This interview has been edited for style, content, and clarity.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yes, I’m taking private singing lessons and tap classes.
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.
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.
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.
I think a musical theatre program, and then Broadway is where I’m really looking to as a career.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How did you get started in the performing arts?
When I was younger, I would always run around the house, so my mom thought it was a good idea to put me in ballet. I started ballet when I was three at a community dance studio. Then when I was around 10, I started getting more serious about ballet, so I moved studios to a more professional one. At 12, I actually discovered musical theater. That’s when I did my first musical theater performance, Beauty and the Beast. I played Lumiere. I went on to perform more roles such as Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family and Millie Dillmount in Thoroughly Modern Millie. I just enjoyed being on stage.
Something about musical theater that’s different from ballet is that you can use your voice. When you no longer have any words to say you can convey emotion through song. I like having that option. Ballet is very different. You don’t get to talk so every emotion must be conveyed through your face and body language. I love and see the value in both.
How do you see the two genres overlap?
I have seen many shows on Broadway with ballet in them. I love it when they incorporate ballet because it is the perfect mix for me. One of my absolute favorite shows that I have seen on Broadway was Carousel. It was choreographed by my favorite choreographer, Justin Peck. I was at the edge of my seat the whole show. I just could not get enough. His choreography is mesmerizing and brought in the perfect mix of ballet and theater. They also brought in some [New York City Ballet] dancers for the run of the show, which I thought was so cool because they are living my ideal life of being a dancer and on Broadway at the same time.
Elements of theater are also brought into ballets with some sort of a storyline. I love these ballets because I can bring my acting skills to them. Another one of my favorite choreographers is Jerome Robbins. His ballets are very theatrical, so I tend to gravitate towards them.
How did you find your way to Colburn?
I always loved and preferred the Balanchine technique, however my dance studio at the time was very classical, and I would often find myself wanting more leeway from the basic classical ballet so I could express myself without restrictions.
I had a friend that went to the same dance studio at the time, and she moved to Colburn. I ended up auditioning for Dance Academy and got in. I was so excited to be able to dance Balanchine technique with such amazing faculty. Once Covid hit, I ended up doing my first year of Dance Academy on Zoom. Though not my ideal year, I learned so much and felt very strong when it came time to join my friends back in the studio.
How have your classes been going so far this year?
It’s been great. It’s definitely different being back in the studio around all my peers. I feel like the energy is so much different than just being in your room by yourself. We used to have a slightly modified schedule so we wouldn’t be so hard on ourselves during Zoom, but now we’re back into the full schedule and I am loving it.
How do you think your training at the Dance Academy will help you in musical theater?
I always say that ballet is the root of all styles because it helps you with everything. Once you know ballet, you can merge into jazz, contemporary, tap, even hip hop if you want to because you learn how to find your place of center. Also, I think the more skills I have under my belt, the better, because you never know what a show calls for. So it’s great to learn as many skills as possible for the highest chance of booking a role. When I look back on the best opportunities I’ve had, it’s because of my dance training. It really does make a difference.
What are you working on right now?
Right now, we are going to be the first students to do The Goldberg Variations by Jerome Robbins. It’s very exciting because we’re some of the very few dancers that have gotten to do this material. It’s very challenging to say the least. So, we’ve been working very hard in the studios to put on a great show. I just love Jerome Robbins’ work so it’s very exciting to be able to do one of his ballets.
How would you describe The Goldberg Variations to people who might be unfamiliar with it?
It’s very fast paced, even for the pianist. The steps themselves aren’t very far off from a regular ballet class but they’ve got that classic Robbins spin on them that makes it so enticing.
There was also a student choreography show at the end of the semester. Would you speak about that?
Last Saturday, we showcased our works. I was very excited when we first heard about this project. I love choreographing. I usually choreograph for myself for fun, and I’ve even gotten the opportunity to choreograph a few numbers of Annie the musical for a local theater. I love exercising my creativity and showcasing my ideas. My piece is called City Strut with music by Benny Goodman. It’s a very jazzy solo heavily influenced by George Balanchine’s Who Cares?
What else have you been involved with recently?
