Q: Jerray, you are an accomplished high school musician. When did you first begin playing the viola? Did you know right away that the viola was the instrument for you?
I started playing the viola in third grade, like most kids who picked up a string instrument in school. In fact, my first request was for the violin, but since they didn’t have enough violins, they put me on viola, and I just stuck with it.
Q: I know that you have performed at the Eastman Theatre with the Conference All-State Orchestra. How did that selection process work? Tell us about the experience of playing with that orchestra.
The selection process starts with your NYSSMA audition in April, where you must play a piece that qualifies as “Allstate Level 6,” and play scales and sight read a passage. On this audition, you have to score 100 to qualify, and out of all the kids in my zone (Westchester is Zone 11) who play viola and also scored a 100, typically only one person gets to go. They determine that student by seeing the difficulty of the piece played (further than just being Allstate Level 6) and how well the person did on the audition, based on how many pluses the judge awarded to the player in each category.
The All-State Symphony Orchestra was definitely the best orchestra I have ever played with. Not only was everyone there extremely talented, but everyone had great understanding of how to express the emotion of the music so that we weren’t just musically together, but also emotionally together. And that made our performance at Eastman Theatre, which is an amazing performing space, very powerful.
Q: What type of music is your favorite to practice and perform? Do you have a favorite composer?
I really couldn’t say that I have a single favorite piece to practice or perform, but recently I have highly enjoyed studying the Reger Suite 1 for Solo Viola, which is an early 20th century piece, but I also love playing Bach. If I had to choose a musical era to be my favorite, I think it would have to be the Romantic Era. Romantic music really pulls emotion out of the music and expresses beautiful lines of melody. Some of my favorite Romantic period composers are Edward Elgar, Antonín Dvořák and Gioachino Rossini.
Q: How much time do you devote to practicing? How do you balance that time with studying and other endeavors?
Now I always feel that this kind of question gets misinterpreted as a scale for others to compare to, so let me just leave you with this: I believe, like all things that you work for, that you get out what you put in. When you work hard, you get results. Regardless of natural talent. In order to be really good, you’re going to have to practice a lot.
As for balancing schoolwork with practicing, it is challenging. My advice for people who might consider pursuing music is to really think about which responsibilities and workloads you can permit time to take, and allow yourself enough time to work on your music. But that means you have to work hard with that extra time. Personally, my passions and interests were really widespread, so other extracurriculars and homework often made it difficult to balance practice time with my other activities — but you can make it work.
Q: You have been involved in many SCSD concerts as a violist and member of the chorus. Do you have a stand-out memory from any of those concerts or rehearsals?
I love both playing the viola and singing, and I’ve had amazing experiences with both. When I think of memorable choir moments, my trip to Canada with the Chamber Choir comes to mind. When we were touring in Canada, we would often start singing our pieces in random public places while sight-seeing. Many people would stop what they were doing, smile and listen to us. That is one of the greatest joys of performing for me. The ability to share a moment with a stranger and brighten their day is an invaluable gift that I cherish.
Q: 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 viola? Are you planning to continue singing in a choir?
Wow, 10 years is a long time. I hope that my high school music career will not be the height of my musical endeavors. In 10 years, I would still like to be playing viola, and singing if I could, even if it’s just in the shower. There are many orchestral groups that I could join while still working and during college... My knowledge and gift of music is too valuable to not be put to use, so although as of now I don’t plan on majoring in music, I know I will find a way to incorporate music into my life.
Q: 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?
If you’re curious, just ask. Our performing arts faculty is incredible, and if you show interest, they will help you. Don’t be scared of going out of your comfort zone, because if you decide it’s not for you, you can always back out. But if you never try, you’ll never know. Realistically, in the words of my private lesson teacher, in high school (or grade school), you have the most free time you will ever have to do whatever you want, so enjoy it while you can. I am so grateful to have had the chance to pick up viola and play throughout my high school career. Not everyone has the opportunity to learn an instrument, especially with a program as strong as ours, and it’s an opportunity you don’t want to miss. This year’s conductor of the All-State Orchestra, Eduardo Navega, told us at our last rehearsal that music is the only art that gives back. Visual art allows us to appreciate art, but music allows us to be part of the art. Every time we play from a score, our own version of art is created. Nothing else can do that.
This interview was submitted by STARS. (“Somers Tuskers Arts Rising Stars”) This is a booster club made up of parents and staff members committed to supporting the performing arts in the Somers Central Schools. 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: firstname.lastname@example.org