This interview has been edited for style, content, and clarity.
How did you first start playing tuba?
When we were given the opportunity to join band in fifth grade, I started playing flute, which I played into sixth grade in the middle school concert band. But there were no tuba players, so my teacher asked if anyone wanted to try it. She let me take the tuba home, and when I gave it a try and started practicing, I realized “Wow, I really like this; it’s amazing!” I love the flute, but when I played the tuba, it was just a different feeling. So, I went back to school the next day and told her “Yes, I want to play it!”
I began to see how much having or not having a tuba impacted the whole group; one of my teachers says playing tuba is “being able to drive the bus from the bottom.” It really made me realize how important each and every instrument and musician is—how they play an important part in the band.
How did you first come to Colburn?
I came to Colburn during my freshman year of high school. I’d auditioned at an arts high school and was just starting there when I heard there was a spot open for tuba in the Chamber Ensemble [at Colburn]. So, I gave [Chamber Ensemble] a try, and I really liked it! Then my chamber coach, at the time, Mike Zonshine, asked “Hey, why don’t you take lessons?” since I’d never taken lessons before, and he recommended I audition for a Herbert Zipper Scholarship. And I did and got it!
How has receiving the Herbert Zipper Scholarship changed your study of music?
It has really impacted my life a lot. Now I have an amazing private instructor, Dr. Doug Tornquist. I feel super comfortable asking questions; he really helps me with everything. I feel like I have a space to learn everything that’s going on with my instrument, how everything works, and to be able to hear the perspective of someone who plays the same instrument as me.
What is a typical day in the Wind Ensemble like?
I have a music theory class before Wind Ensemble, so I end up getting to campus an hour early. I like to use that time to warm up and practice, really get a sense of how I’m feeling that day, what we’re doing, and what I need to watch out for when I’m playing with the group. Once everyone else arrives and class gets started, Ms. Eleanor [Núñez] usually starts with specific parts of the music the ensemble is struggling with. Then, when that’s solid, we put the different parts together.
Since you play in both the Wind Ensemble and the Chamber Ensemble, have you found a preference for playing in a smaller or larger group?
I feel that each is special in its own way. I like the diversity of instrumentation in the larger group—how many parts are happening. You need to be much more alert, watch the conductor, and listen, but also the conductor is the one in charge, whereas in the smaller group, you have much more freedom of style to decide how we want to sound as a group. When I’m in the smaller group, I tend to take what I’ve learned from the larger ensemble and apply it there.
How do you feel participating in the Colburn Bands program has influenced your experience of playing?
It’s helped me a lot when it comes to playing in my regular school day and as a solo musician. We focus a lot on style at Colburn, whereas I feel my weekday concert band focuses more on precise technique, that kind of thing. It’s also helped my practicing and my warmups. I remember my Colburn lessons, from posture tips to style, and take them with me wherever I’m playing.
You have been helping out with Colburn’s Concert Band. Would you share a little about that experience serving in a support role ?
When I’m in the Concert Band, I feel much more pressure to get things right, because I’m setting an example. I like being able to show younger kids how important my instrument is, it reminds me why I do what I do and why I like it.
As you are participating in the December Wind and Chamber Ensemble performances, how are you preparing for them?
I like to listen to recordings of the pieces we’re playing. I compare how the recording sounds to what my teachers suggest, then combine [that information] as I practice. Mentally, I tell myself that this is just one performance; it’s a learning experience and it probably won’t be perfect, but there will be others. So, it’s a lot of keeping calm and practicing—because if you practice, it will be fine.
Band Day is scheduled for January and will provide participants with a great way to receive additional practice and training through exposure to a band experience. Would you recommend other student musicians who aren’t currently at Colburn to participate?
Yes! I believe it’s something band students should definitely participate in, especially musicians new to Colburn. You’ll work with musicians you don’t usually play with and work with a new conductor. Plus, when else do you get to play and perform a brand-new piece on the same day? Usually, you practice for months and months before a performance, so this is a special experience.
Have you given thought to the role music might play in your life down the road?
I really want to do music in the future, that’s a given, but I’m not quite sure how yet. There are so many things you can do with music—you can be a teacher, or performer, you can go into musical engineering, or even open your own business. I don’t want to make too many decisions too soon; I just know music will be in my life.
When did you begin dancing?
When I was younger, I loved playing dancing games, like Michael Jackson Experience and JustDance. I’d have so much fun playing with my family and that’s when my mom said, “We need to put you in some dance classes!”
For about two years, I went to the Dance 411 studio in Atlanta, Georgia, where I’ve lived most of my life. I started dancing when I was around eight, and then at 10, I moved to California. Seeing all the incredible dancers in the area really overwhelmed me. So, I decided to take a break from dancing through the pandemic. But when you love something so much, it’ll always find you and pull you in. So, the dance classes and training resumed, and I was accepted into the Los Angeles High School for the Arts here in Los Angeles. It was here that I realized that there was so much to discover in dance. This was when I experienced the official spark!
What is it about dance that’s so appealing to you—how does dance fulfill you?
As I discovered more about dance, I realized that dancing is more than doing moves. Dancing is an emotional release, a full-body expression, a way to discover more. It’s a very spiritual and out-of-body experience that’s helped me through some challenging times.
How did you learn about the Colburn School?
Former directors, Ms. Alexa and Ms. Fiona, of the Los Angeles High School for the Arts introduced me to Colburn through a dance performance. Between the musician playing the flute and the student dancing—I was amazed!
I started my technical ballet journey a little bit later than usual so I wasn’t too into ballet. But seeing this dancer and hearing the live music showed me a whole different side of ballet movement. This is what drew me to the Colburn School!
Now that you’re over a month into the fall semester and have danced with live accompanists, have you found value in that experience?
Yes! I grew up on recordings: Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music, you name it—my teachers used it. So, getting the honor to have a live accompanist is of huge value to me. You feel every note, every chord, every beat, and you feel real energy coming back at you. I’m very grateful that we have access to musicians.
Why have you made the decision to pursue and invest time in dancing?
