Violinist Hannah White practices six days a week, but also enjoys hiking, fishing and golfing. (Sphinx Organization)
This weekend, young black and Latino string players from all over the country will gather in Orchestra Hall for the 17th annual Sphinx Competition.
Though geographically diverse, they all share a passion for what they do and a drive to make music their life’s work.
Sterling Elliot, 14, was born in Newport News, Va., into a musical family. Both his elder siblings play the violin. His mother teaches viola. Sterling, naturally, wanted to follow in the footsteps of his big brother and sister and learn the violin. But that’s not how it went. With two violinists and a violist already in the house, all Mom needed to complete the Elliott Family Quartet was a cellist.
“My mom kind of kick-started me into liking (the cello),” Elliott says. “She convinced me that cellists made more money than violinists, and I believed it. Now I just play it because I love it.”
Elliott is one of nine semi-finalists in the junior division going in to this weekend’s concerts, along with Hannah White, also 14, a violinist from Germantown, Wis. For her, too, it was a family member who sparked her interest in the violin.
“When my brother Josh used to play it, I wanted to play it because I was used to sharing his toys with him. When I got it, I didn’t want to put it down. I would walk around the house playing it. I was 7.”
To keep her skills sharp, Hannah practices six days a week, three to five hours a day, but still manages to find time for some hiking, fishing, golfing and her 11 chickens. “They’re egg-laying,” she adds.
Hannah is currently enrolled in a pre-college program at the Music Institute of Chicago.
Among the nine senior division semi-finalists is violinist Clayton Penrose-Whitmore, 20, originally from Springfield, Ill.
“I actually started when I was 4 years old. My parents went to the Illinois State Fair, and they saw a group of violinists playing, and they kind of thought it would be cool to start me out and see what happened, and I’ve been playing ever since. They actually started violin and cello at the same time I started; it kind of went together. They still play once in a while.”
Now Clayton spends eight months out of the year attending the prestigious and highly competitive New England Conservatory of Music on the way to turning his love of music into a career.
“Playing the violin naturally fed into my passion for music; it’s just being able to express a lot of inner feelings. Some people write in journals and I equate playing violin to that.”
Xavier Foley’s reasoning for learning the double bass was simple enough: “I liked the bass because it was a big instrument.”
Foley, 19, grew up in Marietta, Ga., but now he spends his days in Philadelphia at the renowned Curtis Institute, where musicians from Leonard Bernstein to Lang Lang once honed their chops. Now Foley’s learning his craft from famed composer-bassist Edgar Meyer.
“Music is another way to experience an adventure, a journey through sound,” Foley says. “I think it’s the composer’s job to balance out the emotions in a piece, so people can experience sad, happy, anxiety, very different kinds of emotions and successfully integrate that into a composition. Music has the power to change one’s perception, and I think that’s worthy of my time.”
Sphinx Finals Concert
2 p.m. Sunday
Orchestra Hall at The Max
3711 Woodward, Detroit
Chris Felcyn is a freelance writer and host of “The Well-Tempered Wireless,” airing midday on WRCJ-FM (90.9).