Community School Saturday Spotlight: Dylan Iskandar

This interview has been edited for style, content, and clarity.

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 or contact

Music Academy Saturday Spotlight: Arian Cazares

This interview has been edited for style, content, and clarity.

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 or contact

Dance Saturday Spotlight: Natalia Reszka

This interview has been edited for style, content, and clarity.

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.

Conservatory Saturday Spotlight: Nathan Mo

This interview has been edited for style, content, and clarity.

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.


Community School of Performing Arts Spotlight: Ryan Edge

This interview has been edited for style, content, and clarity.

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.

Music Academy Saturday Spotlight: Kayden Kelly

This interview has been edited for style, content, and clarity.

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.

Dance Saturday Spotlight: Agatha Carlson

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 202223 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. 

Conservatory Saturday Spotlight: Gracie Potter

This interview has been lightly edited for style, content, and clarity.

How did you come to Colburn?

I started playing trombone back in fourth grade, so going on 10 years now, which actually sounds like a long time to me. My parents told me when I was maybe four or five—super young—I saw this cartoon of an octopus playing a trombone. And ever since then I would say, “I want to play the slidey thing!” I didn’t know what it was called, but I was going to play it. Then in fourth grade band, my mom brought home my first tenor trombone!

I actually graduated high school a year early, because during my junior I had a lesson with Mark Lawrence, who was the trombone professor here at that time. I had two lessons with him and the second one was closer to when pre-screening audition tapes were due, so we asked him if there were going to be spots open during my senior year, and he said, “No, there’s just three trombone spots open for next year.” On the drive home, it clicked those three spots were actually going to be open at the end of my junior year. So then it was the whole process of trying to figure out if I could graduate early with auditioning early. So I only auditioned for Colburn, because I really wanted to study with Mark Lawrence. I ended up getting invited to the live rounds, and I was super lucky because that was right before the shutdown. Having my audition in person was so nice, just to be here at Coburn. And also, since Mark Lawrence ended up announcing his retirement about three days into the live auditions, I got to meet David Rejano, who’s now the current professor; he’s absolutely amazing. So it really worked out perfectly.

How long have you been a member of the Colburn Orchestra?

I’m currently a junior, so I’ve been a part of the Colburn Orchestra for two years. Though my first year was over Zoom, so that was kind of a non-existent [performing] year. I love the Colburn Orchestra, everybody here is at such a high level that it makes it really fun to work with. It’s just a fun time to meet people and musicians from around the world.

How is performing in an orchestra different for you than performing as a soloist or in a smaller ensemble?

I think there’s a big difference from being a soloist and then being in an orchestra because when you’re in an orchestra, you have to rely on the people around you a lot more. You have to listen to them, you have to blend. Intonation is a big deal in a section. I think really listening—even listening to the piece before you rehearse—is really important, because then you can start hearing: the oboes have this, I need to listen for this; that’s my cue. If you’re not listening to each other and really playing as an ensemble, it will fall apart. As a soloist, you’re more focused on yourself, and blending with the orchestra too, if you’re playing with one while making sure they’re on time with you and you’re on time with them.

As the Colburn Orchestra works with excellent conductors such as Yehuda Gilad and James Conlon, including those from our conducting program, what are some ways that a conductor helps the orchestra or more specifically you individually?

It can be easier to have a connection with the Conducting Fellows because you go to school with them; you see them outside of orchestra, you can create a relationship with them. Whereas when Esa-Pekka Salonen comes in, you don’t just go to lunch with him afterward at Colburn Café, you know? With the Fellows, it feels like team building because whenever they conduct, we’re helping them get experience, just as they’re helping us get experience with all the different pieces. It’s a give and receive.

I honestly didn’t realize until I got here how different each conductor’s style is. You get to know their style; you get to know how musical they are; and you learn the way they put their own stamp on the music.

A conductor can make the entire experience just so much better, a calmer environment. It’s very nice when you have a clear conductor that’s for sure.

How does the Coburn Orchestra as a whole start rehearsing for a big performance like the upcoming concert at The Wallis? What does the process look like?

Usually, we have each section rehearse in sectionals with our teachers. So we have all the trumpets, horns, trombones, and tuba together. And then the woodwinds have their own, the strings have their own, just so we can all get a sense of the piece in our section, get our ears listening to our surroundings. And then what will usually happen is maybe a week before the performance, we’ll start having large ensemble rehearsals. We’ll have coachings: some of the teachers will come into the orchestra rehearsals and then at the end of the rehearsals they’ll pull their students aside and give them feedback. There is an intensity to this. On top of orchestra, we all have our own competitions that we’re doing, and school work that we’re doing—so it can be pretty intense sometimes. Everybody’s super busy the week of an orchestra cycle.