A core memory I have is a teacher telling me that, “[I] have nothing to prove and everything to share.” I want to share, express, and help others to do the same. It’s something I’m very passionate about!
Would you talk about some of the classes you’re taking as a Dance Academy student?
One of the things I love about the Colburn Dance Academy is its comprehensive program. In the mornings we always start with a ballet technique class, which sets us up for the day ahead. Then, a ballet variations class that gives us a chance to strengthen our stamina, performance quality, and gives us a good challenge. In the second half of the day, we’ll usually have a rehearsal and/or a Modern, Contemporary, Conditioning, Tap class, or Artistic Inquiry where we discuss both contemporary and older artistic topics.
And as someone who’s extremely invested in human anatomy and body recovery, having physical therapy, floor barre, and conditioning offered to keep our bodies healthy is something that I love! Margaret [the dean of Trudl Zipper Dance Institute] pushes body care and that is something that I really value.
With the variety of dance styles, do you have a preferred one?
I find a mix of Hip Hop, Jazz, Ballet, Tap, and Modern all within Contemporary. To me, Contemporary can be anything which is why I love it so much!
Thinking of all your past dance experiences, do you find your learning experience at Colburn to be different in any way?
Yes! Since it’s a small group of us, we are able to get lots of individual and personalized feedback that’s instrumental for our growth. It motivates us and pushes us to become stronger.
What’s some advice you’d share with a prospective dance student?
Stay open and take risks. This applies to everything. Don’t do a whole bunch of stuff you’re comfortable with. Don’t do everything that’s easy. Push yourself. Accept the challenge and allow it to fuel you. You can’t expect to grow to new and higher places staying where you’re comfortable.
Is there a favorite ballet or choreography that you admire or that has influenced you in a deep way?
We are preparing for our Colburn Winter Dance Celebration, and we’re doing a ballet called Valse-Fantaisie by George Balanchine. We are going to be premiering an original work set by Janie Taylor, a choreographer from LA Dance Project and former Principal with New York City Ballet. She came to campus and created a piece specifically for us. As someone who’s greatly interested in creative direction and choreography, it was incredibly inspiring and influencing to be a part of this choreographic process and see Janie in action.
You mentioned an interest in choreography. Are you planning on participating in the Student Choreography Showcase in the spring?
Don’t even get me started… I’m SO excited! I’m already thinking about my cast, music, and moves. My mom has already heard SO much about it! I really love creating and seeing my work performed.
See the Music, Hear the Dance is coming up at the end of this month. There will be featured artists from The Joffrey Ballet performing with Conservatory students and faculty. Would you share what your role is for the event?
I will be co-hosting with Ms. Tracey and there will be a discussion with Leslie Carothers, [former principal at Joffrey,] who is also Dance Academy faculty, and Mr. Wheater [(Ashley Wheater)] the Artistic Director at The Joffrey Ballet.
Looking toward the future, do you envision dance being a part of it?
For sure! I have a really big vision; choreographing, dancing, acting, music, and creative direction are all components of it. Dancing is something that’ll forever stick with me.
With dance being a big component of your day-to-day, do you have time for other interests?
Yes, I make time—I believe in living life to the fullest and one of the ways I fulfill this idea is by pushing myself into new activities. This year, I introduced Aerial Silks, volunteering at an animal shelter, and I am continuing my growth in acting and music.
In addition to your Colburn events, what’s on your dance horizon?
I plan to continue with my technical training through high school and college. And take that with me as I explore the world and my path: creative directing, dancing, acting, learning, being, growing, sharing, and most of all living!
Access to excellence is the core tenant of the Colburn School. The School recognizes some students may require financial support to cover the cost of their studies. Thanks to the support from our donor community, we are able to offer generous scholarships at all levels of development. Special appreciation goes to Ann Moore, David Kobrin, and Michael S. Turner, and Colburn Society members, whose support of dance makes the excellence of the Colburn School accessible.
If you would like to learn more about supporting our work with students like Cameron Fikes, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is your musical background Esme? How did you start playing?
Both of my parents are violinists and my older sister started the violin when she was very young. So when I was born, it was not really a question of what instrument I would play! I was two and a half, almost three, when I started in a Suzuki group back in Chicago, and that is really the place and the teacher who shaped the way I approach music now.
How did you learn about or decide that you wanted to study at Colburn?
I first came to Colburn about two years back for the one week in-person Fortissima program with a small cohort of about 10 other female musicians. The entire program was comprised of six months of mentorship and discussions, always about empowering each other, and learning about how diversity and different backgrounds can have a place in the classical music field. I had a lesson with Dr. Lipsett during my time then, and the School really spoke to me. After that it was an application process and a Zoom audition. Now I’m a senior in the Music Academy and have been working with Mr. Lipsett for the last two years.
What does a day in your life look as a senior?
I would say on most of the weekdays, it looks like waking up, doing a routine; I’ll go running for a little bit, make sure I eat breakfast, then I’ll practice for a few hours before lunch. Then a little more practicing, or I’ll have a lesson, class, or chamber music. Evenings can be more different. It’s sometimes practicing or a class or just being with people and trying to also have a social outlet.
What does the future look like from here?
Right now, I have some performances that I’m preparing quite intensely for. Next year, I would definitely love to go to a music conservatory. Music is the thing that I love the most. And then thinking long-term, I’m aiming for a solo career. I would also love to be able to do chamber music and teach. So just any aspect of music that I could find.
What are you looking forward to this coming year?
There’s a lot of cool things happening: I’m in a chamber group, a trio with two other Music Academy students, and we are learning the Schubert E-flat Trio. That’s been really fulfilling—to be able to be in a group where I feel that there’s such a level of trust—and it’s only been a couple of weeks of rehearsing together! It’s just so great to be able to connect with others to make music. And the piece is wonderful too. At the end of May, I will be soloing with the Chicago Symphony, which is very much something I’m looking forward to and even mentally preparing for now.
How do you mentally prepare for any concert, especially a performance like that?
