SOMERS, N.Y. - Grace Dashnaw is a senior at Somers High School and an accomplished student musician. A cello player, Dashnaw hopes to one day become a professional.

When did you first begin playing the cello? Did you know right away that it was the instrument for you?

I started playing the cello in third grade when we were given the option to join orchestra. I actually wanted to play the violin, but my parents convinced me to choose the cello instead. I played a lot of instruments growing up, so I wouldn’t say that I knew it was the instrument for me right away. I started really focusing on the cello in middle school—I joined a lot of different groups and started playing in churches and at events. I think that’s when I knew the cello was the one instrument I really wanted to invest my time in and work on.

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What type of music is your favorite to practice and perform? Do you have a favorite composer?

I wouldn’t say that I have a favorite type of music to perform or practice. For me, it all depends on who you’re playing with. The best performances and rehearsals are with people who are invested in the music and always ready to contribute new ideas.

For individual practice, I like to work on Bach because it’s very open to interpretation. There’s always something you can change to play Bach a unique way every time. My favorite composer right now would probably be Stravinsky, just because I’ve basically been listening to the “Firebird Suite” on repeat since I played it this past summer. I also like to listen to Tchaikovsky and Dvorak.

How much time do you devote to practicing? How do you balance that time with studying and other endeavors?

I practice one to two hours a day. On a good day, I’ll be able to fit in three hours. Devoting this much time to practicing just means I have to use the rest of my time after-school more efficiently. I also play in orchestras outside of school and teach cello lessons, so time management can be difficult, but I’ve never felt that my schoolwork is inhibited by my musical commitments. I actually find practicing in between studying is helpful because it gives me a chance to clear my mind and improve my playing at the same time. I’m also an officer in two clubs this year and involved in four total. Even though I reserve a lot of my time for music, I’m able to be active in the school community and perform well in school.

You have been involved in many SCSD concerts. Do you have a standout memory from any of those concerts or rehearsals?

The Bach Prelude from the Second Suite that I played at this past winter concert was definitely a standout moment for me. I had never played completely solo in front of an audience that large. When I finished the piece, I felt a huge rush of adrenaline and energy, and it was the best feeling in the world.

Another memory for me would be our senior performance of “October” by Eric Whitacre at the winter concert this year. We played “October” our freshman year in orchestra, and all of us loved it so much that we wanted to perform it again. We coordinated rehearsals in secret and played this piece as a surprise for Mrs. [Anne] Harris, since she is retiring halfway through the year. While we were performing, I saw how much all of us had improved as musicians over the past three and a half years with Mrs. Harris. In that moment, I felt intensely grateful for our orchestra family and the community we’ve created. I met some of my closest friends because of orchestra, and I’m glad we were able to thank Mrs. Harris for everything she taught us through this performance.

Have you been involved in any performances outside of school that you are particularly proud of?

I attended the NYSSSA School of Orchestral Studies, a four-week program at Skidmore College with music students from all over New York State. I was accepted the summer of my sophomore year and the summer of my junior year. After seating auditions this past summer, I was seated as principal cellist out of 12 total cellists in the program. We had approximately nine hours of rehearsal per day, including symphony orchestra, chamber symphony, string orchestra, chamber groups, master classes with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and individual practice time. One of the pieces we played was the “William Tell Overture.” Most people only know the end, but the beginning actually opens with a five-part cello solo. It was the first piece of our first concert of the summer, and in the very beginning, the first cellist plays completely alone for about five measures before the other cellists come in. I think this would be my proudest performance, because I felt very pressured to play well. I successfully calmed my nerves beforehand, and I really think it was the best solo I’ve ever played in an orchestra.

If you could fast forward to where you think you want to be in 10 years, where would you be? Do you plan to continue with the cello? 

I would like to be performing somewhere, maybe in a professional orchestra or in a pit orchestra on Broadway. I am applying to be a cello performance major in college.

As a senior at SHS, what kind of advice would you give to younger SCSD students who want to be involved in the performing arts?

As kids move up in school, especially from fifth to sixth grade or eighth to ninth grade, there is a lot of pressure to get good grades. A common misconception is that you have to give up other things you like to do in order to succeed academically. Speaking as someone who has gotten good grades throughout high school while continuously adding on different music courses in school and more music programs out of school, music does not inhibit your ability to do well in school. Getting pulled out of a lesson once a week will not lead to bad grades. In fact, learning music has helped me with memorization, math and even language, and I’ve applied these skills to my other classes. Without a doubt, music has helped me succeed as a student, so younger students should never feel pressured to drop music because of schoolwork.

This interview was submitted by STARS (Somers Tuskers Arts Rising Stars), a booster club made up of parents and staff members committed to supporting the performing arts in the Somers Central School District. Part of the STARS mission is to educate the community about the student performers, their talents and their work ethic. For more information, please visit: somersschools.org, and click on the “Visual and Performing Arts” tab to get to the STARS web page. Or email somersstars@gmail.com.