Class of 2020 Recommends Music To Inspire You

They’re supposed to be decked out in cap and gown, slowly mounting the steps of their school auditorium to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance while friends and family tearfully capture the long-awaited milestone on their iPhones. Things turned out differently this year, but between studying for virtual AP exams and finals, kids are celebrating the best they can. So as we honor our resilient graduates this month, KUSC decided to scope out what classical music most inspires them. The choices are so rich and varied you’ll want to take notes, so grab those sharpened No. 2 pencils, and enjoy!


Ramon C. Cortines School of the Performing Arts senior Zenaida Aparicio-Alejo | Photo courtesy of Zenaida Aparicio-Alejo

Zenaida Aparicio-Alejo, a senior at Ramon C. Cortines School of the Performing Arts in downtown Los Angeles, discovered her love of classical music at YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles) at HOLA, a partnership between the LA Phil and the after-school enrichment program Heart of Los Angeles. Zenaida, who’s headed to Cal State Long Beach in the fall, was just 10 when she started at YOLA. She was originally attracted to the violin because of its role in mariachi bands. But a teacher suggested she try cello, and now she’s hooked!

What is a favorite piece of classical music?

I’ve never played it, but I love the Cello Concerto by Antonin Dvořák. I stumbled on the piece on Spotify. I didn’t even know what a concerto was. I grew up in a family where I wasn’t exposed to classical music. So it’s mainly been through YOLA that I have learned to love it. Even though the cello doesn’t play at the beginning of the concerto, I realized that when it does play, the instrument is in front of the whole orchestra. I want to master this piece!

Skyler Lee, a senior at the Los Angeles County High School of the Arts (LACHSA) who graduates June 2nd, will be heading off to the Eastman School of Music this fall. He has been in the LA Phil’s YOLA at EXPO Center program since he was 10. Looking ahead to conservatory life, Skyler was thrilled to learn his teacher James VanDemark is not only a renowned bass virtuoso, but also a boxer. At Eastman, Skyler fully intends to master both boxing and bass.


Los Angeles County High School of the Arts senior Skyler Lee | Photo courtesy of Skyler Lee

Do you have a favorite classical piece?

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade was the first major work I ever played with an orchestra, and the LACHSA orchestra is amazing. The piece is also used in the video game Fallout 4 (it is heard on the fictitious classical radio station in the game) and I think the music tells a better story than the game itself. Scheherazade was an eye-opener for me, one of the most inspiring pieces I’ve ever heard. I’ve always loved fairy tales and I enjoy writing scripts, so I love music like this that tells a story. When I played Scheherazade, I thought for the first time that music could be a real thing in my life.

Emily Yang, concertmaster of the Claremont Young Musicians Orchestra, is understandably bummed about not getting to ‘walk’ at her Diamond Bar High School graduation May 28th, not to mention being unable to attend the senior prom. But Emily’s excited about attending USC in the fall. The current plan: majoring in psych with a minor in music. Choosing her favorite classical work was easy; it’s a piece she’s been practicing for a year–the Violin Concerto by Jean Sibelius.


Diamond Bar High School senion Emily Yang | Photo courtesy of Emily Yang

What makes the concerto special for you?

I find the Sibelius Violin Concerto inspiring because it’s one of the few pieces that is able to transport me to another world—-cold, icy Finland. Whenever I play the piece I forget the troubles and worries in my life and instead imagine the pain and sadness Sibelius was feeling as he was composing. It’s also the most challenging piece I have ever played, so having a successful performance after all the work and time I put in is the greatest feeling.

Double bass player Dalanie Harris is moving back to her family home in Inglewood this week from Rochester, New York, where she graduated last week from the Eastman School of Music. An alumnus of the LA Phil’s Youth Orchestra Los Angeles program at the Expo Center downtown (YOLA at EXPO), Dalanie didn’t start studying the bass privately until the middle of high school. To be accepted at one of the world’s great conservatories a few years later is quite an accomplishment. Dalanie produces her own podcast with co-host Katie Brown, called Classically Black. It focuses on issues of diversity and inclusiveness in classical music.


Eastman School of Music graduate Dalanie Harris | Photo courtesy of Dalanie Harris

Dalanie mentioned two works that particularly inspire her: Out of the Silence from William Grant Still’s Seven Traceries and Battle of Manassas, a work commemorating the first major battle of the Civil War, composed around 1861 by Thomas Wiggins.

What draws you to this piece?

Thomas Wiggins was a former slave, a piano prodigy, and the first black person to perform at the White House. He was also autistic (as well as blind.). I like how he weaves patriotic melodies into this piece, adding his own different harmonies.

Ashley Fang, a senior at Diamond Bar High School, looks forward to her virtual graduation on May 28th. The principal flutist of the Claremont Young Musicians Orchestra, she’ll attend Vanderbilt University in the fall, pursuing a double major in Flute Performance and Business.


Diamond Bar High School senion Ashley Fang | Photo courtesy of Ashley Fang

Are you from a musical family?

I am an only child…neither of my parents have musical experience, but from a young age they encouraged me to try new things. In the second grade, I began piano lessons and found an interest in not just listening to music, but performing and creating it.

Classical KUSC has been one of my favorite radio stations since I was little and I especially enjoy listening to the “From the Top” corner. Whether it be a long drive or a study session, KUSC is the ideal station to turn to.

What is a piece of music that particularly inspires you?

Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 is a memorable piece for me. It was the first piece I played in a symphony orchestra. But the piece that holds the most meaning to me is Shostakovich’s Symphony No 10. I had the opportunity to perform this piece with my high school orchestra. We traveled to New York to perform at Lincoln Center and won the National Orchestra Cup. To be able to create beautiful music with some of the most important people to me was such a magical moment on the stage.

Next month, Daniel Bayot will receive his Masters in Composition from UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music, where he’s mainly been involved with writing music for film and television and also electronic music. After graduation? The musical gamut: he hopes to continue working as a voice teacher, pop music producer, audio engineer, film composer, and performer (both voice and piano) in both pop and classical.


UCLA Master’s student Daniel Bayot | Photo by Noel Ty/Asian Journal, courtesy of Daniel Bayot

Did you grow up in a musical family?

I come from a wonderful family of musicians in Hawaii, though I’m the only one who ventured into classical music; I fell in love with classical music playing the cello in my middle and high school orchestras.

Is there a piece of classical music that particularly inspires you these days?

John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1. Each movement memorializes the composer’s musician-friends lost to the AIDS epidemic. The piece is furious and heart-breaking. A few minutes into the first movement an offstage pianist plays Isaac Albéniz’s Tango—heard like a distant memory—and I have trouble listening to this section without a lump getting stuck in my throat. While Corigliano conceived this Symphony amid the AIDS crisis, the composer maintains that the work is ultimately about human emotions—tragedy, loss, anger, remembrance—that transcend a single disease. A number of my friends have drawn parallels between the AIDS crisis and the current pandemic, and this piece may be particularly resonant with listeners during these difficult times.