Visualization is very helpful, at least for me. When running through the piece, I find it more impactful, more helpful when I’m really imagining this is the actual performance, visualizing the space I’m going to be in. Whatever happens, happens; you have to keep going. That’s something that my teacher always talks about. He’ll say, “right here in this room, that sounds fine, but in the concert hall, that’s not going to translate the same way.” So I’m always thinking about that as well. Doing a lot of run-throughs—as many as you can do—and in front of different kinds of people, teachers, students; just any way to put yourself in that environment where it’s a very high pressure situation—the more you do it, the more natural it will feel. This is a process, to be sure. Even in the times where I felt like I haven’t performed my best, I feel like I’ve learned something from it. I’m trying to see each performance as a steppingstone for the next thing and as a way to improve my playing so that I can be more prepared in the future.
What advice would you give to a Music Academy student or someone considering joining the Music Academy?
First, for someone considering coming to the Music Academy, I would say join! It’s a wonderful program where you can meet so many lovely people, and I’m not talking just about your music making group, but everyone here is so nice and very welcoming. The environment at Colburn feels very safe; a place where you can freely express yourself. I would also say that the Music Academy is a commitment, so be able to prioritize your time well. Lastly, whether it’s socially or in your music making, you can feel like our own technical or personal barriers get in the way of connecting with other people, so always put connections with people and with music first, and that will help you to create and to keep sharing with other people.
Will you share some memorable Colburn experiences?
Yes! There’s been so many. I would say our Academy Virtuosi concerts, the conductorless orchestra led by Margaret Batjer, have been so much fun. It’s a time when a lot of us can be together and perform music. And then on Saturdays when we have all our classes, eating lunch with people and seeing and getting to know everyone and their different personalities is just wonderful. Enjoying the collective environment of the student body is lovely.
Do you have time for any other interests?
Yes! I have a lot of other interests. I love writing, and I’ve been reading more. I’m a true crime fanatic too, so I like listening to podcasts. But a big one for me is that I’m very interested in the intersection between visual arts and music. It feels like a natural way for me to approach music; when I hear a piece, I’m not just thinking about what it sounds like but how it would appear. I like to do ink drawing, so when I listen to music, I produce a sketch that I feel represents the music. It makes each art form more vibrant and more enriching when you can see how they all overlap and intersect.
This piece is inspired by Richard Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration, which I heard the Chicago Symphony perform a couple of years ago.
What have the performing arts brought to your life?
The performing arts have given me not only a space to communicate with other people but to find a way to connect with others in a way that is so meaningful. They’ve made me feel like I can speak without barriers. Performing arts can help people understand themselves, and then help them to better communicate with others. It’s a kind of collective and shared empathy that I think is really powerful.
We are proud to recognize Esme Arias-Kim as a Kohl Scholar. Kohl Scholar students receive full room, board, and tuition scholarships to support their total Colburn experience and develop the next generation of promising young artists. Terri and Jerry Kohl created this scholarship to make Colburn accessible to and competitive for deserving students in violin and piano studios in the Music Academy.
Hi Dylan, would you share a bit about yourself and how you became involved with the Community School?
Currently, I’m a high school senior, and growing up I was very involved in performance. I picked up piano when I was around four or five years old. And I’ve been doing that ever since, and I also picked up the guitar. I’ve been in classical and jazz guitar since I was around six and involved in performance through primary and middle school. I’ve been attending the Community School for a very long time now, and piano has been a very big part of who I was growing up. Then in high school, I started to explore other areas, and I became interested in computer science.
These past few years, I’ve been working to increase the computer science aspect of my education. And I think the possibility to combine the interplay between computer science and the background I have in music, whether in composing, using computer algorithms, or creating electric compositions or something like that shows how two seemingly distinct things can be combined.
With your involvement in STEM education and the performing arts, have you found other similarities between the two disciplines?
Yes, I think that there’s a very big overlap of the concepts. I wrote about it in my college essay actually. I was trying to compare how the aspects of performance can apply to technology. For example, in programming, you have your Codas. And in the corresponding performance world, you have your conditional loops. And then your recursive functions and those are Da Capos. And you can quantify the music, for example, there are melodies and you have chord progressions, your beats, your timing, and you can replicate that basically in technology. And with the possibility of deep learning and AI, try to replicate the composer’s thoughts and simulate that with code. So I think one of the really big interesting challenges is how can we get computers to actually think creatively. Is it possible to code a program that generates a cool piece of art? And in doing so, can it pass as equal to what is possible for a human to generate? I’ll be attending Stanford next year and this is the type of stuff I’m interested in. There’s a Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, and they’re trying to do this type of work; they’re trying to develop computational creativity tools that bridge art and code.
Let’s go back in time a bit and think about your early exposure to music or how you first came to know the sound of a piano.
When I was younger, around four, I always liked to tag along with my cousin who’s a few years older. I still remember her performance at town hall; I don’t remember the exact pieces she performed, but I remember the feeling of the emotion I felt when hearing the music. Growing up, I was exposed to a lot of artistic expression because my grandparents play guitar too and during holidays they always played. So, these are two early recollections I have of music in my life.
What brought you to the Colburn campus?
So previous to Colburn, I was in the Yamaha keyboard program. My parents realized I was progressing through the curriculum really fast so they sought out private lessons and found my current teacher, Dr. Heewon Kwon, which brought me to Colburn. She took a chance on me and has been teaching me ever since.
As the performing arts have been a part of your formative years, what have they brought to your life?
It’s interesting because I realized that I can convey a theme; I could tell a story without actually saying any words through music. I think that is the biggest part of the performing arts. When you’re on the stage, you get to embrace that time with the audience; it’s your turn to give back to the audience. And performing has given me the confidence to embrace the spotlight and the confidence to face all situations. For example, public speaking or whatever. I’ve learned to fully embrace what people have given me and through performance, I hope to pass that onward to my audience.
Based on your experience, how would you advise someone thinking about attending the Community School?
