells the story of a magical being in a garden that witnesses a gruesome murder and exacts a superhuman revenge. Inspired by his borderline obsession with the language of myth, David explores the dark narrative, which he argues is actually a variation of a grisly story from Boccaccio’s 14th century Decameron collection, which itself has roots in many diverse ancient sources. “In my retelling,” David explains, “this magical being, a strange, sensuous voyeur, at once near and distant, watches human tragedy unravel with fear and fascination, and is changed by it.”
Developed through Opera Philadelphia’s Double Exposure program, The Rose Elf was workshopped in spring 2016 and premiered in 2018 in the catacombs of the famous Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. David describes the macabre setting as “starkly gorgeous but also acoustically dreamy, lush, and perfect for the nine-piece chamber ensemble for which the work is scored.” Of course, there were some issues. “Organizing and orchestrating the premiere […] was crazy and thrilling, and involved more than a few non-musical production tasks,” David says in reference to “catching spiders for arachnophobic singers or dumpster-diving for roses at the crematorium.”
In this recording, David was able to dive into the details of the work and focus on elements that can be lost in live production. “The vocal and instrumental performances on the recording, which stars Samantha Hankey as the titular elf and is conducted by Robert Kahn, are scorchingly good,” he reflects.
David has always wanted to “make up” his own music. “I started playing piano—and later violin and cello—just before I turned eight, and shortly thereafter, began lessons at the Colburn Community School on Saturdays, which I looked forward to all week and which set me on my path.” David is currently working on his next opera, The Grand Hotel, with the experimental Los Angeles-based opera company The Industry in addition to a new co-production of The Rose Elf, the details of which have yet to be announced.
The Rose Elf is now available for pre-order on Amazon, and you can listen to excerpts of the opera as well as David’s other works on Soundcloud.
Watch the trailer for The Rose Elf
The Colburn School’s New Venture Competition supports innovative products, projects, and ventures with grant prizes and mentorship from the Center for Innovation and Community Impact (Center) staff. In its sixth year, for the first time, the New Venture Competition was fully online in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Students and alumni were invited to submit a venture idea or product through a video pitch. Also new to this year’s competition was the addition of an Audience Choice winner for receiving the most public online votes. Due to the generous support of the Gluck Foundation and Nick Nichols, who has been the primary supporter of the New Venture Competition since its founding in 2015, the competition increased its grant awards and recognized six new venture pitches. Additionally, the Center extended mentorship support to all 14 of this year’s participants. View this year’s video pitches here. The following is a list of this year’s grant recipients:
We reached out to the Audience Award winning team Alyssa Katahara and Anya Garipoli, as well as grant recipient Robin Schulz to discuss their pitches and experiences in this year’s competition.
Tell us about your pitches for this year’s New Venture Competition.
Anya Garipoli (AG): Sure! We’re the founders of a harp duo called DUO SYNTH. We chose that name for ourselves because we love the definition of the word synthesize: to produce sound electronically, to combine things in order to make something new, or to combine a number of things into a coherent whole. The definition really struck us because it perfectly fit the concept of our duo as two harpists combining forces to produce new, eclectic content that draws from multiple genres and incorporates electronics and technology.
We hope to change people’s perceptions of the harp by pushing boundaries, breaking stereotypes, and expanding its sound palette with software and technology. And we really want to increase the harp’s exposure through creative and innovative duo videos and performances, in order to make the harp a relevant and important instrument in the modern world.
Alyssa Katahara (AK): The harp is a notoriously underexposed instrument, and what people do understand the harp to be is often stereotyped as angelic and gentle—all magic and sparkles. While those are indeed lovely things, we see the harp in its true colors, a monster of an instrument (in a wonderfully intense way), and we want to show people that it is capable of more than they know!
Our goal is to transport this 5,020-year-old instrument into the modern era by incorporating effects pedals, loop machines, and software programs to give the harp a fresh and current voice. In making the harp more relatable, we hope to draw in interest for the harp; what we believe is a remarkable vessel for expression.
AG: We’ve been playing together for many years, and it’s something we love doing because we have really similar goals as musicians, and we’re best friends who bring out the best in each other! Even while we’re apart due to the pandemic, we discovered we’re still able to make videos together through virtual harp duets! We’re planning to produce more videos on our newly launched YouTube channel “DUO SYNTH.” Our goal is to utilize creative editing and integrate all the aspects Alyssa just mentioned into our content. We feel excited and motivated to gain momentum as a duo because we can create even more compelling content when we’re combining creative harp forces than on our own.