In September, I had the opportunity to play Diana Morales in A Chorus Line at the GEM Theater in Garden Grove. That opportunity came out of nowhere. I saw a Facebook post saying ,”We’re looking for a Diana in A Chorus Line,” and I thought to myself, “Wait, I’m perfect for Diana.” Though I was a bit young for the role considering she is 27 and I am 16, I still went out and auditioned anyway because I had nothing to lose. I ended up getting the role on the same day that I auditioned.
We had rehearsals for about two weeks and then we went into tech for another week. We had a four-week run, and it was probably the best experience of my life. I’ve never been a part of a cast that has been just so caring towards each other and so talented. The show itself holds such an emotional place in my heart because the show was based on real stories. Singing “What I Did for Love” every night brought me and the audience to tears, and I loved feeling their energy.
That sounds incredible. What was significant about that experience?
I feel like I really grew as an actor and person during that time. My director, Damien Lorton, was absolutely amazing. He really knows how to bring out emotion from all of the actors. He took a scene and turned it into something that I had never thought of before. I’m very grateful for him and my cast mates. I’ve learned so much from just watching them perform. This is the first time I have done a show with only adults around me. I was the youngest in the cast by far; it was very different. When I first walked into the theater, I was terrified, feeling like I had to live up to their expectations, but they reassured me and built me up.
What’s your dream role?
I have a lot but to name a few dance-wise, I would love to be in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, Who Cares?, and Carmen. For musical theater, I would love to play Maria in West Side Story, Nina from In the Heights, Anastasia in Anastasia, and Natalie in Next to Normal.
What drives you to keep going with your art?
When I was younger, I had a hard time with kids at my school. I was bullied a lot and made fun of for having these big aspirations. I always found that interesting because I had big dreams for my future, but other kids thought that was weird and were dragging me down for it. I ended up switching to homeschool when things got too hard at school. My dance schedule was changed to the morning, which was better for me in the end because I got more time to train that way.
There is a flame in me telling me to keep going no matter how many noes I receive and no matter how many people are trying to drag me down because there will always be people trying to drag you down in this business. What matters most is what you do about it and how you take that negativity and make something wonderful. So, I will not take no for an answer. I will keep going until I get a yes.
Do you have any advice for dancers younger than you?
Someone else’s success is not your failure. Spending all your time upset about the things you don’t receive doesn’t do you any good. You can still be a bit disappointed but don’t let that take over and define who you are. Just keep working hard and eventually everything will fall in line.
Special appreciation goes to the Colburn Society members whose annual support is directed to the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute, including the extraordinary generosity of Ann Mulally, David Kobrin, Aliza and Michael Lesser, Lucy Farber and Jim Bright, Mazie and Gabriel Hoffman, Anne and Jeffrey Grausam, Meltem and Mehmet Ozpay, George and Linda Cassady, Susan Friedman, and Layla and Gac Kim. To learn more on how you can support our students, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This interview has been edited for length, style, and clarity.
How did you start playing the violin?
When I started, I was actually living in Florida at the time. I was there for a couple years because of my dad’s work. One of my earliest memories is a music class when I was four years old. I was super drawn to the violin in particular; I don’t really know why. And I remember being seven, I was like, yeah, I would love to do this. My school offered it and it just developed from there.
As you started playing, what did you love about the violin?
I was so obsessed with the repertoire of the instrument in particular. From a very young age, I would listen to CDs on end of all the great violin masters. We became so obsessed with the different concerti and the sonatas in the repertoire. I always had this goal of being able to play the violin well enough to play some of the things that I loved listening to so much and loved seeing on stage. So falling in love with the repertoire in particular was something that kept fueling the fire, wanting to learn how to play better and better so I could actually conquer some of this music eventually or at least attempt to in my life.
When did you realize that you wanted to do it professionally?
When I was 12 years old, I went to Interlochen. That was a very formative experience for me, going there for three weeks, my first sleepaway camp, and then being exposed to all these other amazing young, talented musicians. I was just so inspired by that environment and playing with an orchestra for the first time. I think I played Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Festival Overture. It was my first time playing with a full string section, full winds and brass, full percussion. I remember going home being like, “I really want to do this. I really want to go for it.” So that’s what started it, and I was very fortunate to have parents who to this day support my musical pursuits.