I would say to just go for it! Looking back, we didn’t plan all of this to happen, all of the experiences. And it’s turned into a huge part of my life. I’ve been here 13 years and have had so many different things happen in that time. You don’t want to miss out on all the people you’ll meet and experiences that you’ll come to cherish by being here.
Do you have a memorable Colburn experience that you would like to share?
A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to perform with my brother, Winston. We played a piano duet at the McAllister Honors Recital. It was a really good moment for both of us, just being able to share the stage with him was really nice.
Congratulations on your acceptance to Stanford and for receiving both the Amazon Future Engineer scholarship and Edison International Scholarship. What are your future plans?
Composing and both piano and guitar will definitely always be a big part of my life. Ultimately. I hope to create my own startup company—to incorporate something with AI and technology that has an impact on people. But in the immediate future, this summer I’m interning at a global proprietary trading firm in New York City. I’ll definitely hang out at home with my family and friends before I’m off to college, too.
The Community School is proud to recognize the excellence and dedication of its students through Jumpstart, Herbert Zipper, and Amplify scholarships, and to provide additional scholarship awards in recognition of merit and financial need.
The financial need of our current students and potential applicants consistently outweighs our available funds. If you would like to help us do more to support the futures of these exceptional students by providing philanthropic support to the Colburn Community School of Performing Arts, please visit http://www.colburnschool.edu/give or contact email@example.com.
Please introduce yourself and share a little bit about your background.
My name is Arian Cazares, I’m 18 years old and a senior in high school; I play the viola. I was born and raised in Los Angeles and lived in a small town in Mexico City for a few years during my early childhood. I grew up in Waldorf education. [Waldorf is an education environment that integrates the arts in all academic disciplines for children from preschool through twelfth grade.] Waldorf school is where I began playing. In the third grade, I was introduced to the stringed instrument family. That was a really special moment for me because it was also my first encounter with the viola. The teacher started to play the instruments and asked us to listen to them in order to choose which one we liked. It was this moment when I first heard the sound of the viola and thought, ‘wow, this is something really special,’ and I wanted to explore it. I was fascinated by its warmth and depth of the lower register. And now, almost 10 years later, I’m still exploring it! Now, I’m at the Colburn School. This is my first year in the Music Academy, and I’m studying with Tatjana Masurenko.
Would you provide some background on your Waldorf experience?
In Waldorf, you stay with the same class from kindergarten to eighth grade, often into high school if offered. We also stay with the same teacher; you go through all these different stages of education with one teacher who is a main person guiding you through. It helps to develop a more personal relationship between teacher and students and supports each child in their own way. I attend the Pasadena Waldorf High School in Altadena.
You spoke about your first exposure to string instruments. What was it about music that drew you in and made you determine to invest yourself?
That’s a big question. I’ve been with music for a while, though my family is not actually very musical. I’m more or less the first person in my family to really pursue music. I’ve been singing since I was in kindergarten; through Waldorf, we’re taught about the development of the human voice through singing with each other. And so even though it’s a different type of music, it’s always been a big part of me. And the viola is just another way of accessing that part of me. Over the years, I’ve had a number of instances where I’ve felt a growing passion for music and for what it does. And for me, it’s about the community building—when you’re engaging with someone else, let’s say in chamber music or in orchestra and other musical activities, and there’s this vibrant energy that I have experienced. This experience is sometimes even more meaningful than just playing the music. It’s connecting with others on a different level and that keeps me going and doing what I love to do, which is music.
How did you learn about the Colburn School and the Music Academy?
I’ve known about the Colburn School for a while. When I was much younger, my mom wanted me to be a dancer because both my parents were dancers when they were younger. One time, my mom brought me to Colburn for a modern dance class but it was not for me. Before COVID, I was in the Community School for chamber music but unaware of the Music Academy. I was a quarter finalist in the Fischoff Music Competition, competing with a quartet from Pasadena. And it was the Music Academy’s Olive Trio’s win that I found out about the Colburn Music Academy. I was excited to learn that there were other musicians in my community area performing at this level. So I mentioned the Academy to my mom and that we needed to research it.
What have the performing arts brought to your life?
The performing arts helped me find courage to express my ideas; trust the work that I do as a musician. I think that’s really important for musicians that spend hours and hours in a practice room, questioning whether we’re doing things right, experiencing self-doubt, and all of those things. But the experience of performing is extremely important to become comfortable and to trust yourself and what you’re doing. And I think this important because it’s also reflected outside of music.
Also, to be curious about things. In working with Tatjana this year, she’s brought a whole different perspective of not just music but of life and culture. And it’s really inspired me to discover and find out more about other parts of the world—how other people approach music. This has recently influenced my playing and the way I approach music, and I’m eager to learn more.
Based on your experience, what advice would you give to a new Music Academy student?
I would say most importantly, come with an open heart, with an open mind. At the beginning of the year, I came in not knowing anybody and not really knowing what to expect. It took me saying to myself, ‘Okay, I’m here now and what can I learn? What can I see? And how can I get ahead?’ Oh, also to have patience with yourself. I came in with a very ambitious attitude at the beginning. I told my teacher, Tatjana, that I want to do all these competitions, all these programs; I want to aim for all these things. And I was really surprised when she told me, “I think you should actually wait and organize yourself first.” And I was like, ‘What? But everyone else is doing all these things.’ And she said, “Yes, but it’s most important that you organize yourself and that you find peace in yourself and in you’re playing before you go out into the world.” And that’s really changed the way I think about music.
How about some memorable Colburn experiences?
There’s definitely been a couple; it’s hard to choose. One of them was the first time I played in Tatjana’s studio class with another Academy student and some Conservatory students. It’s a bit daunting since they are older and so talented. But back in November, I played on stage for the first time for everyone and there was a moment where all the stress melted away. I felt really supported by everyone; I could feel their attention for what I was doing. And that helped me loosen up and be more comfortable with my performance. I try to remind myself of that feeling every time that I play.
As the spring semester comes to a close, what’s on your summer schedule?
One thing I’m very much looking forward to is spending a couple of days in Switzerland, accompanied by Tatjana. I’ll be taking some master classes by Tatjana. I’m looking forward to being in such a beautiful landscape in the mountains.