How about you, Robin?
Robin Schulze (RS): Last year, when I did the New Venture Competition, the judges suggested looking into other products besides the Brasstache. They pointed out that once you buy it, you’re not going to keep buying it. So I’ve been trying to think of other things I can add to the brand, more useful things besides just the toy.
When I got back to Chicago right after Colburn, I started playing in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, which is a training orchestra that’s part of the Chicago Symphony. Charlie Vernon, the bass player in CSO, is really big on rim buzzing, a training technique for brass players. He taught me how to do it properly and how to use the tool. When you’re trying to go and buy them, they’re expensive. So I was like, I have all these 3D printers. I’m just going to print one myself. I thought, “perfect,” you could put it on a key chain. I also want to add like, a bottle opener, just something silly to help draw people to it.
But because of the way that 3D printers work, my original prototypes ended up with these ridges that aren’t ideal. A 3D printer adds layers and layers of material to make the shape where a CNC (computer numerical control) machine will take away material to make it. The CNC is like a drill that can move and carve out a shape. So I’m going to carve them out of wood instead, which is a nicer material and easier to cut.
So the Pocket Rim isn’t a new tool, but it’s an improvement.
Can you explain rim buzzing for the non-brass players out there?
RS: So brass playing and singing are the only two, I might be wrong about this, but the only two I can think of where your body is actually producing the vibrations to make the sound. The buzz is really important for the brass player. Maybe on a good buzz, you have a good sound and when you have a good sound, you can do pretty much everything else.
We’re always being told to use more air, especially the low brass instruments, because it takes a lot of air to produce a sound. So using a rim is like training yourself to use way more air than you kind of need to so then when you go on the horn, it’s just like, wow, it just pops out.
My dad is a guitar player and he said whenever he practices on an acoustic guitar, because the strings are kind of heavier and there’s more distance to get to the fret, that when you go back on to electric, it’s easier to play. Rim buzzing is kind of the same concept.
How did you prepare for the competition this year?
AK: We were super thankful for this competition because it forced us to synthesize what our goals are as a harp duet. We sat down and went through the micro-course that Nate [Dean for Community Initiatives] had presented, answered the questions he posed, and then wrote out a script. What started as a massive eight pages long had to be cut down to two minutes of talking, so we really had to determine what was extraneous blabbing. Between that and speaking a little quicker than normal, which took a lot of brain concentration, we got it down!
AG: We also took full advantage of the magic of Google Docs so we could edit and work on our script together in real time. And we probably broke a world record for the longest Zoom and FaceTime calls while we were at it…
RS: I took a lot of the stuff I did last year and altered it for this pitch. Since this pitch was a video and it was two minutes, it was kind of hard to fit everything in. So I actually wrote out a script which really helped. Normally I’m not that organized. I had to really organize my thoughts to slim it down.
How did Nate’s micro-course videos help you prepare?
AK: The only pitches I’ve seen are from Shark Tank, so I had no real clue as to how to make my ideas attractive and something you’d want to support. The micro-course videos helped me define and hone in our goals.
AG: Definitely. The micro-course helped us streamline and narrow down our goals because it was basically all laid out for us, in an easy and approachable way. Once we understood all of the key topics and points that Nate was mentioning, we wrote those things down and just went straight to answering those questions. And that, in essence, gave us our pitch.
Where do you hope to see your projects a year from now?
RS: I’m curious to see how it goes. I wasn’t big into rim buzzing until Charlie taught me how to do it. So if I can get the word out about how useful it is, hopefully I can sell a lot of them. I was thinking of doing a little two-minute video explaining how to do it. I was also thinking about insert cards for when I ship it, some tips on how to use it effectively. I have to figure out the right target audience, whether it’s trombone professors or everybody. It’s going to be interesting to see how it does compared to the mustaches, which are more of an impulse buy.
AG: We plan to release more videos showcasing what the harp is capable of and expand our presence on social media sites to reach a wider and more diverse audience. We will be making a duo Instagram account and maybe even venture onto sites like TikTok to expose younger people to what we’re doing in an accessible way. TikTok harp duo? We’re on it!