Is that around when you started studying at the Community School?
I started Colburn a year after that. My parents and I started looking into, okay, where could we go to foster a potential professional development? And we found the Community School.
What was your Community School experience like?
I had an amazing Community School experience. It was really inspiring—not only my lessons with my teacher Danielle Belen, who I ended up studying with in Michigan as well, but also my orchestral experience there. I still have friends today that I met when I was in ninth grade and that I hang out with to this day. It’s pretty cool because of the way classical music works too, especially if you stay in the field, you just keep running into people that you met years and years ago through all these different music festivals and schools and stuff like that.
I also worked with Maxim Eshkenazy a lot. He was my conductor back then. He made a very profound impression on me when I was younger and concertmaster of those orchestras. And then later in life, we went on tour in Bulgaria together multiple times.
Another big thing for me was working with Ida Levin when she was alive. She was just such an intelligent and sensitive and wonderful musician and teacher. I worked with her for three years as part of the Honors Quartet in the Community School.
So between private lessons and orchestra and chamber, it was a really cool experience to have in between my pretty rigorous, academic high school experience. So yeah, it was very formative actually, now that I look back on it with 20/20 hindsight.
What brought you back to Colburn after undergrad?
It was always a goal of mine to come to Colburn for graduate school. I always had the idea that I would do a university for my undergraduate and then go to a conservatory for graduate school, preferably Colburn. My teacher in high school and then at Michigan, Danielle Belen, was a former student of Mr. Lipsett and was his assistant. So there was always this idea I had in mind that it’d be really great to work with him in particular and go to Colburn with the environment which I had been exposed to at the Community School, and just the intensity and the high level of performance that exists uniquely at Colburn.
What are some of the things that led into your professional development as a Conservatory student?
Well first and foremost, my studies with Mr. Lipsett were really important, especially the studio class experience and the environment that he fosters amongst the studio. There’s this expectation of excellence which is just felt by everyone, not in a top-down enforced way, but everyone intrinsically wants to play their best and are palpably inspired by Mr. Lipsett’s incredible teaching. My studio mates are all amazing and it’s super inspiring to see how they perform and to observe their world-class technical and musical abilities. It inspires me a lot being there and then also playing for them. The high intensity of Studio Class in particular has been a really integral part of my development that supplements of course my one-on-one lessons with Mr. Lipsett.
And then, the chamber music at Colburn has been outstanding. I’ve had wonderful groups and wonderful coaches and the [Colburn Chamber Music Society] experience of playing with [Conservatory faculty] Martin Beaver doing a late Beethoven quartet. And then over the pandemic, I played the remarkable Weinberg piano trio with [Conservatory faculty] Clive Greensmith and Dominic Cheli, alumnus of Colburn.
Of course, orchestra has been incredible at Colburn too. Working with Yehuda Gilad, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and many other renowned conductors that are brought in—it’s just an amazing environment. Being exposed to all of these different elements of world-class performance prepares you for the professional world. Having all those performance elements in a place like Colburn definitely helps you propel to the next level.
Recently, you’ve been working on the Recovered Voices 2021: Schulhoff and More project. What has that been like?
The Ziering-Conlon Initiative for Recovered Voices is a fascinating program I want to bring attention to that I believe is integral in creating the whole Colburn environment. It’s been a really life-changing and career shifting thing for me actually. I was exposed to the Recovered Voices Initiative when I played on a concert with the former director of chamber music, Scott St. John, and another student at the Thomas Mann House. We played a concert there and I remember James Conlon spoke and he really unpacked what the mission of the Recovered Voices Initiative is, which is to perform and promote the music of composers who were suppressed as a result of Nazi policies from 1933 to 1945.
I was so inspired by that particular event that it just wedged into my mind. And when the pandemic hit, I found myself with more time to actually explore this body of work and this area of musical history. I got really deep into the Recovered Voices composers, and as a result I was connected with Bob Elias, who is a fountain of knowledge. He has become a profoundly important person in my life also and has assumed a wonderful role as a mentor in exploring these composers and helping me with different ideas that I have of performing this music. In this past year, we worked on a lot of the music of Erwin Schulhoff and recorded eight of his works, which is all coming out this year, and that’s been amazing.