As you applied to the Conservatory and have been accepted, you’ll be joining as part of the fall 2023 incoming class. What do you envision for your future?
I absolutely want to continue playing music. It’s my goal to continue this as a career. I’m very passionate about chamber music; one of my dreams is to tour the world with a quartet. I’m doing a lot of solo work to, and I envision continuing to do so. But for now, I’m most focused on absorbing as much as I can from my teachers and those immediately around me. I leave the rest to the music gods!
Special appreciation goes to Colburn Society members whose annual giving supports transformational scholarship opportunities for our Music Academy students. To join the Colburn Society and contribute to the futures of our exceptional students, please visit colburnschool.edu/give or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please share some background about yourself and how dance was introduced to you?
So, my mom put me in classes when I was two years old, and I started out in a studio in the town next to ours. I started with ballet and tap classes, and then when I was six, I began competition dance and competed with groups. And then I moved to a different location for the same studio, and we commuted for years to the Bay area. At this time, I expanded my styles; I trained in jazz, contemporary ballet, tap, and hip hop. Then this past year, I decided that I wanted to have more of a pre-professional education, train with the amazing faculty, and have more focus on ballet. So, I auditioned for Colburn last February, and upon receiving my acceptance I was so excited to come [here]. Now, I’m here now, and I live in the dorms.
How did you come to know about Colburn’s Trudl Zipper Dance Institute?
I’ve attended the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s summer intensive in Seattle since I was 12. A lot of Colburn students attend there during the summer, so through them I heard about Colburn. And then I heard that some of my friends, my current roommate and another friend who dances here, were auditioning so I spoke with them about Colburn. After convincing my mom, I was later able to audition. I’m so glad I’m here.
Outside of dance, what is your academic study plan?
Since I’m a part of Dance Academy, we have classes more towards the morning, so from nine to four, and then usually after that I’m part of an online school program. I go to Oak Crest Academy that also has a campus location on-site here at Colburn. I spend some time after dance classes doing schoolwork.
What dance classes are you engaged with in the Dance Academy?
We have ballet technique classes and then we’ve been learning a lot of repertoire. We have many rehearsals for all of our shows. We also have contemporary classes on Saturdays, which I love because, as of right now, my current career path is heading towards a contemporary company. The Academy also offers several master classes, which have been nice—contemporary and others. We also train in the Cunningham modern dance technique, of which we also have a piece for this year.
Now that you’ve been at Colburn, have you found any differences from your experience at a studio?
I found that they are very different because everyone, specifically here at Colburn, is so much more dedicated. We all are reaching towards a professional career in dance, which I found my home studio to be more recreational. I feel that is the biggest difference. And then the discipline is so much greater here. And obviously, we have such amazing staff and teachers all coming from amazing dance backgrounds, and the connections too have been so incredible. Overall, I’m getting the higher end of dance education, and I have been able to learn so much more. I’m so grateful for all of my past training, but I feel like coming here was really what I needed to give me the extra boost leading to the professional world.
You are a principal dancer in the upcoming Jerome Robbins’ Antique Epigraphs. In preparing for that performance, what have you learned about dance?
For me, it’s such a special piece. I feel that for all of us, we’ve definitely enjoyed getting to work with it a lot. It’s so different from the rest of the rep we’re doing this year. For my solo, I’m almost turning into a specific character. It has been about the intention of the piece and the character I’m creating for the audience, rather than just the technical aspects of the routine. Our teacher, Katherine Cowgill, who’s been running it with us, that’s what she’s always telling me too—to dig deep to bring that presence to the stage. And that’s something I’ve been working on a lot, trying new things to see what works best.
You also worked with former Dean, Jenifer Ringer, who danced in the work under the direction of Jerome Robbins. Would you describe that process?
Jenifer, she actually did my role, which is nice and so great to learn from her. She’s such an amazing stager and teacher. It was special to get to work with her, especially one-on-one. I had to learn it [Antique Epigraphs] in a short amount of time, but she set me on the right path. She spoke to me about what the piece meant and the intention I should put towards it. This was really helpful in allowing me to become the character of the piece.
You also worked with Stephanie Saland for whom Antique Epigraphs was choreographed. What did you learn from this unique and exceptional opportunity?
Honestly that has to be one of my top experiences so far. It was incredible getting to work with her because she had so much insight on the feeling of the piece, all the transitions and steps, and the tension behind the piece. One of the things that stood out to me that both Silas and Katherine also keep bringing up, is Stephanie said the piece was almost more about the space and the air, rather than myself, and how I can control all of that. That’s something that has stuck with me a lot going into this.
What advice would you offer someone interested in joining the Dance Academy?
I know this is like a generic response, but truly, come in with an open mind. We’ve had so many guest artists and all of our teachers have had so much insight on everything and you can develop ideas that you’ve never thought about before. We’ve had Alonzo King, Stephanie [Saland] come, and so many others who’ve all had so much to say and share with us. I personally have been trying to incorporate [their teachings] within my dancing, and it’s been such an exploration. It’s also made me a better dancer; it’s allowed me to improve and work on my artistry but also my technique. I dance so much differently than I did when I first came here. And in the greatest way, having an open mind has allowed me to be able to progress immensely.
Dance has several remaining spring performances. What are you looking forward to?
At the end of April, we have a student choreography showcase, and I choreographed a piece for that. So, I’m excited to see how that turns out on stage. I’d love to work as a choreographer after my performance career.
How did your musical career begin?
My musical career began at a very young age because my family is very musical. Both of my parents are musicians, my sister plays flute in high school, and my brother is a violist here at Colburn in his undergraduate junior year. As my dad plays piano and my mom violin, those were the two instruments I began on. I introduced cello into the mix when I was about four years old, when a work colleague of my dad’s offered free beginners cello lessons. At around age nine, I began studying with Hans Jensen, who teaches at Northwestern University. I stayed with him all through high school until I came to Colburn.
How did you choose Colburn?