What kind of experience would you want a member of your audience to have?

I want them to enjoy the concert, first of all. I feel if there’s any type of stress when listening to an ensemble, that’s not a good thing to have. I want the audience to relax and enjoy it, listen to all the different aspects of the piece and make a personal connection to it, too. Everybody has their own life and everybody can connect differently to a piece. I really want the audience to enjoy the moment and take something away from the performance that can maybe even change their life; make them want to start playing music, or even just start listening to more classical music.


Community School Spotlight: Lal Besir

This interview has been lightly edited for style, content, and clarity.

How did you start singing?
I’ve been singing pretty much all of my life. When I was younger, I was really extroverted. I would sing in front of people and I would do concerts. I started taking voice lessons with Debbie Lewis when I was doing a lot of musical theater. I sang with 5-Star Theatricals, and I would do theater productions with them as well as perform in their kids’ program. I fell in love with performing; I was obsessed! I just continued doing it and I wanted to grow. I discovered classical opera when I started studying at the Colburn Community School of Performing Arts.

What music do you like to sing?
I love singing classical opera. I’ve kind of stopped with my musical theater singing, but classical music—I love arias. I perform masses with my choir each year during school. I love anything in a higher range, anything challenging.

Has there been a composer that’s found a place in your heart?
Bach, Schubert—I’m working on a piece by him—Bach’s Ave Maria is gorgeous too. And just for fun, Taylor Swift, a hundred percent.

You’ve sung in all kinds of groups; do you have a preference of singing in groups or alone?
I love the harmonizing of a choir. I love how that can sound and give you goosebumps. I think that’s amazing. But I love singing individually because I feel [that enables] you to improve your own technique and figure out what you enjoy. Singing is just really important to me.

Would you talk a little bit about how you came to Colburn?
I believe I started two years ago in 2020. Jim Walker is friends with my dad, who’s a musician and a composer. Jim is a flutist, and he teaches at Colburn and recommended that I begin this journey, and I’m really grateful for that.

How has your experience been here at Colburn?
It’s amazing. I have the best teachers, and from every lesson, I’m improving. I’ve joined the Colburn Concert Choir here too. The people are really nice—everyone sounds amazing and there’s so much talent surrounding me. I just want to keep growing with them.

Would you talk about what it’s like studying with each of your teachers?
Michael Stevens is my vocal teacher; I love him so much. I think he’s one of my favorite teachers just in general, including school, and he is just so diverse and knows so much. He’s so fun, and he  makes me want to keep improving. He’s just a really great teacher. I started studying music theory with Kathy Sawada in 2022, and it feels so good to get her satisfaction—I care about her opinion so much. I’m always wanting to impress her. She’s really sweet too. And then Adrian Dunn the Choral Director is just so fun! Everybody loves him and I love him. He is really upbeat, and he includes everybody. He treats his class like a college-level course. We can just speak out loud, and so it’s so interesting.

Is there anything you’re really looking forward to?
I’m really looking forward to improving with my music theory, and singing-wise, improving my technique because my voice is changing. I really want to figure out my favorite genres, as well as what I enjoy singing to start building my repertoire a bit more. I definitely want to perform at the Friday Night Recitals.

What do you hope for your musical future?
I would really like to continue singing classical opera and continue improving my technique. I would like to continue studying [voice] in college, maybe Colburn, maybe Juilliard. And then I want to start entering competitions. I really want to begin doing more performances because that was hard to do at times during COVID. So this year I want to focus on performing. My dad and I were thinking about making something—recording covers of pieces, making an album—for college, but it would also just be for us.

The Herbert Zipper Scholars program offers highly motivated, deserving students the opportunity to engage in comprehensive music education at Colburn, one of the nation’s premier arts organizations. Herbert Zipper Scholars receive instruction in music theory, private lessons, and ensemble participation, among many other academic and performance opportunities. 

Faculty Spotlight: Jeffrey Lavner

This interview has been lightly edited for style, content, and clarity.

How long have you been at Colburn?
I first started at Colburn in 1981. I left for some years in the middle there, from around 1990 until I came back in 1999. We used to be in an old warehouse on the USC campus.

How have you seen Colburn change over the years?
The improvements to the facilities have been amazing. They are truly world-class now!

