Student Feature: Scarlett Chen

Scarlett Chen holding a violin sitting at a piano

Pianist, violinist, and a Herbert Zipper Scholar, 16-year-old Scarlett Chen embodies Colburn’s commitment to excellence.

Sixteen-year-old Scarlett Chen embodies Colburn’s commitment to excellence. She began her journey at the Community School of Performing Arts in 2013. She is a pianist, violinist, and a Herbert Zipper Scholar, a recipient of a renewable scholarship that provides deserving students comprehensive instruction in music theory, private lessons, and ensemble participation. Along with her future aspirations in science, she aims to share her love of classical music with others.

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

Tell us about your start at Colburn. What drew you to enroll in classes and lessons? What was your initial experience like?
My family did our own research, and after seeing all the performances of Colburn students, we were amazed and decided that it was the best place for me to further my musical studies. My initial experience, and every experience since then, has shown Colburn’s support and care for its students. I instantly felt welcome and over the seven years that I have been at Colburn, the school has become like a second home to me. I am so grateful that Colburn has given me countless opportunities and a supportive and organic environment to pursue my musical education.

The Herbert Zipper Scholarship is quite competitive! There are only a few spots open each year. What is your advice to students aiming to apply and audition for the scholarship?
Colburn tries to see the potential in students and having a perfect performance won’t guarantee you a spot. Not only being able to show what you can do right now, but what you could possibly produce in the future is a big factor to how they make their final decision.

Build a human connection with the panel and at the interview. Show that you can contribute more than just your talents. To stand out in the audition, show that you are more than just a musician and artist but [also] show that you are a person that can benefit the community.

How did you get started in music?
Though none of my family members play instruments, we have always been very appreciative of classical music. Growing up, I listened to various classical music pieces on a regular basis, thanks to my mother. It was only natural for me to take up an instrument.

Because I started piano at three years old, by the time I started my violin studies at age eight, I had already built a growing appreciation and understanding of the arts. I had always loved performing, but as I have gotten older, I have learned to appreciate the beauty of the development of a piece from sight-reading level to performance level.

Tell us about the Community School programs you are involved in right now. What has been impactful about them?
Currently, I am taking private lessons in both violin and piano, as well as chamber music. When I first entered Ms. Aimee Kreston’s violin studio, I was one of her youngest students. Going to studio classes every week and watching her older students perform was very inspiring. From a very young age, I was given so many opportunities from Ms. Kreston. Some of these experiences were quite intimidating but have built my intuition and confidence.

When I first began taking piano lessons at Colburn, I was studying under Ms. Jee Sung Kang. During the five years I was in her studio, Ms. Kang guided me in bringing my piano playing to another level, which was the beginning of developing my own musicality. For the first time, I was able to convey a piece fully with my own ideas, not just playing what was on the page.

Two years ago, I joined Mr. Lavner’s studio which expanded my perception about performing. Mr. Lavner gave me exposure to music that I wouldn’t usually get to play such as jazz music and less known contemporary music. This has widened my knowledge of music and the way I think about all the music that I play.

Last year, you were in an Honors Chamber quartet and won a spot on the Winter Honors Recital. How did that experience of Honors Chamber differ from participating in other chamber groups throughout the last four years in the chamber program
The intensity level and dedication put into it is different. We played less repertoire but in more depth. When I was young, it was great to experience all this different type of repertoire;that was really helpful. As I’m nearing college and maybe conservatory, being able to experience each composer and era in detail is a great experience, and it really influences the rest of my playing.

Also, the time we spent together is different. Being able to work weekly with a group of people is important. The amount of time you spend together affects your playing. With the Honors Chamber group, we really began to trust each other fully, both musically and personally. That made our playing more united.

You are involved with Musical Encounter as well as being interested bringing music to a wider audience. The Community School loves to see students give back! Where did that impulse come from? 
To be able to receive the Herbert Zipper Scholarship was such a big help to my family, and we all agreed that when I was able to I would give back in any way that I could.

Musical Encounter has had an important impact on me, both as a musician and as a person. Through this program, I get the opportunity to share my music with LAUSD elementary school students who do not have access to classical music studies. It brings me so much joy to be able to share what I am passionate about with others and help the community in whatever small way I can. I love seeing the students’ excitement as they ask questions and watch the performances.

You are very committed: Chamber, piano, violin, sonata class, and school on top of everything! How do you find time to practice for it all?
It’s gradually gotten harder as I have gotten older in high school. Being able to set aside 5-6 hours a day for practicing is a very big priority to me. That time, I don’t interrupt it with other things. Those hours are a part of my daily routine.

I’ve also learned to use time wisely; being productive with the time that I have. When concerts come up and I get more and more busy, I know what to do and I get it done.

How did you keep sane during quarantine?
It was a really big shock at first, it took a while to get used to, and I am still not used to it. I have been trying to take care of myself more and cherish the free time that I have right now. It’s not much but it’s still more that I normally have during the year. I have been able to go on walks and get outside more, which is really nice because I am usually stuck inside or in a practice room.

We are always curious to know what serious music students like yourself are listening to.  What’s on your Spotify playlist?
I grew up listening to classical music. I still do but now I listen to rock and alternative music. I also listen to jazz music. It’s a really wide range! People never really expect me to say rock and alternative music, they always expect me to say classical music!

What are your musical goals? How has Colburn helped you achieve them?
My musical goals have evolved from wanting to perform on a Friday Night Recital when I first became a Colburn student to aiming for national competitions with my string quartet. It had always been a dream of mine to be able to collaborate in a strong chamber group and eventually compete with them. Last school year, my string quartet received endless opportunities to perform our pieces and work with amazing faculty and guest artists to improve our performances. Though our school year was cut short due to the pandemic, during the seven months we had together, our quartet had worked hard and achieved more than I ever expected with the support from Colburn. I have received not only financial and educational support from Colburn, but also many resources and opportunities. All of this combined has helped me achieve my goals and develop my musical identity.

What do you see for your future?
I am aiming for a university with a strong music program where I can continue to study music while developing my interest in the sciences. What draws me towards a university is the diversity of talents and interests.

Additionally, because classical music is unfortunately not accessible to everyone, I would like to bring classical music to other people in my circle, not just the musicians. Music is an amazing thing to be able to share with others and being immersed in a world of multiple interests can help me spread the arts that I love.

And finally, what is one great thing about Colburn that people don’t see unless they are taking classes or working with a teacher?
What I love most about Colburn is the community of people that I am a part of. The institution is built from all the different talents and personalities of the students, faculty, staff, and administration. From Ms. Roberta Garten, the collaborative pianist who makes sure every Friday Night Recital runs smoothly and each student feels comfortable performing, to the security guards who keep everyone safe; everyone contributes to what Colburn is and brings something different to the school.

From the outside, Colburn is recognized with the achievements from the students, the amazing faculty, and the professionalism of the institution. However, the school maintains its humanity and welcoming nature and teaches the students to not just be great artists, but great people as well.

Learn More

Inspired to start private lessons with one of our experienced faculty members? Submit your inquiry today.

Learn more about Ed and Mari Edelman Chamber Music Institute.

Stay up to date on all the latest Community School news by signing up for our monthly newsletter.