It’s funny because since I was ten years old, my mom would always say I should go to Curtis or Colburn. My mom has known many people who have loved both schools, so they’ve both been on the radar for some time. My teacher in high school always said good things about Colburn and my teacher here, Clive Greensmith, whom I’ve very much enjoyed studying with. It was a real pleasure to be accepted and be able to spend so much time here. Colburn has been great for my musical development in every way, especially in preparation for auditions.
How has it been to participate in Colburn’s Ziering-Conlon Initiative for Recovered Voices?
It’s been a pleasure to be a part of such a great project. I’ve played Schulhoff in a quartet in Italy with Colburn musicians, as well as multiple school concerts here. Being able to put the music out there so that people know about it is exciting. Now we’ll have people in studio class playing pieces by other Recovered Voices composers like Pál Hermann. Presently [fellow Conservatory student] Adam Millstein, [violinist] is playing pieces by Weinberg, and then taking this music to other venues and performances out of the state. There are more people playing the music [from these composers], which is really interesting and rewarding since their music has been unplayed for so long.
Would you share some of the reasons you enjoy playing at Colburn?
The sheer number of performances and opportunities to perform is hard to compare to other institutions. You get to hear your peers play and play for them very regularly; even though that can be one of the more nerve-wracking, high adrenaline moments because faculty and students are watching. Seeing what everyone’s working so hard for is very rewarding. I think that’s a real virtue of a small student body, and of course the culture of Colburn. You get to see people perform, how poised everyone is, how they manifest on stage and grow professionally, and then get to know each of them as a person too. There are so many aspects of what makes a good musician, on and off stage. You really learn how to be a complete musician at this school.
Reflecting on your time at Colburn as you prepare to graduate, do you have any highlights?
It’s funny, it doesn’t even feel like I’ve been here that long even though it’s been six years—five in-person and then our remote time during covid. It’s been really nice to be back in person. I think a highlight would be my teacher, Clive, who’s been so helpful in getting me where I want to be as a musician, and it’s almost sad I don’t have more time. Plus, this is just a great place for a music school too, LA, you know? It’s a great city—so many different performance opportunities, can’t complain about the weather, lots of good food. So, if you’re a student here, make sure you get out more.
You recently earned a cello position at the Atlanta Symphony. How was the audition process?
In preparation, professor Greensmith has been so helpful in getting me to a level where being a working musician is even comprehensible. And then Ben Hong of the LA Philharmonic, who’s been through the process of auditioning as well as sat on the other side of the screen, has gone in-depth with us on what auditioners are listening for. Sure everyone’s looking for something slightly different, and there’s also a lot of luck, but there are still tips that apply throughout the different auditions, such as how they can be emotionally draining. I’ve gone through many different ones now, so it’s interesting to compare the experiences.
For Atlanta, I flew out for the first two rounds, and then another round about a month later. In the final round there were twelve people and they spread us out over the whole day. You have to find a balance when you’re waiting: determining how much you want to play in the amount of time you have available before, and then dealing with getting your hopes up, but also not being devastated if you don’t hear what you want to hear after. It’s important to learn how to pace yourself. So while we were waiting for the results, I went to grab some food with my cousin and a friend, who were also both auditioning. Then Atlanta Symphony sends out the result emails, and thankfully I was chosen one of three to do a trial for two open positions.
For me auditions are very nerve-wracking to say the least, plus traveling and waiting, but they’re also a time where you run into a bunch of old friends, chat and catch up, see how everyone’s doing, and then celebrate being done. That’s always nice.
Ultimately though, preparation—how you want to spend your time audition process—is so individual.
Any future projects coming up?
My last recital is on April Fool’s Day, and I’m a little worried no one’s going to come because they think I’m joking.
The Ziering-Conlon Initiative for Recovered Voices is a unique Colburn resource that encourages greater awareness and more frequent performances of music by composers whose careers and lives were tragically cut short by the Nazi regime in Europe. Learn more.
How did you start at Colburn?
I originally started Colburn by taking tap; I think I was seven years old. At the time, I started to really love dance. I would always watch Gene Kelly movies, and I was so intrigued— “oh, I really want to do this.” After that I started taking more genres of dance like ballet and hip hop, most also at Colburn.
How did your interest in musical theatre begin?
It was those Gene Kelly movies, which were all also musicals. I really liked musicals, but in my head, I was thinking, “oh, I can’t really sing or act” — all these things until Hamilton. When that came out, it blew up. My fifth-grade teacher would talk non-stop about it to the class and would do history projects with Hamilton. Everyone was obsessed with Hamilton. And then, luckily, in middle school there was a musical: West Side Story, which is a movie I also love dearly. I tried out and played Baby John, and I just had a blast. That’s when I really started.
With musical theatre being multidisciplinary, how would you say that studying musical theatre as a specific area of study is different from focusing on any one discipline?
You get all three—acting, singing, and dancing—basically. If you’re just working on one, you might get more specific learning in that area, but I feel it’s more important to have the wider range of all three, so that you can have all three skills. They definitely all blend together.
Of the aforementioned skills, do you enjoy any one in particular more than another? Is one easier or more challenging than another?
Well, since I started with dance, I’m definitely more of a dancer first. But I’ve gotten to do a lot of singing and acting with great teachers over the years at Colburn, and they’ve really helped me expand as a performer. For me, out of those three, acting is definitely the most challenging. Watching plays or movies and seeing great actors—they make it look easy. And then you try and you’re questioning how do you get all these emotions and make it look so simple. But I feel like that could be said of all three skills.
Please share what a normal day in musical theatre class or rehearsal is like?
At Colburn, it’s differed throughout the years. This year we have a dance class that is more of a warm-up, but it’s also for technique. We also rotate between a ballet class, a modern class, and a jazz class throughout the year. All of those genres are very important in musical theatre, so to have all three in one year is incredible. We also have a singing class and a singing for acting class called “Acting the Song”, which is more technique focused. How do you get a song or a solo song, and then how do you build that so that you can bring in emotion with your character and make it look like a professional performance. And then we have choreography. Throughout all of these, usually by the end of a semester, we build a few musical numbers and we get to perform them, which is great.