We’re also super excited to slowly build up our collection of equipment and gear (like effects pedals) as we acquire more funds, so we can actually do all the cool things we’re dreaming of. One of our biggest dreams is to commission electro-acoustic harp duets, working with composers that specialize in electronic music in order to start building a new canon of harp duo repertoire that integrates innovative technology, pushes the instrument’s boundaries, and breaks harp stereotypes.
AK: In the end, our goal as artists is to eventually create for a live audience. Once that becomes possible, we want to present completely immersive concerts that integrate a myriad of mediums, even visual arts, to provoke the audience to tap into their many senses. We want the audience to feel the music we create as viscerally as possible all the while creating a comfortable listening environment that allows people to engage with us and each other. We want people to leave our concerts excited and questioning everything they understand the harp to be!
AG: We’re so grateful for the New Venture Competition and the Audience Choice voters’ support to get us started on our harp duo dream! Thanks for having us, and we hope you’ll follow along with us on our journey!
Tell me a little about yourself. What is your art practice like? What is your connection to Colburn?
My name is Sarai Benitez, and I am a rising junior at Cal State Northridge studying music therapy. I was first introduced to music as a young child in elementary school through orchestra, choir, and mariachi.
During the summer before 5th grade, I was one of the lucky participants of Summer Encounter, a two-week camp that Colburn has in the summer for local elementary students of Title I schools. Through that, I received a scholarship which granted me access to Colburn until I was 18. At Colburn, I was able to take guitar lessons and private violin lessons and was a part of the Children’s Concert Choir and Chamber Singers.
In high school I tried to do as much as I could, from joining musical theater, choir, jazz choir, and orchestra, to even singing the national anthem at our football and basketball games. Now in college, I’m continuing with choir and participating in ensembles with my instruments as well.
How do you think attending Colburn shaped you as a musician? Specifically, how did you get into music therapy from your Colburn experience?
In elementary school, I was participating in choir and orchestra, but I wasn’t as outgoing as I am now. That didn’t really pop up until I started to go to Colburn. It was a strange thing. I would go to Colburn on the weekends and I’d be very outgoing there. Then I’d go to middle school and I was very shy and quiet.
It took me awhile to bring that into my regular school life and participate in their art programs, because in my middle school, we didn’t have an orchestra or a very strong theater program. It wasn’t until high school that I got the chance to get into it more. Colburn gave me a chance to explore that side of me. Colburn kept me going back [to music], because I had that access during the weekend. Colburn was and is a sanctuary for me.
What generated your interest in participating in Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 6: Sing Gently?
I knew of Eric Whitacre and his virtual choirs before, but I was very scared of the idea of recording myself. I had never tried to participate, but ever since we were required to go to school online, I was pushed into recording myself to do my voice lessons and participate in all my music classes. After I was interviewed by Dean Nate Zeisler during Summer Encounter about the virtual choir, I felt very encouraged. I was like, “Okay, I’m already in this weird bandwagon, might as well just push into it.” That encouraged me for sure.
Because we’re now in a place where we need to connect with other people virtually, do you think that the choir has become a tool to connect with people in addition to being an interesting art piece?
I went into this project thinking of it as an art piece alone, but came out with a newfound community. Within the website, there’s a blog where you get to share things with the other choir members. There’s also the Think Tank, which I got to participate in, where they feature interviews and resources connected to the choir… I think at first people go into it thinking that the choir is just a way to use your art, but then they come out with this community too.
Can you elaborate a little bit on your participation in the Think Tank?
Of course. As I said before, Dean Zeisler was facilitating these interviews through Colburn for Eric Whitacre’s Think Tank. He interviewed me asking about what majoring in music therapy was like and about my thoughts on the virtual choir, especially during these times. The interview was the thing that encouraged me to participate in this choir and share it with all my friends.
I had mentioned in the interview with Nate that my last performance was Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony performed with the CSUN String Orchestra and a whole bunch of choirs from all over the Valley. At the end of the performance, I was left on such a high from the beauty that is performing live with so many people.
It was only a week after that we were told we had to go back home and finish the semester online. For a music major, the news was devastating. The realization that I didn’t know the next time I’d get to experience that feeling made me even sadder. So now, to be able to find something else and participate with even more people became such an exciting project that I really wanted to participate in any way possible.
What do you think the purpose is of projects like this, generally?
