Express Yourself

This past January, young musicians from across Collin County came together for the Collin County Concerto Competition, a county-wide contest for students in grades 9-12 competing in three divisions: strings, winds and percussion and piano. A grand-prize winner was selected from each category, and these three students were awarded the honor of performing their solos with the Plano Symphony at a concert in March. 

This year, Frisco is lucky to be home to all three winners: Nikki Naghavi (16), violin; Eddie Chen (16), alto saxophone; and Jason Zhu (18), piano. “It is really just a coincidence that all three of us are from Frisco. Usually, the winners would not all be from the same place because the competition is open to anyone in Collin County or anyone who has a private lesson teacher in Collin County,” Ms. Naghavi explains. 

Each of the students had been working on their performances for at least a year prior to performing for the jury in January. While, of course, they were thrilled to win this competition and described the performance with the Plano Symphony as an incredible experience, they also made it clear that music is much more to them than just a series of competitions. “We do play competitively, but we are also involved in organizations that allow us to perform, as well as play with others,” says Mr. Chen, who is a member of the Liberty High School marching and jazz bands, as well as the wind symphony of the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra (GDYO). 

Mr. Zhu graduates from Centennial this month as valedictorian of the class of 2018. He is attending Stanford University in the fall, where he will be majoring in one of the STEM academic disciplines. Although he does not wish to pursue a career in music, he very much wants to continue playing piano in his spare time. “I immerse myself in a lot of academia, so I think one thing that is wonderful about music is that it is so different. It provides a nice break for me from the harsh statistical and data-driven world I am usually in,” he describes. “I think that is the main reason I want to play in college. I will be in pretty rigorous classes, so I think being in a music class or playing with a professor will really help me stay grounded.” 

Ms. Naghavi may still have another year of high school, but she is already looking to the future and thinking about how she can turn her love for the violin into a professional career. This summer, she is attending a six-week music camp in Maine where she will have the opportunity to meet and learn from professors from a variety of colleges with excellent music programs. “I have been playing for 12 years now, and I really cannot imagine doing anything else. It only makes sense for me to continue my career after high school,” she says with a laugh. 

All three students began music by learning piano, but, of course, Mr. Chen and Ms. Naghavi quickly found a love for their respective instruments, alto saxophone and violin. While music may be a great passion now, it was not always so easy for their parents to get them to practice, the group describes as they exchange smiles. “I absolutely hated practicing when I was younger,” Mr. Chen says. “So many tantrums!” Ms. Naghavi adds in. “When I was younger, I dreaded having to practice, but, then, as I got older and realized I had less time because of school, I noticed I actually wanted to play more because it was my escape.” 

Mr. Zhu credits his math and science studies as a driving force behind his passion for the piano. “Music is so different from everything else I do,” he says, as he explains that he also participates in academic competitions and works as a physics tutor once a week. “Growing up, education was the priority in my home, so having piano as something that makes me unique in my family gave me a creative outlet.” 

Aside from academic and professional benefits, music has also given these students the opportunity to travel, meet new people and grow personally. Through the long days of national competitions and grueling marching band practices, Mr. Chen has been able to meet some of his best friends. “What has really kept me attached to music over the years is the people I have met, both other musicians and teachers,” Mr. Chen says. “Just this past March, I traveled to Indianapolis for the Honor Band of America, and it is so cool to meet people who are so different from you, yet you just have this instant connection to each other through music.” 

Mr. Zhu is a first-generation American, but travels to China with his parents and brother at least once a year to visit extended family. It was on one of these trips a few years ago that he had the opportunity to perform a solo concert set up by his uncle to allow Chinese children to learn from an American who practiced piano competitively. “It was a really rewarding experience, but also a little intimidating because it was a solo and I was not expecting to perform while I was on vacation,” he explains. “It also ended up being particularly wonderful because I am not that great at actually speaking Chinese, so being able to tell a story and express myself through music without worrying about the language barrier made it really cool.” 

As the population in Frisco has grown over the last several years, Ms. Naghavi says she has noticed an increase in the number of young people interested in the arts, particularly through her volunteering with the Frisco Association for the Arts, run by Tammy Meinershagen. “In 2018, the Frisco ISD reported that of the 23,000+ high school students, more than 16,000 are enrolled in fine arts, while 7,000 are enrolled in athletics. That means, roughly 70 percent of FISD students are studying music, dance, theater and visual art!” Ms. Meinershagen says. “We should support our youth in their pursuit of all their dreams, no matter what they may be. Frisco Arts wants all students who are passionate about music, dance, theater, visual arts and literary arts to feel welcome, celebrated and know that they have a valuable place in our community.”

Rachel Beaird is a recent University of Arkansas graduate, travel enthusiast and a public relations aficionado.