It’s been wonderful too because not only have I been working so much with Bob Elias, but I’ve also been put into direct contact with James Conlon which has been truly life-changing for me. I’ve been learning so much from him about this body of work. We’ve been collaborating on repertoire and artistic choices for programming with Recovered Voices this upcoming year and we recorded multiple pieces together last year. It’s been a very important thing for me working with James Conlon who has inspired me so much, just being able to experience his tremendous artistry and intellect first hand.
What’s the personal significance of the project for you?
These composers deserve to be heard and they deserve to be known because I think there is so much amazing music that they wrote. It’s a lost treasure trove of music from the 20th century. It feels like you are uncovering works by your favorite composers that you never found before. So it’s like playing new music but it’s in the style of the greatest composers of the 20th century. They act as this missing link and this conduit between all these different aesthetic styles in Western art music.
It’s so unbelievable to me that we don’t know who they are, but this is because of the actions of the Nazis in the 1930s and 40s. They tried to wipe these composers off the face of the earth and also their legacies, and they destroyed the cultural gardens in which they flourished in Europe at the time. And so we now don’t know who a lot of them are, like Schulhoff or Weinberg or Schreker or Zemlinsky, and they aren’t part of the canon. That’s something that I feel very strongly about undoing because I think it’s necessary when there’s injustice for it to be corrected, of course.
And then also fundamentally, I aesthetically believe in this music very, very strongly after going through it and listening to it and playing it so much. I really believe in these composers and I want to get them onto the concert stage and accepted as part of the canon as much as possible. So it’s held that kind of significance for me as an artist and also as someone who’s so passionate about music.
You mentioned that the project has been career shifting. What has that shift been?
Recovered Voices has shown me how much I want to pursue a deeper study of these composers and to become truly an expert as much as I can in this area. And potentially in my dream of dreams, I’m thinking about maybe pursuing a DMA or a doctorate with a performance focus in these composers.
I could see myself hopefully in the future incorporating a multifaceted career, not only with the traditional kind of performance avenues which I need to have in my life, but also doing more things like I’m doing right now with Recovered Voices, which is more curatorial. I would also love to get into academic research and potentially even teaching in this field of the Recovered Voices composers.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I’ve felt a lot of support at Colburn from all levels of the School which I think is really unique. So I love all my colleagues at the School, my teacher, all the other teachers at the School too. There’s a very nurturing environment too, of musicianship.
I’ve also found, especially with my passion for Recovered Voices, it’s been amazing to see how much the teachers and my colleagues at the School have been so receptive to it. Working with Bob Elias and James Conlon has just been amazing, and Annie Wickert, [Vice President of Advancement], has been an incredible person to get to know and to work with as well. It’s been a really exciting thing to experience this kind of support as I continue to develop as a professional.
Special appreciation goes to the Colburn Society members whose support makes the Ziering-Conlon Initiative for Recovered Voices possible. To learn more, contact email@example.com.
What’s your musical background? How did you start playing clarinet?
Both my parents are musicians. My mom’s a flutist and my dad’s also a clarinetist, like I am. So he actually taught me when I was really little until I was 13[which was when I auditioned for Colburn. I started playing when I was three, but not with the full-size clarinet because I was too small to play one. He gave me a mouthpiece, and I just played around with it like a toy. When I was five or six, I started with a really, really small plastic clarinet. And as my fingers grew, I moved up in size of clarinet, and my dad was always there, teaching me. So that’s how I started.
How did you decide that you wanted to study at Colburn?
Up until middle school, I was doing competitions, but I wasn’t necessarily taking music the most seriously that I could. My dad was basically telling me, “If you want to take this seriously, you need to study with the best professors out there.” And one of the best professors, if not the best clarinet professor, in the US right now is Yehuda Gilad. I saw that he taught at Colburn, so that’s why I auditioned.
What is it like studying with him?
He’s a great teacher. He’s very passionate, very wise. I’ve studied with him for a very long time. I’m probably his youngest Academy student that he’s accepted so far. This is my fourth year.
