After seven young Suncoast Music Scholarship award winners took to the dais at First Presbyterian Church on May 13, adults in the room said they were left impressed.
"What a wonderful crop we have this year — wonderful," said Dale Jensen, a former judge with the music club.
Mary Webb, a club board member, said many music students who present today show more advanced abilities than students of the past.
"Teachers today are doing a wonderful job with these children," said Janet Jackson, another club board member.
The Sarasota Music Club offers the scholarship in conjunction with the Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota, to students selected by a panel of judges. Since the partnership was formed in 2017, it has offered $123,000 to 10th through 12th grade students.
Music club member Susan Hicks said due to the aging of board members, the music club is set to be dissolved, but with donations received over the years, the scholarship funds will continue for the foreseeable future.
While all students brought a passion for their music, behind it were differing experiences and philosophies.
When Danae Tran, a 12th grade student at Booker High School and the scholarship grand prize winner, was 5 years old, she decided to follow in the footsteps of her grandfather Phisarn Intawongsa, who played violin for Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand.
By middle school, she was practicing four hours a day. While she said it can sometimes be difficult to find the time she needs, she compensates by making use of whatever spare time she has available, such as lunchtime at school.
Tran, whose teacher is Dr. Margaret Goreshnik, said the most helpful advice she has received has been criticism.
“Even if I don’t want to hear it, I feel like it’s necessary to be successful, and to have another perspective,” she said.
She said the process has at times felt natural and at others difficult, but that she has continually pushed through.
“I feel like I’ve gotten to a place where I want to be, but I want to grow more,” said Tran, who will be attending Stetson University in DeLand to obtain a degree in violin performance.
When Cole Laudenslager, a 12th grade student at Pine View School, was a toddler, he was not expected to speak, which was why it evoked concern from family when he decided to take up the flute after he had played piano for 13 years.
However, it ended up becoming what he said will be a lifelong passion.
“Music in general is such a great way to express yourself. And flute just is the instrument that has found me, and I found it, that I'm able to express myself through.”
He said there are still challenges, however, one of which has been auditions.
“There are some professors that really embrace you, but others that that kind of knock you down a tad bit. And you just have to learn to work through the criticism.”
Another is performance anxiety, he said.
He called the scholarship “extremely generous” and said he would use it to pay off college at Cornell University, where he will minor in music, as well as to pay for a Burkart flute he purchased in April 2022.
After taking up the flute five years ago after playing the cello, Taltos Fuszfas, a 10th grade student at Riverview High School, found it challenging to make the transition to a stringed instrument.
One challenge, he said, was the embouchure plate, or mouthpiece, whose shape he found to be less of a natural fit than those of other instruments he had tried.
He said that contrary to how it looks, the instrument is physically demanding, requiring the thorough use of one's core strength. It also challenges the mind.
“It’s like chess,” he said. “You’ve got to plan every breath."
He practices often at school, sometimes after school, and each week with his teacher, Betsy Traba.
“I think it's fun. It's not very stressful. It's just something I like to do," he said, adding that he hopes to make a living off the art.
He said he was "very happy" to receive the scholarship money because he wants to attend summer camp at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan.
Matrick Thorpe, a 10th grade student at Pine View School, said during his five-and-a-half years playing the cello, his musical sense and interpretations have evolved constantly.
“I pride myself on being not only a classical student, which I will always be – there’s always something more to learn – but also pop, rock, rap, country, alternative, EDM, metal; playing with as many different musicians as possible.”
Living in the massive arts community of Sarasota has been a help, he said. He also said his musical approach was impacted by a 25% hearing loss in his left ear two years ago due to mastoiditis.
“Instead of just going on sound, I also rely a lot more on vibrations,” he said.
He said the an important quality for a musician is being willing to listen – to listen to one's own music as well as that of others, while another is knowing how to connect with an audience by balancing technical precision and emotion.
He said he was “relieved” to win the scholarship and grateful for the support of his teacher, Ann Alton. He is hoping to use the money for summer camps, instruments, and replacement strings.
“I'm going to follow the music path wherever the long and winding road takes me. What that means is, I’m just going to play it by ear," he said.
Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.