I think it’s to connect people and help others understand that they’re not alone, because when it comes to this stay at home order, a lot of us go into self-isolation. We were required to return home after being in school for not even a whole semester and have to face having our newfound freedom [as a college student] taken away. It is especially hard for those in their adolescence and teenage years. I’m lucky to have music to go to, but others don’t. I think it’s very helpful for those individuals who are looking for a place to find a group of people like them.
Do you think that virtual ensembles like this are a good alternative for the music community while we can’t gather together in person?
I do think so, but also I hope that we’re not going to be stuck like this for long, because nothing’s going to replace that feeling of being in a room filled with musicians and singers and feeling that raw energy. This is doing well for now, but I’m waiting for that day that I can go back to school and to my ensembles and experience performing in person.
Do you think that this choir specifically helped broaden your horizons to live recordings, or was it another step on the path for you?
I feel like it was a step on the path because I’ve been camera shy for a while. I’ve done a few video auditions, but the idea that this was going to be a public YouTube video and you might just catch my face for a second—I was really nervous about that. But it’s one of those steps that’s helping encourage me that it’s okay; that you should be proud about sharing your art.
As a final question, for readers who aren’t familiar with Eric Whitacre, is there anywhere that you suggest they start listening?
I have a favorite song I got to perform in the Children’s Concert Choir at Colburn. I always think that people should hear that song first, because it really shows the wonder that Eric Whitacre puts into his music. It’s called Seal Lullaby. That’s something I always share with my friends when I start talking about Eric Whitacre.
When you get into the music world, his name is so big. I feel like my knowledge is barely anything compared to my classmates. It’s weird—we just learned about him in my music history class too, so around the same time that I was reading about him I was participating in the choir. It feels like I’m making history.
Summer is here, and artists are coming to terms with the cancellation of festival season and all of the professional and creative development opportunities it typically brings. This break between season calendars for working musicians or summer recess for students is often a time for performers to reconnect, reflect, and build.
Principal Oboist for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and Colburn alumnus Claire Brazeau (Conservatory ’14) reflected recently, “We’ve been thrown out of our traditional venues, but we are all putting our heads together to figure out how we can keep creating and sharing our passion for the arts.” For many performing arts organizations and institutions, this means going virtual.
Brazeau teamed up with Sounding Point, a Los Angeles-based creative and marketing agency, and coordinated the Virtual Oboe Competition, featuring an international panel of legendary oboists including Elaine Douvas, Eugene Izotov, Francois Leleux, and Ramón Ortega. The competition, which will award first and second place cash prizes, is accepting entries in two age groups through July 20.
“We have formed an online community around the competition and are offering opportunities to feature the work of participating oboists,” Brazeau explains. “It is our aim to provide a supportive and inclusive community […] We are working on ways to make this not only a competitive project, but an educational one as well.” And Brazeau is not the only alumnus actively working to adapt to the new normal.
Benjamin Adler (Conservatory ’15), pictured left, coordinated the Clarinet M@estro Festival dedicated to the pedagogical legacy of Colburn faculty member Yehuda Gilad, which will be hosted virtually this July. Festival faculty are all former students of Gilad, including Colburn alumni Afendi Yusuf (Conservatory ’17), and Signe Sõmer (Conservatory ’16).
Fabiola Kim (Conservatory ’18), pictured right, co-founded Sounding Point Academy alongside founding Colburn Conservatory faculty member Robert Lipsett. With an incredible faculty and roster of guest artists, this three-week summer festival covers all the bases from technique and performance to public speaking and tech setups for recording.
Nicole Sutterfield (Conservatory ’09), pictured left, produced an online interview series called The Intentional, Effective Music Teacher to provide teachers with tools and insights that will help them connect more effectively with their students. Offering one new episode per day over the course of three weeks, Sutterfield sat down with over twenty experts in the field, including alumnus Danielle Belen (Conservatory ’08), and Colburn faculty members Paul Coletti and Richard Beene. The full series is available online now.
Calidore Quartet member Ryan Meehan (Conservatory ’14), pictured right, announced an online Virtuosi Virtual Summer Academy, which he co-founded with pianist Gabriela Fahnenstiel, for students aged 8–24. Danielle Belen and Jeffrey Myers (Conservatory ’14) will also be on faculty for this two-week curriculum that includes master classes, interviews, workshops, performance opportunities, and career guidance.
And Ryan Darke (Conservatory ’13), pictured left, founded Trumpet Forward, featuring a free online Artist Masterclass Series. Trumpet Forward will also host a five-week festival with guest artists from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Juilliard. In addition to virtual lessons, seminars, and panel discussions, the program will include a wellness portion with yoga, Alexander Technique, and performance psychology residencies.