At this point it’s like, he’s my teacher, yes, but he also feels like part of my family. He always looks out for me and takes care of me. So there is a special bond, and you can really feel that every lesson.
How do you think he’s helped you develop as a musician?
Wow. He’s helped me in so many ways. The very first years I came here, we focused mainly on building strong fundamentals. But now, he’s probably impacted me the most in changing the way that I think.
Before I studied with Yehuda, I was always trying to copy other people’s sound. I would hear a really good recording on YouTube and I would be like, “Oh, I want to sound like her, him.” But after studying with Yehuda, I realized that the best sound is your own sound. And so I changed the way I think. Now when I’m practicing, I’m thinking more like, “How do I want myself to sound?” instead of, “How do I copy someone else?” It’s more about the mindset.
You mentioned that you were the youngest Academy student he’s accepted. Why do you think he chose to accept you into his studio?
Honestly, I have no idea. My prescreening recordings were kind of hilarious. I recorded them in my living room. Terrible acoustics with my iPhone. I really had no idea what I was doing. I think, or I hoped, at least, he saw some potential. I was nowhere near perfect when I auditioned, but I really loved music, and I still love music. And I think he saw that when I was playing. So that might be one of the reasons why.
Why do you love music?
It’s become such a vital part of my life. I can’t imagine myself without music. It’s been part of my life since I was a baby. Every day I heard my parents teaching, practicing.
It’s become such a part of my life that when I hear something, I love the music, but I also love the memories that comes with the music. So when I hear a clarinet sonata, I love the sonata, but I also hear my dad practicing in the living room. I honestly cannot live without it because of all those personal connections and memories.
Do you have a favorite piece to play or listen to?
It always changes, but currently, I’ll say Mozart clarinet quintet, because I’m really enjoying playing it with my chamber group right now. It’s one of my favorite pieces ever.
I particularly like the second movement. I like all the movements, but I like the second movement because of how calm it is, very relaxing. Sometimes I listen to it before I go to sleep. But also after the second movement, towards the end, there’s a really playful melody that you honestly don’t need to take too seriously, which is why it’s more interesting and more fun to play. It sounds humorous to a certain extent. I just like how the atmosphere is very light and lively, especially the last couple of movements.
How has it been at Colburn in general over the last four years?
It’s been a ride. There are lots of really, really great things about Colburn, like of course, the music element. But Colburn has also taught me so much about life in general, including so many life lessons and things that you can’t really learn when you’re just at home: experience, connections, friends, colleagues, and teachers. It helped me grow as a musician, but also helped me grow as a person and helped me develop myself in that kind of way. It’s almost like my second home at this point.
What’s been one of your most memorable experiences?
There’s so many to choose from. Actually, my most memorable experience was in a private lesson just with Yehuda. I was working on some fundamentals and I was having some trouble; I couldn’t quite get it, but there was a moment in the lesson where it clicked and everything fell into place. And that moment, Yehuda was extremely happy and I was really happy, and it was such an important moment for me, because from that day on, everything fell into play. That was probably one of my most memorable moments during my lessons.
This is your last year in the Music Academy. What are you planning to do with your music in the future?
I really want to play in an orchestra when I’m older, just because I love the feeling of… I mean, solo playing is really great. Playing solo is just a completely different feeling. You’re able to connect with the audience in a certain way when you’re playing solo, and you can do more with the music; there’s more creativity. And that’s something that I really like when I’m playing solo rep. That’s also why I like contemporary music.
But I also really love playing in an orchestra setting because of the feeling of playing together with a community. There’s something I can’t really describe, when all of these instruments come together and blend and create a certain sound. It’s a really, really amazing feeling. And I felt it when I was in NYO [National Youth Orchestra] the past summer. That was my first time playing in an orchestra since the pandemic. So it was like a new experience, but it was so great because everyone was so connected. We were listening to each other. The conductor was fantastic leading us. Just the whole element of community in an orchestra, I really like that.
This interview has been lightly edited for style and clarity.
How long have you been playing the flute and how did you get started?
I started when I was nine, so, that’s eight years. I wanted to play violin at first, but the junior high I was going into didn’t have an orchestra, and I wanted to be part of the music program. It only offered band, so that’s why I chose flute instead of violin.