The funny thing that hasn’t changed is the level of the students. Some of the most accomplished students to date actually came through in those timeframes, in the early to mid-’80s. There was a big influx of immigration in the early ’80s—we got so many great students coming into LA, in addition to our existing student population.

How did you get started teaching?
I was getting my master’s in piano performance at USC with Danny Pollack. I was on a teaching assistantship there and got hired to teach at what was called the USC Community School at the time before it was the Colburn School. I actually started teaching privately when I was an undergrad.

What do you love about teaching?
We get to deal with music all day. It’s always fun, and always special to talk about music. It’s great to see students in person! We get committed students and parents at Colburn. We’ve always had fantastic students, and it’s really something special to see the level of kids that are coming through. Really, they’re like sponges, absorbing everything the school has to offer.

You teach in the Conservatory, Community School, and Music Academy. What’s it like having students across those three units?
I like it because they’re just such different personalities, and such different levels of musicianship. The Conservatory is at an incredible level. Anyone that gets accepted there is already an exceptional musician, but to just see the whole range of student development throughout the entire school is amazing.

The Academy is Conservatory-in-training, so they’re kids that are getting to that level. And the Community School is everything. It’s a little bit of that level. You still get some of the incredibly talented kids, but then you get a lot of kids that are playing for fun too, for the pure joy of music.

It keeps the day interesting. I’m not teaching the same type of student all day, so it’s always a lot of variety, which is just great for the teacher and student! You don’t get bored, and every student brings something different to the table. One of the great things to see is the professional levels students attain after leaving here. It makes me very proud to see that so many of my students have become top-notch professionals in the world with CDs and tours all over the globe, making their mark in the field.

It’s very funny because I have some of their practice tapes from when they were 12 years old, and they weren’t so famous then. I stumble across them all the time downstairs. “Oh, I forgot I had this tape.” They were cassette tapes back then.

What are your students working towards right now?
In this environment, it’s always a challenge. Last year we did a lot of online competitions because that was the only way to go. This year, it’s a little bit of a mix. I have one young man that just recorded From the Top for a broadcast in the next couple of weeks. He’s getting ready to play a concerto with orchestra, the Saint-Saëns Concerto. Hopefully, it goes on as a live performance.

And then we still have a lot of smaller things we work toward, like the Bach Festival and the contemporary competitions that are out there. I like to give my students performance goals.

At Colburn, the Friday Night Recitals are a great performance opportunity for kids that are ready. That’s the immediate first goal for most kids. I’ll say, “Okay, you’re going to play on a Friday Night Recital in three weeks.” It’s amazing how much more they practice getting ready for that because those are always special events.

So, competitions, concertos, and Friday Night Recitals are really the goals to keep everyone motivated. Music itself is enough to get everyone motivated, just to play for fun. External ones don’t hurt and get their focus going at an ever-higher level.

What’s your philosophy behind teaching?
It’s different for every level. For the younger ones, it’s really to try and keep it fun, but with definite expectations—at the same time, to give them a solid background so that if they choose to excel in music, they have all the tools. That usually means a good physical approach, a good technique, reading literacy, etc. But it should be really fun at an early age.

By the time you’re in high school, it’s a different world. There are the kids that might be music majors, and the kids that are going to be doctors, or lawyers, or whatever else they’re striving for. I prepare everyone as if they might be a music major, even if they’re telling me, “Oh no, I’m going to be an engineer.” You never know. I have gotten many emails from students late in December suddenly informing me they want to be a music major!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I also used to teach jazz piano at Colburn, and I’m proud of the fact that I have about a half dozen students out there that are pretty world-famous right now. We have a great jazz program at Colburn now with Lee Secard directing it, and Liz Kinnon teaching jazz piano. I love all music and playing the piano, so being at Colburn is about as special as it can get.

Central to the Colburn School’s commitment to providing equitable access to excellence, students in Mr. Lavner’s studio are generously offered scholarship support funded by our community of donors through their annual and endowment gifts. Such scholarships include the Herbert Zipper Scholarship program which offers highly motivated, deserving students the opportunity to engage in comprehensive music education at Colburn. Herbert Zipper Scholars receive instruction in music theory, private lessons, and ensemble participation, among many other academic and performance opportunities. The School would also like to show special appreciation for donors who offer students support through other avenues, such as instrument donations. Donors who give the gift of an instrument equip students with the resources they need to become thriving artists with access to the highest quality music education.