The current global situation has presented the performing arts community with a blank canvas to imagine both the near-term and long-term future, and Colburn alumni have risen to the challenge.
In addition to preparing the Virtual Oboe Competition, Brazeau has spent the past few weeks teaching students online and doing remote recording work. “Out of necessity, I think artists and arts organizations are exploring the full potential of online platforms.” And while she is working to be part of the solution and provide safe alternatives for young artists, she has her eye on the real payoff. “I look forward to returning to the concert stage and performing with my colleagues. I miss that the most.”
Allow us to introduce So, How’s That Going?—Colburn’s first alumni-powered podcast and a joint project between the Alumni Office and the Center for Innovation and Community Impact (CICI). Envisioned as a series of insightful and inspiring conversations with alumni, So, How’s That Going? premiered on April 3 with a debut episode featuring voices of former dance and music students as they wrestled with the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The podcast seeks to take back the narrative on what a life after a performing arts education really looks like, from landing the job to navigating the community. The title itself is a nod to the often-skeptical response even the most accomplished alumni of an arts education might expect to field.
Over a series of production meetings, what began conceptually as a collection of professional development webinars that would be produced by CICI evolved into a format that put the experts front and center. The stories of our alumni community continue to unfold far beyond Grand Avenue. Alumni are on the stages of New York City, in the labs at Northwestern, in classrooms in Georgia, on the silver screen worldwide, pursuing virtual business ventures, and more. And while our world-class staff provides excellent professional development know-how, we look for ways to strengthen the alumni network and to inspire each other.
Dr. Nate Zeisler, the Dean of Community Initiatives, has worked for years to provide professional development resources to our students, and the recent formation of the Center for Innovation and Community Impact as well as the Alumni Office has made it easier to adapt these resources into useful tools for alumni.
The Alumni Office works to help alumni build and maintain networks with others passing through the school’s hallways as well as to offer resources and direction in navigating the great hallways beyond. One meaningful tool that can serve both of these causes is mentorship. Establishing a connection between one alumni and another, each with their own unique experience or cachet that the other can tap into, can be the basis for long-lasting relationships. So, the question shifted from “What can we do to guide alumni?” to “How can we empower alumni to guide one another?”.
Prior to the COVID-19 closures, the podcast’s inaugural guest was appropriately the first piano alumnus of the Conservatory, David Fung (Conservatory ’09). David’s remarkable story took him from medical school to music and then around the world. He now splits his time between New York City and a faculty position at the University of Georgia. Given the current state of the performing arts and the world at large, we opted to take a cue and match the conversation that was already on everyone’s lips. We reached out to alumni Anatalia Hordov (Dance Academy ’16), Nicholas Rose (Dance Academy ’15), and the members of the Calidore Quartet (Conservatory ’16) to see how they were being affected and ask their advice for young alumni going through such unexpected and drastic changes.
Dr. Zeisler, who also guested on the first episode to provide broad perspective on the situation, later remarked, “I hope that this podcast will help unify our strong network of working artists and enable all of us to learn from alums who have created wonderful careers in the performing arts.”
While So, How’s That Going? is driven by and for alumni, the benefit of hearing their stories and sharing their insights resonates across every layer of the Colburn community. For our current students, we hope the podcast serves as a way to stay connected to the friends, faculty, and families surrounding them even after they leave and find connections out in the working world. For our families, we hope that it gives a sense of the beneficial consequence of a performing arts education and the community it sustains. For our faculty and staff, we hope it renews their passion for hearing about the accomplishments of artists that their work supported and nurtured on campus. And for our friends in the community at large, we are excited to introduce you to some of the incredible artists and humans that Colburn has nurtured over its history.
Chicago-based journalist Sydney J. Harris once wrote, “The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” A performing arts education is not without its challenges—real or perceived—in opening those windows to long-term success and growth in a modern world. As the recent pandemic has reminded us, we’re all in this together. Hours spent in practice rooms and preparing for performance hone the craft but don’t always tap into the resource that is the person in the next studio over.
So, How’s That Going? aims to open a window into those lives and gives everyone the opportunity to see what’s possible when we can really connect.
Listen to the first episode now and stay tuned for the next quarterly episode featuring David Fung this coming July.