Speak further about “Acting the Song”?
This year it’s a completely different class on its own. Basically, we get a selected song and sing it, then we receive a lot of feedback from our singing and acting teacher. We get a lot of notes on how breath work should be done, what you’re truly saying, and a bunch of feedback on technique. It really helps build the foundation of the song that you’re singing, rather than just making it sound good.
All of these classes, and musical theatre as a whole, sound like they take stamina. Do you feel like you’ve had to athletically train for this?
Definitely, I would say so. It’s a lot to put in, but it’s very enjoyable and, no matter how tiring it may get, I’m still satisfied that I’m doing it.
Are you taking any other classes at the Community School?
Yes, I’m taking private singing lessons and tap classes.
How has your experience been with Colburn faculty?
I’ll give a shout-out—Denise Scheerer has been basically my mentor for the longest time. She’s always there for me, always helps me with whatever dance or musical theatre thing I need. I definitely look up to her, she’s wonderful. Mike [Stevens] is a great voice teacher. He’s fun to be with. And then Lea [Floden], our acting coach is so good at all the things she teaches us. And it’s a lot sometimes; it’s very challenging, but I know it’s very important and I know she wants the best out of me and my classmates.
Are there any classes that you’ve enjoyed in particular?
I mean, they all stand out! In a way, Colburn is like a second home to me. I’m there all the time and I take a lot of classes, and I always enjoy it. So in that way, every class is very special and memorable, even if there are challenges or struggles.
What do you hope to get out of your time at Colburn?
Since I am a senior and intending to graduate and go to college, I don’t have a lot of time left at Colburn. It’s a little sad, but I’m hoping to achieve the most out of myself while I’m here. I just want to be satisfied with where I will be by the end of the year as a performer. And Colburn—it’s the reason I am the performer that I am, so I definitely want to express that to the fullest by the end of the year.
Where do you see yourself after Colburn?
I think a musical theatre program, and then Broadway is where I’m really looking to as a career.
Is there a dream role that you’ve always had in your mind?
Well, when I was younger, my dream role was Billy Elliot. I am now too old for that, but I’ve done a few productions of musicals where I would love to be a character but on Broadway. I would love to be Riff for West Side Story or Mike from Chorus Line.
Any wisdom to pass along to future musical theatre participants at Colburn?
It’s a wonderful thing, this talent; I just think musical theatre is such a treat, a gift to have, since it’s considered multi-disciplinary. To have the opportunity to be able to sing, dance, and act at the same time—no matter if you’re better or worse than the others— it’s still amazing to see how much you can grow. And don’t be afraid to fail! It’s a hard thing to do, you might feel like you’re embarrassing yourself, but we all do it, and it’s important because that’s how you grow. Have fun with it too.
How did you hear about Colburn’s Music Academy?
The first time I heard about the Music Academy was through two people, Joe Illick and Gina Browning. I went to their house to play for them. Mr. Illick is the [artistic director and principal conductor of the Fort Worth Opera and formerly] the executive and artistic director of Performance Santa Fe. Gina Browning is a really, really good opera singer. And as they are so invested in music, they introduced me to Colburn.
You commute to Colburn for your studies from out of state. What is that experience like?
All of my Music Academy classes and private lessons take place on Saturdays, so I fly to LA on Friday and come back on Sunday. I’ll go by myself sometimes, but usually, my parents are with me to be supportive.
Do you remember what your first introduction was to music or the performing arts?
I started piano when I was five, but how I was first introduced to music may have been even a little earlier. As a kid, I was super energetic; I was just crazy. Even my nickname was Busybody. So my parents needed something to keep me focused, and they did find two main things. The first was swimming, that’s only because I would be so tired after I wouldn’t have any more energy. The second was music. It worked out really cool because at the time we were living downtown and there was the Lensic Performing Arts Center. There was the Santa Fe Opera and the Santa Fe Symphony. We’d get tickets and we would listen to a lot of different things.
Do you have a particular composer or a piece that you like to either perform or listen to?
Well, I like all my pieces that I play! I heard a recording by Van Cliburn of a piano concerto by Tchaikovsky when I was younger and that stuck with me, and I haven’t learned it yet. But I always was, okay, I’m going learn that piece. The second most memorable piece was from a performance by Yuja Wang on her concert tour I saw when I was six or seven. She played Stravinsky’s Petrushka. It was an arrangement for piano only, but it was really cool.
As this is your first year in the Music Academy, would you share your audition process experience?
At my online audition, I remember there were several people watching. I played a couple pieces, and piano faculty Mr. Bidini only wanted to hear some of the pieces, which I thought was pretty smart for timing since it focused on the most significant moments of each piece. Then afterward I was asked some questions, and one of those was, ‘What is music to you’? Which thank goodness I got through that, as it was a very philosophical moment. And then a month later, we got an email with my acceptance.
What advice would you have for someone who’s considering the Music Academy?
Prepare your story and spend some time considering different questions—know your answer to ‘What is music to you?’ And of course, do all the preparation of your repertoire.
Have you performed in the Music Academy Young Artist Performance (MAYAP), and if so, how was that experience?
Yes, I have. I performed Rachmaninoff’s Prelude, and it was pretty smooth; it was my first MAYAP. The piano and acoustics were really amazing. It was crazy because I’m used to working with a piano outside of Colburn that’s a little difficult to control. It’s such an incredible advantage when you can [use a piano] that’s just really good. It’s a very interesting sound that is cultivated.
I had weeks of preparation, and then I had a lesson beforehand with my teacher prior to performing. It’s cool because MAYAP is the perfect place to do your first performance of a piece because all the students are super, super supportive; everyone respects each other for their unique talents.
What has been a memorable moment for you here at Colburn?
One is when I was a little nervous before MAYAP, and I played for Mr. Bidini. It was a super memorable experience because after I played, he just sat there and didn’t say anything for a whole minute. And then he said, ‘Good Kayden.’ And then, ‘Play it again so I can enjoy it.’ So first it was the moment for him to see if I prepared; I had, so I already succeeded. So after that, Mr. Bidini said, ‘Go have fun!’
