M-A is a diverse campus full of talented students with an array of interests. A large portion of M-A students are involved in the school music program. M-A has a variety of music bands and groups including Advanced, Intermediate and Beginning Jazz Bands, a Concert Band, an Orchestra, and a Choir. The M-A Chronicle sat down with three talented M-A musicians to hear about their journeys as musicians. The students we talked to have received awards for their talents and are incredibly gifted, but they all stressed that music is more than a skill or talent. Music resonates with Nikita Manin, Martha McGee, and Shane Turner on a deep and personal level. For Manin, McGee and Turner, music is an expression of creativity, a source of empowerment, and an emotional release.
Junior Martha McGee began playing the violin in first grade after her mother spontaneously signed her up for lessons. Both McGee’s mother and older sister play instruments, so getting an instrument of her own was even more special to McGee.
McGee has been a part of the M-A Orchestra since her freshman year. Outside of school she is part of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra (SFSYO) and takes Saturday classes at the San Francisco Conservatory.
The intricacies of music draw McGee to the violin, and she expressed, “That’s what I love about classical music, is digging really deep into the relationships between the different parts like the passing melodies and how the different voices in orchestral and chamber music weave into and out of each other.”
One of McGee’s favorite parts of playing the violin is the feeling a certain section of a piece creates. She shared, “In the concerto I’m playing right now, there’s this one spot where I can’t keep myself from smiling crazy every time I play it because it’s just so beautiful and kind of amazing to realize that [I] produced that [myself].”
McGee also noted how special it is to “[nail] a really hard passage after putting so many hours into it.” However, working through a difficult piece has not always been rewarding. McGee remembered, “[There were times in eighth grade] when I would be laying on the living room floor crying because I was struggling so hard [with the violin].”
McGee emphasized that the community of friends she made through the SFSYO has strengthened her passion for playing and helped her overcome challenges she experienced.
Before joining the SFSYO, McGee felt out of place and alone. She shared, “Everyone else was playing club volleyball or soccer and I didn’t have many music friends yet, so I felt like I was alone trying to tackle this thing that no one was even interested in.”
With her support system via the SFSYO, McGee realized “that as much as you enjoy something, it’s crucial to have a supportive community of people who understand that part of your life that means so much to you because otherwise you can get lost and discouraged easily.”
Today, her community of youth musicians serves as both a source of encouragement and friendly competition.
Music has not only fostered a community for McGee, but is also a source for happiness and empowerment. She described how powerful and moving the first time she soloed with an orchestra was. McGee remembered “playing the last chord and swinging my bow into the air and realizing for the first time that I was capable of way more than I ever let myself believe I was.”
Even with such a strong passion for music McGee notes that pursuing music as a career can be difficult, but ultimately it is her dream and she hopes to pursue it. McGee explained, “I’d love to see myself having received a masters from a high level conservatory and win a seat in the Boston Symphony Orchestra.”
For now though McGee plans to keep practicing the violin and trying her hardest to improve. She plans on applying to music schools in the fall.
Sophomore Nikita Manin is a tenor saxophonist for the M-A Advanced Jazz Band. Manin began playing the piano when he was seven years old and then learned to play the clarinet in fourth grade. Two years ago, he decided to learn to play tenor saxophone to join the M-A jazz band.
Along with learning a new instrument, Manin decided two years ago to “set a goal of getting better.” He shared, “before, it was not something that was really important for me to do.”
Manin explained, “I made the conscious decision to focus on music more because I could no longer do drawing, music, writing, and science all at the same time.”
Music is Manin’s creative outlet and is an integral part of his identity; he expressed, “music is something I need in life.”
The creative aspect is Manin’s favorite part of being a musician. He shared, “I like improvising and coming up with things spontaneously— the inspiration of having something new come to you and expressing that in your playing.”
Manin notes that at M-A, his friends share the same interest of music which has helped him became a better musician. He is able to collaborate with friends and share new ideas.
Classically, Manin has been influenced by Ludwig Van Beethoven. More recently, Manin has been inspired by jazz clarinetist, Ben Goldberg. Manin has taken lessons under Goldberg and listens to him often.
Music has become so important to Manin that even on days when “he sounds worse or has a bad reading” he is not “[discouraged] on a universal level” and the challenges Manin encounters when playing do not “affect [his] outlook on music in general.”
Manin hopes to continue playing an instrument and explained that playing music as a career is a dream.
Lastly, Manin wants you to “always look for music that is not mainstream— do not just turn on the radio, but actually look for music and you might find something really interesting that you never knew existed before.”
M-A sophomore Shane Turner has always been drawn to the music world; he began taking piano lessons when he was four years old, after his parents heard him play a version of “Small World” on the piano. Turner explained “that without knowing music at all, without knowing any music theory, or how to read music at all,” he was somehow able to play the song on the piano. From there, Turner’s love for music and talent only grew.
At M-A, Turner is the pianist for the Advanced Jazz Band. In addition to playing the piano, Turner composes and sings. He is also a member of the M-A Pit Orchestra and has played for the school musical Bye Bye Birdie and most recently, Into the Woods. Turner has also composed pieces for the M-A Jazz Band.
Turner likens composing to writing a novel or painting. At times he is inspired and knows exactly what he wants to do with the piece, while at other times he has no idea what to write. He composes his music on a computer instead of by hand because “the problem with writing by hand is that your brain always moves faster than your hand.”
According to Turner, playing the piano, composing, and singing “all have their ups and downs.” For example, Turner can sing anywhere he likes, but is more limited in regards to environment when playing the piano and composing. But, with the piano, Turner has “88 keys to chose from” and when composing he can combine various instruments and melodies to create one piece.
Music serves as an “emotional release” for Turner. He explained, “When I sit down and I just play at the piano it’s like somebody putting their thoughts and emotions into their artwork. It is my expanse, my canvas, sitting down at the piano is a canvas for me. It lets me release stress, or whatever I’ve got going on.”
Even with such strong ties to music, Turner still struggles and becomes frustrated with the music.
He shared, “It happens all the time where I say I’m never doing this again, I hate music… I’ve considered quitting and I want to quit all the time and I never can.” However, music is a part of Turner’s identity and he explained that there are some moments that make being a musician worth it.
Turner loves the rush of opening night: “When opening night comes, you’re never quite sure if it is going to work. It pretty much always does, it is so invigorating to have that kind of rush of emotions. [There is also] an incredible rush of adrenaline you get when the audience starts clapping.”
Above all, Turner shared that energy he receives from the audience is one of the greatest sensations that music has ever given him.
While Turner does not know exactly what he wants to pursue in the future, he does know that it will most likely be in the music world. He expressed, “I cannot imagine not going into music. There are some other things that interest me, but nothing grips me the way music does.”
Turner shared that M-A has helped foster his growth: “for a high school in this area, [M-A] has one of the best music programs with one of the best conductors in the Bay Area, so it has really opened a lot of doors.”
Most importantly, Turner wants the M-A campus to listen to music. He exclaimed, “Just listen…listen and listen because the more you listen the more likely you are to find something that moves you!”