Community School Saturday Spotlight: Merilyn Delgado

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

How did you first start playing tuba? 

When we were given the opportunity to join band in fifth grade, I started playing flute, which I played into sixth grade in the middle school concert band. But there were no tuba players, so my teacher asked if anyone wanted to try it. She let me take the tuba home, and when I gave it a try and started practicing, I realized “Wow, I really like this; it’s amazing!” I love the flute, but when I played the tuba, it was just a different feeling. So, I went back to school the next day and told her “Yes, I want to play it!”  

I began to see how much having or not having a tuba impacted the whole group; one of my teachers says playing tuba is “being able to drive the bus from the bottom.” It really made me realize how important each and every instrument and musician is—how they play an important part in the band. 

How did you first come to Colburn? 

I came to Colburn during my freshman year of high school. I’d auditioned at an arts high school and was just starting there when I heard there was a spot open for tuba in the Chamber Ensemble [at Colburn]. So, I gave [Chamber Ensemble] a try, and I really liked it! Then my chamber coach, at the time, Mike Zonshine, asked “Hey, why don’t you take lessons?” since I’d never taken lessons before, and he recommended I audition for a Herbert Zipper Scholarship. And I did and got it!  

How has receiving the Herbert Zipper Scholarship changed your study of music? 

It has really impacted my life a lot. Now I have an amazing private instructor, Dr. Doug Tornquist. I feel super comfortable asking questions; he really helps me with everything. I feel like I have a space to learn everything that’s going on with my instrument, how everything works, and to be able to hear the perspective of someone who plays the same instrument as me. 

What is a typical day in the Wind Ensemble like? 

I have a music theory class before Wind Ensemble, so I end up getting to campus an hour early. I like to use that time to warm up and practice, really get a sense of how I’m feeling that day, what we’re doing, and what I need to watch out for when I’m playing with the group. Once everyone else arrives and class gets started, Ms. Eleanor [Núñez] usually starts with specific parts of the music the ensemble is struggling with. Then, when that’s solid, we put the different parts together. 

Since you play in both the Wind Ensemble and the Chamber Ensemble, have you found a preference for playing in a smaller or larger group? 

I feel that each is special in its own way. I like the diversity of instrumentation in the larger group—how many parts are happening. You need to be much more alert, watch the conductor, and listen, but also the conductor is the one in charge, whereas in the smaller group, you have much more freedom of style to decide how we want to sound as a group. When I’m in the smaller group, I tend to take what I’ve learned from the larger ensemble and apply it there. 

How do you feel participating in the Colburn Bands program has influenced your experience of playing? 

It’s helped me a lot when it comes to playing in my regular school day and as a solo musician. We focus a lot on style at Colburn, whereas I feel my weekday concert band focuses more on precise technique, that kind of thing. It’s also helped my practicing and my warmups. I remember my Colburn lessons, from posture tips to style, and take them with me wherever I’m playing. 

You have been helping out with Colburn’s Concert Band. Would you share a little about that experience serving in a support role ? 

When I’m in the Concert Band, I feel much more pressure to get things right, because I’m setting an example. I like being able to show younger kids how important my instrument is, it reminds me why I do what I do and why I like it.  

As you are participating in the December Wind and Chamber Ensemble performances, how are you preparing for them? 

I like to listen to recordings of the pieces we’re playing. I compare how the recording sounds to what my teachers suggest, then combine [that information] as I practice. Mentally, I tell myself that this is just one performance; it’s a learning experience and it probably won’t be perfect, but there will be others. So, it’s a lot of keeping calm and practicing—because if you practice, it will be fine. 

Band Day is scheduled for January and will provide participants with a great way to receive additional practice and training through exposure to a band experience. Would you recommend other student musicians who aren’t currently at Colburn to participate?  

Yes! I believe it’s something band students should definitely participate in, especially musicians new to Colburn. You’ll work with musicians you don’t usually play with and work with a new conductor. Plus, when else do you get to play and perform a brand-new piece on the same day? Usually, you practice for months and months before a performance, so this is a special experience.  

