California State Summer School for the Arts (CSSSA) is a four-week intensive residential program for motivated and talented high school students. It offers seven disciplines, including: Animation, Creative Writing, Dance, Film, Music, Theater, Visual Arts. All California students who qualify are awarded scholarships to attend by the CSSSA Foundation.
Busy composing, teaching, performing, it’s hard to catch up with musician Katie Levine who won a Herb Alpert Scholarship after attending the CSSSA 2009 summer session. We wanted to know about her CSSSA experience, how attending CSSSA shaped her journey, and where she is today.
What was your CSSSA experience like and how did it shape your musical journey?
When I went to CSSSA, the experience was so intense – I had four piano lessons per week, three classical and one jazz. It was amazing that the faculty was so willing to spend the time helping me. It really made me work harder and I discovered that putting so much energy into music was immensely gratifying.
The classes and ensembles at CSSSA also introduced me to the almost infinite possibilities of music. Some of these world-broadening experiences included: playing in a free improvisation ensemble, participating in African drumming and Gamelan ensembles, taking a music theory and ear training class, and playing a portion of and listening to Erik Satie’s 24-hour piece “Vexations”.
I had never been so consumed by music in my life. It made me realize how important it was to work hard at anything I wanted to accomplish. I ended up getting a Herb Alpert Emerging Young Artist Scholarship at the end of the CSSSA program. Winning that award helped me to believe in myself more, and cemented my parents’ support as well.
What did you do after CSSSA?
After CSSSA, I realized how much I liked being in an environment that integrated multiple art forms with music. It gave me more inspiration to draw from and I realized that diverse ways of thinking broadened my mind in art and in life.
I went to Seattle to visit my cousin and tour Cornish College of the Arts. I later auditioned for Cornish, and I had a great experience with it. The faculty was interested in me and what I had to say- there were three or four people. I played four songs and they asked me about myself and my work. I left with a really good vibe from them and the school.
I was accepted by Cornish and was able to attend – it is a very small school. On average I had around eight people in each class, and my biggest class had twenty. I was on a first name basis with all my teachers, able to chat or get coffee with them if I needed to. Knowing the faculty and being able to interact and talk with them was really important for me. Seattle has a great music scene, friendlier to new types of music than other cities, in my opinion. Cornish is a big part of the art community in general, so most of the people I work with today are connections from Cornish. Cornish has been a huge part of my development and I wouldn’t have the career I have now without it.
“I had never been so consumed by music in my life. It made me realize how important it was to work hard at anything I wanted to accomplish.”
What is are you doing now?
Since graduating, I teach 20 students piano lessons each week. I also lead my own band, Gwenk, an experimental jazz ensemble with piano, bass, drums and trombone. We rehearse once a week and have had a few performances. I am also composing, practicing and studying music theory. I also got offered a job playing piano as part of a dinner theatre in Denali, Alaska, from April 23-Mid September.
I am beginning to think about graduate school. I am not sure where I’ll apply yet. I’ll be applying this coming December. I love attending school, and I am looking forward to going back. I’m debating doing a concentration in jazz piano or composition. I tend to favor an experimental philosophy, looking for something that has a wide range of music and liberal in what they teach.
The CSSSA Foundation is dedicated to preparing students for a creative life. In the development of the Bridge to College program, young artists have the integral resources they need to build a future in the arts. One of the many resources available, is a set of college pocket guides detailing the programs at colleges and universities in and out of California. To learn more about the CSSSA Foundation Bridge to College program, visit csssaf.org.
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