Tell us about your experience with chamber music at Colburn.
Chamber music for me is really cool because this is the first time that I’ve done chamber music [as a pianist] with other musicians, and it’s super valuable. The year started out challenging, but the amount of experience I’ve gained from doing chamber music has really strengthened my skills. My reading ability has improved so much because I actually had to learn a lot of music. Also like orchestras, chamber music is the best thing to work with other people.
Is there anything in particular that you’re looking forward to in the spring semester?
I’m looking forward to doing even better. But I’m really looking forward to my From the Top appearance next semester.
Thinking further into the future, do you envision music continuing to be a part of your life?
Yeah, totally. Since I was young, I wanted to be a concert pianist. Right now, I’m focused on the short-term goals; I’ll try to take as much in, in the three years I have here. And then potentially applying for the Conservatory at Colburn.
This interview has been lightly edited for style, content, and clarity.
Who has influenced your personal dance journey?
My mom is a dancer—Tamsin [Carlson, Modern and Creative Dance Chair at Colburn]—so I did ballet when I was young. Back then, I don’t know if I was rebellious, but I became kind of averse to it and didn’t dance for a while. In seventh grade though, I just decided to go for it and started in Horton technique. In eighth grade, I moved into the modern four class when I started in the Cunningham style.
Do you have a favorite genre of dance?
I focus mainly in modern, and within that bubble, the Cunningham technique is where my heart is. It just feels right. It’s still ridiculously difficult, but it feels more natural to my body. And even when it’s not natural to my body, it’s natural mentally. The way it’s performed, the way I can think about it; it feels technical and simultaneously personal, abstract, and still human, more grounded and real in a way. I feel like Cunningham is less about conveying particular emotions and more about expressing who the dancer is on stage and the ideas and communications between the other dancers, whereas Graham feels more inwardly personal.
How is modern dance different from other dance forms for you?
I honestly don’t know if I could define how modern differs from contemporary; I just know it’s different. It just feels completely different to do and to watch and experience.
Ballet for me is so difficult because I just don’t get it. I think modern allows you to move with your own physicality; in ballet, leg height for example is emphasized, whereas you can work within your own framework a lot more in modern. Of course you’re still trying to improve upon it, but you’re allowed to be more yourself.
I also feel the transitions are kind of overlooked. It seems ballet is more about getting shape to shape and movement to movement, whereas in modern, the transitions between more large sweeping movements are just as important as the shapes themselves.
It’s not to say that modern’s not performative, but ballet feels kind of like excess to me sometimes. I feel like ballet’s trying to convey an idea that’s not necessarily there, or elevate everything just to be prettier, whereas I feel modern is more raw and trying to embrace the mundane, the actual happenings of the world.
How would you define or express the meaning that dance has had on your life?
It’s definitely allowed me to connect more mind to body, and I so appreciate that. I not only feel grounded literally, but I feel more of a connection to the Earth, because dance as an art form has been around for so long. I like the idea of carrying it on while simultaneously innovating and pushing forwards.
I like the cross between mediums as well, as I also create visual art. Throughout his career, [Merce] Cunningham worked alongside and collaborated with artists of all different mediums. You always rehearse in silence, right? So he would work with John Cage[, an American composer,] a lot. And costume wise, he collaborated with Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg—and then there were the set pieces! So the dance was the dance alone, but it still worked in tandem with other things. I like how they worked alone and together simultaneously.
Recently I created these wooden shoes made to be two-person shoes. They’re really long. So there’s a person standing in front and one standing in back, and you walk in tandem with the other person. They can’t be worn alone, so you have to have someone else with you walking.
I’m sure my art does play a role in how I dance, but I can’t pinpoint how. But a lot of my work doesn’t have a meaning to it at first, and I find it along the way, so I’m sure it’s the same with dance. There is a reason to why I’m moving the way I do, I just don’t know what it is. And I’m also okay with not knowing.
Did you participate in the week-long Mercer Cunningham Trust visit? Was this your first time participating?
Yes! This is the first experience I’ve had that was this condensed. Silas Reiner came and we learned “TV Rerun.” We basically learned the entire piece in one night.
I feel because I started dancing so late, the only way I could keep up was to just go for it. The way I describe my dancing is I throw my body at the movement. When I was younger that appeared almost aggressive, but I feel like this time around I feel more secure. I am still throwing my body at the movement, but with more control and purpose behind it.
The Trudl Zipper Dance Institute is participating in the upcoming “Joy: A Winter Dance Celebration.” As you’re probably aware, this a special holiday event party raising funds for the dance program. Will you be dancing in Joy? Are you able to share how you’re preparing?
We’re [modern dance] only performing a piece from The Nutcracker for Joy! It’s kind of interesting—it’s the opposite of Cunningham because the music is assigned and we choreograph to the music. In rehearsals, we start with a run and then do notes. The way my mom [Tamsin] works is kind of fluid. She changes things all the time, so you can’t really get attached to little moments in the piece because they might be cut. So we’re looking at time constraints, extending things, cutting things. We also try different variations of the piece, so we might run it three times, all different variations just to see.
What are you looking forward to in the rest of the 2022–23 school year?
In the spring, we’ll have the collaboration concert and the spring concert where we’ll perform “TV Rerun.” I’m excited to do the collaboration concert because I haven’t actually performed in that before. I was supposed to perform in ninth grade, which was my first year in modern five, and we were rehearsing when COVID-19 happened.
With this being your last year at Colburn, what’s on the horizon?
Oh, college! I’m applying to a lot of different places with different focuses in mind because I’m interested in dance and art, but also science, astronomy in particular. I’m trying to live how I actually want to live, rather than a life I think I should be living because of societal ideals, which is why I want so many options. I know I love dance, art, and science; I just know I don’t want to get stuck doing something for someone else’s sake. We’ll see what happens. I’m just going to see what comes my way.