Have you given thought to the role music might play in your life down the road?  

I really want to do music in the future, that’s a given, but I’m not quite sure how yet. There are so many things you can do with music—you can be a teacher, or performer, you can go into musical engineering, or even open your own business. I don’t want to make too many decisions too soon; I just know music will be in my life. 

Natalia Hudson

Natalia Hudson has performed as a soloist and chamber musician throughout the U.S. and Europe in numerous festivals and concerts, including the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, First Night Charleston, the International Piano Series, the Young Artist Concert Series, the Drayton Hall, the LACC, and Moreno Valley College Concert Series. A native of South Carolina, Natalia was awarded the Isabella Mebane Piano Performance Scholarship to pursue a performance degree under Uruguayan pianist Enrique Graf at the College of Charleston. She continued her artist education at the Conservatory in Madrid, Spain under German-born pianist, Uta Weyand. Her other main influences include Vitalij Margulis (Ukraine), Ilana Vered (Israel), and currently Oxana Yablonskaya (Russia/Israel).

Ms. Hudson received her Master’s degree from the University of Southern California and has participated in the World Piano Pedagogy (WPPC), MTNA, and Focus on Piano Literature conferences.  She is also skilled at teaching in Spanish, and has taught master classes, private lessons and dual-immersion classes in Spanish and English. A member of the California and National Music Teacher Associations, Ms. Hudson is a sought-after teacher, jurying competitions and having conducted lessons and master classes in music schools throughout Los Angeles and her private piano studio, Hudson Conservatory.

Founder of the Mt. Olive Concert Series in Pasadena and Artistic Director of Melos Music Chamber Ensemble, Natalia firmly believes in the power of music to heal, uplift, and unite people by transcending any boundaries of race, gender, religious, economic or cultural backgrounds. She most recently served on the piano faculty and has her students participate in the elite Oxana Yablonskaya Piano Institute (OYPI) in various parts of the world, including Bulgaria, Spain, Israel, and Los Angeles.

Stella Cho

South Korean cellist Stella Cho made her London solo debut at the Royal Albert Hall at fifteen years old. Since then, she has concertized in South Korea, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, Austria, Croatia, and the U.S.A. She has been featured on national television and radio on numerous occasions. Stella was also selected as one of the Holland Music Sessions’ “New Masters on Tour” and gave solo recitals across Europe, including prestigious venues Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and the Slovak Philharmonic Hall in Bratislava.

Stella has been invited to numerous renowned music festivals around the world, including Yellow Barn, Ravinia Steans Institute, Aspen Music Festival, Casals Festival, La Jolla SummerFest, Banff Chamber Music Festival, the Perlman Music Program, and IMS Prussia Cove Open Chamber Music. She has also collaborated with eminent musicians such as Ralph Kirshbaum, Jaime Laredo, Sharon Robinson, Joseph Kalichstein, Joseph Silverstein, and Borromeo Quartet.

Stella earned her Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees with honors at the respected Gregor Piatigorsky Studio at USC’s Thornton School of Music under Ralph Kirshbaum and furthered her studies at the New England Conservatory with Laurence Lesser. She completed her Doctorate of Musical Arts degree at University of Southern California and was honored as the Outstanding DMA Graduate.

Stella is a dedicated teacher and she holds positions as cello faculty at Loyola Marymount University and Colburn Community School of Performing Arts. As an active performer, she regularly performs in the SAKURA Cello Quintet and the self-conducted chamber ensemble Delirium Musicum, with whom she recently recorded their debut album with Warner Classics.