How did that decision turn out for you? What did you learn about the flute?
I have actually played the piano since I was four, and I think picking up a woodwind instrument was first of all, very different, because I had never really had to think about breathing before. Now that I play a woodwind instrument, I have to think about where exactly I should take a breath. I thought a lot more about the phrasing, because it would matter where I took the breath since it would chop off the music if I took it in the wrong spot. Because of this, I transferred my “music-phrasing analyzing” skills to the piano, and in this way, I was able to grow a lot as a musician.
I also learned a lot about tone because with the piano, if you put your finger on it, it already makes a beautiful sound. But then the flute, the first time I tried playing it, I couldn’t even make a sound. So for the first couple months, all I worked on was my tone; while in my piano lesson, I would already be playing short pieces. Thus, because of the flute, I focused a lot more on my sound and that helped me become more sensitive overall, whether that be playing the flute or the piano.
Do you still play the piano?
What’s it like balancing the two?
It’s really hard. It used to be a lot easier before high school, but now that I’m in high school and I’m a senior, I’m taking a lot of hard classes. So it’s hard to balance the time, but I do try to balance it out as best as I can.
What are some of the differences you’ve noticed?
I’m not able to practice the flute as much as the piano because I physically get tired. After a couple of hours, for example, my embouchure starts getting worse because of fatigue. So compared to piano, the amount of time I practice has changed.
Also, the types of exercises I do to warm up have been very different. They’ve been more focused on tone and vibrato, as I’ve hinted at before.
How are you feeling about being back on campus at Colburn?
I’m excited to come back. I haven’t been able to do chamber and orchestra this past year, so I’m really excited to be back in person.
How were the virtual classes you took last year?
I took private lessons last year, and it was really hard, honestly. I think it’s a lot easier with piano. I also have to take virtual lessons for piano, and with woodwind the sound is a lot different. For example, the vibrato sometimes makes the sound cut out completely or the high notes aren’t even picked up. So, that makes it really hard. But I think my teacher made the best out of the situation, and I was still able to learn a lot and grow a lot.
What kinds of things did you learn during that time that you’ll continue to work on?
I practiced a lot for vibrato, and it was really weird practicing vibrato because I never had to do it for piano. I think it really helped my tone for the flute. And I really liked my sound after I did those exercises over and over again. So I think I’ll definitely be continuing those exercises in the future.
How has your time at Colburn been overall?
Colburn has been really great. Before I joined Colburn, I was just with a small music school and there weren’t a lot of performances. I love connecting with the audience, and I love performing. So Colburn really allowed me to foster my passion for performing even more. It was great with all the Friday Night Recitals, the School Recitals, and the Honors Recitals, too.
What were some of your favorite performances?
I only got to do Colburn [Youth] Orchestra for one year. So I think there was only one concert before the pandemic hit. That one will always be a really vivid memory for me. Also because I had the Honors Recital on the same day, so I had two big concerts in one day. It was really jam packed, but it worked out. We performed the Nielsen Flute Concerto with another flutist as the soloist, and I think Beethoven. And for the Honors Recital, I performed Eldin Burton’s Sonatina for Flute and Piano.
You’re in both chamber and orchestra. Do you prefer one over the other?
I think they both have their own perks. I really love both. I can’t really choose. I think orchestra is a little bit harder because you have to listen to so many other instruments.
With chamber, I’m in a woodwind quintet this year, so it’s just woodwinds. And I know the other instruments better because they’re part of the woodwind family. So I’d say orchestra is a little bit harder, but I do love being a part of both.
What do you hope to do with your music in the future?
I definitely plan on continuing to play flute, continuing to play in orchestra and chamber music. It’s been a big part of my life, and with how much it’s impacted me, I don’t think I’ll be able to just quit and not play anymore. So I think I’ll definitely carry it on as I transition to college.
How has music impacted you?
It definitely gave me a community to be in, because I grew up in Indonesia and then moved here. When I was in the US, I had a little bit of a hard time fitting in because I couldn’t exactly speak English. But then being part of band really helped me to make friends, for example, because I was really shy. But yeah, it gave me a community that I could be a part of and that I could be proud of too.