Alex Granger

Hailed as “superb” by the San Francisco Classical Voice, Alex Granger has premiered numerous works as a soloist, concertmaster, and chamber musician, working directly with some of the world’s foremost musicians and composers. Alex is a founding member of the BASC quartet, and recently performed the complete Arnold Schoenberg String Quartets as part of a week long residency at the Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna. Alex’s chamber music performances have been featured on NPR and in the New Yorker, and he has recorded on major labels such as Warner Classics with Delirium Musicum. Alex regularly performs on different concert series’ around Los Angeles including Jacaranda, Le Salon de Musiques, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Noon to Midnight, and Street Symphony, to name a few. During his time as a student at the University of Southern California, Alex had the honor of studying with Henry Gronnier, Bing Wang, and Midori Goto. Aside from performing and teaching, Alex’s hobbies include going on runs by the ocean and playing sports.

Eleanor Núñez

Eleanor Núñez is a Spanish-American conductor, pianist, and educator currently based in Southern California. She had her international debut in August 2022 with the Orquesta Sinfónica de la Ciudad de Asunción in Asunción, Paraguay, where she conducted Piano Concerto No. 2 in f minor by F. Chopin with soloist Chiara D’Odorico as well as the debut of Symphony No. I by the prolific composer Daniel Luzko.

Eleanor programs unique concerts that bridge the gap between the audience and musicians on stage. Her belief that music should be accessible to all shines through her creative repertoire programming, enthusiastic rehearsals, and inviting concert environment. Musically, Eleanor loves exploring “the classics” and pairing them with new, modern works. Her conducting experience spans orchestral, wind ensemble, and choral repertoires since she enjoys working with musical groups of all disciplines and genres.

Eleanor graduated from California State University Fullerton with a Master of Music in Instrumental Conducting and a Bachelors of Music in Piano Performance.

Keum Hwa Cha, DMA

Keum Hwa Cha, DMA has given numerous concerts as a soloist, chamber musician, and concertmaster in the United States and South Korea. She has had the privilege of performing with maestros David Effron, Robert Shaw, and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski. As a concertmaster, Cha has performed with Chee-Yun, the Marcus Roberts Trio, Béla Fleck, and Time for Three. She has also performed with the Cornell Contemporary Chamber Players, the Binghamton Philharmonic, the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra, the Han-Eum Chamber Ensemble, and the Seoul Tutti Ensemble. Her summer festival appearances include performances at the Kneisel Hall, the Castleman Quartet Program, the Philadelphia International Music Festival, and the Lydian String Quartet Festival.

Cha has taught at universities including Pepperdine University, California Lutheran University, and Idaho State University as an Assistant Professor of Music. She studied violin with Hyo Kang, Masuko Ushioda, Charles Castleman, and Chee-Yun Kim, and she was a Teaching Assistant of Charles Castleman at the Eastman School of Music. Her chamber music coaches were Lucy Stoltzman, Katherine Murdock, Eric Shumsky, James Dunham, Norman Fisher, Alan Harris, Andres Diaz, Stephen Drury, Malcolm Bilson, the Lydian String Quartet, and the Ying Quartet.

Cha’s students have won various concerto competitions and received multiple academic and music scholarships and accolades for their accomplishments. Her pre-collegiate students have served as principal players in youth orchestras and have been selected to play with All-State Honor Orchestras, the MTAC Convention Honors Ensemble, and the SCSBOA High School Honor Orchestra. Cha’s students have gone on to study at music schools and Ivy League universities including Indiana University, SMU Meadows School of the Arts, Brown, Cornell, and Yale.

Cha is a Suzuki violin teacher at the Colburn Suzuki Strings Program and is on the faculty of the Colburn Community School of Performing Arts, teaching violin, viola, and chamber music. She also coaches chamber music at the JCM (Junior Chamber Music – the Conejo Valley/San Fernando Valley branch) and offers the Certificate of Merit through the Music Teachers’ Association of California, and the ASTACAP through the American String Teachers Association.

Cha received her BM from the New England Conservatory, her MM and DMA from the Eastman School of Music, and her Artist Certificate from the Meadows School of the Arts.

Jessie Oliver

Jessie Oliver (she/they) is a singer and voice teacher originally from Chicago, IL. She holds a Masters in Vocal Performance with an emphasis in Pedagogy and is currently pursuing a Certificate in Vocology at New York University. Her extensive continuing education includes Estill Certification, LoVetri’s Somatic Voicework™ (Levels I-III), Linklater training, Gender Affirming Speech and Singing through the Voice Lab, Total Vocal Freedom Body Courses, and multi-year participation, both as a teacher and singer, in her mentor Steve Smith’s Naked Voice Institute.

Jessie is passionate for Vocal Rehabilitation and Trauma informed Holistic Teaching. She has collaborated with Speech Pathologists to create warm-ups and practices for wellness for the singing actor.

As a performing soprano, Jessie Oliver has been thrilling audiences with their, ‘dramatic choices’ and ‘sizable beauty’ of her instrument’. She has sung with Opera Theater of the Rockies, New Moon Opera, Third Eye Theater, and starred and produced Opera on Tap’s first ever full-length opera with the Chicago chapter. In the competition circuit she was a finalist at the Denver Lyric Opera Guild, a semifinalist in the NATS competition, finalist for the Bel Canto competition, and the winner of the Society of American Musicians competition. Recent roles include Eliza in Dark Sisters, Agathe in Der Freischütz, and Mother Abbess in Sound of Music.

Jessie also has held positions in theater and cabaret companies throughout Chicago and Colorado. They are an Emeritus member of Playmakers Laboratory Theater, InGen Productions, and Brain Surgeon Theater and well as a frequent collaborator with ModBo Cabaret.

Jessie is a proud member of NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing), VASTA (Voice and Speech Trainers Association), PAVA (Pan-American Vocology Association), The Voice Foundation (SoCal Chapter), and the Somatic Voicework Teachers Association

John Craig Johnson

John Craig Johnson, baritone, has been praised internationally by Opera News as a distinguished voice of “solid technical facility and impressive, rich, singing.” He has performed forty operatic roles on stage, with the Los Angeles Times calling him “very appealing” and a singer who “handled roles with honor and conviction.” He has sung principal roles with Los Angeles Opera (in the world premiere of Nathan Wang’s On Gold Mountain, the inaugural Voices of California project), Long Beach Opera, Orange County Opera, Opera de Tijuana, and the San Bernardino, Bakersfield, and Palisades Symphonies. He has been heralded as “the star of the evening . . . deliciously comic and richly sung” by the Pasadena Star for his Papageno in Die Zauberflöte. He continues to sing both opera and musical theater roles and collaborates frequently with San Diego Opera, Opera de Tijuana, OB Playhouse, Coronado Playhouse, and Intrepid Theatre.

Johnson is the recipient of many awards and holds a doctorate in vocal arts from the University of Southern California where he was honored as the outstanding DMA Vocal Arts Graduate of the Year. Dr. Johnson is an alumnus of OperaWorks and has sung with the organization in many special events. At the National Classical Singer Convention, he collaborated with OperaWorks’ founder and director, Ann Baltz, in presenting an “operavisation” workshop. Eighteen of his students have been selected for the nationally competitive OperaWorks summer intensive training program, eleven of whom have completed the Advanced Artist program. His students have also completed apprenticeships and sung roles with Santa Fe Opera, Glimmerglass, Wolf Trap Opera, Aspen Musical Festival Opera, Tanglewood, Opera Academy of California, and Opera Neo.

Dr. Johnson maintains a very active role as a voice teacher, passionately mentoring and promoting singers. He is currently on the voice faculty of Colburn Community School of Performing Arts in Los Angeles and Associate faculty San Diego Mesa College, where he teaches all sections of beginning – advanced voice and directs the Mesa College Choir. He has taught at the University of Southern California, Azusa Pacific University, Mt. San Antonio College, and La Sierra University, where he served as Director of Vocal Studies. At Point Loma Nazarene University, he served as the Vocal Studies Director and faculty adviser and music director/conductor for Point Loma Opera Theatre and the Point Loma Musical Theater Club. From 2010 to 2017 he produced and/or conducted 23 works including Gianni Schicchi (2009), I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (2009) Dido and Aeneas (2010, ‘15), Massenet’s Cendrillon (2011, ’14), La finta giardiniera (2011), You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (2012) Edges (2012), Die lustige Witwe (2012), Most Happy Fella (2013), Così fan tutte (2014) Offenbach’s Daphnis et Chloe (2014), Donizetti’s Rita (2014), Rachmaninoff’s Aleko (2014), Hänsel und Gretel (2015, ‘16), La bohème (2015), Trouble in Tahiti (2015), Don Giovanni (2015), Rota’s Il cappello di paglia di Firenze (2015), Mikado (2015), Old Maid and the Thief (2017), and Heathers (2017).A champion of younger singers, Dr. Johnson has taught the summer opera intensive at the nationally recognized San Diego High School for Creative and Performing Arts, and served on the guest faculties of Opera Academy of California, Broadway Dreams Summer Intensives (Los Angeles, Omaha, Sacramento, and Philadelphia, where he taught Titus Burgess, Quentin Earl Darrington, Ryann Redmond, Alex Newell, Jailen Josey, and Carina-Kay Louichey;) and Atlanta’s Renaissance International School for Performing Arts. He teaches voice students who are pursuing or currently engaged in professional careers singing opera, pop, rock, and musical theater. From 2008 – 2018 alone, his students garnered ten first place wins and thirty other awards from the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. His students are also winners and grant recipients of auditions sponsored by the Sullivan Foundation, National Association of Teachers of Singing, Carmel Music Society, Los Angeles Opera Buffs, La Jolla Symphony Young Artists, Musical Merit of San Diego, Virginia Hawk Memorial Scholarship, and most recently Operalia, the World Opera Competition. His students are engaged as professional singers on the local, regional, national, and international levels. They have completed graduate degrees and/or certificates in Voice Performance at University of Southern California, Yale, Academy of Vocal Arts, Rice, University of Colorado – Boulder, Boston Conservatory, University of North Texas, Manhattan School of Music, California State University – Northridge, University of Kansas, and Boston University’s Opera Institute.

Martha Kiefer

Ms. Kiefer teaches Suzuki and Traditional cello. She has taught at Suzuki schools in Hong Kong, Toronto, Boston, Utah, and Virginia. As an orchestral player, she has been a member of the Boston Ballet, Hong Kong Chamber Orchestra, Rhode Island Philharmonic and Viterbo Opera. She holds a Master’s Degree from New England Conservatory and honors from the Yale Chamber Music Seminar in Norfolk, Connecticut.

Carlyn Kessler

Cellist Carlyn Kessler enjoys a multifaceted career as a performer and educator. She is a graduate of Cleveland Institute of Music, where she earned her Bachelor and Master of Music degrees in Cello Performance and Suzuki Pedagogy and received her Suzuki training in Books 1-10.

Devoted to music education, Carlyn teaches students of all ages in Los Angeles and online with students across the globe. She has previously served on the faculties of the College of Wooster, Washington College, Holy Names University Preparatory Division, as Department Head of Strings at The Music Settlement, and as a teaching artist for the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony.

Carlyn has performed across the country in venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to the Chautauqua Institution, Oracle Arena to the Chase Center, as well as in Canada and England. Equally passionate about classical and popular music genres, Carlyn enjoys sharing her time between concert halls, stadiums, clubs, and recording studios.

Carlyn has recently performed with popular artists Michael Bublé and Josh Groban, among others. Carlyn currently collaborates with Grammy nominated-composer David Arkenstone in live performance and recordings, and they have recently toured internationally in concert. Carlyn is the cellist of the piano trio Curium, which specializes in the music of female composers. A winner of InterMusic SF’s Musical Career Grant Program, Curium recently released its debut album.

Carlyn currently performs with the the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music Orchestra and Musical Theater West and has recently performed with ensembles such as the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, Sarasota Opera Orchestra, Marin Symphony, Fresno Philharmonic, Stockton Symphony, Mendocino Music Festival Orchestra, CityMusic Cleveland Chamber Orchestra, and Banff Festival Orchestra and Opera Orchestra, among others.