Three local high school students have made it into the semifinals of a region-wide arts competition through The Music Center in Los Angeles — becoming part of a small group that advanced out of more than 1,300 who auditioned.
Lexi Hoek, Jessica O’ Brien and Quinn Sims will be advancing, along with 109 others, to vie for the chance to earn a $5,000 scholarship awarded to the 14 grand prize finalists of the competition. The trio have already each earned a $500 scholarship for making it this far.
As semifinalists of The Music Center’s 35th annual Spotlight Program, they’ll also be given the opportunity to attend a special mastery class within their discipline with experts in their field.
“For many participants, Spotlight is their first step in the journey toward a successful future in the arts,” Rachel Moore, president and CEO of The Music Center, said in a press release. “We are proud to have provided thousands of aspiring young people with the opportunity to hone their skills and explore their potential.”
The Signal sat down with each of the three semifinalists to learn more about them.
Hoek, a junior at Saugus High School, has been involved in the performing arts since she was a child and is an active member of the school’s theater program. Hoek’s audition of a song from the musical, “Newsies,” was her submission piece for the competition.
“I’ve been performing for kind of as long as I can remember and taking voice lessons since I was in fifth grade, consistently,” said Hoek. “So I’ve been doing stuff in the arts for a long time. My mom stumbled upon this competition on Facebook, and we didn’t really know anything about it. But we were kind of like, ‘Go submit something, just to see.’ Why not? And now we’re here.”
Hoek said she never saw, or approached, theater competitively and that it was always just a passion she followed. The fact she’s made it to the semifinals has left her in disbelief. Hoek said being among other talented performers her age is an honor and her biggest takeaway from the experience so far.
“It was crazy, we went to a master class with the Tony-nominated Broadway star, Douglas Stills, two weeks ago. All the semifinalists went there for my category, and it was crazy because they were all so talented. And to think of myself as a part of that group… I still can’t wrap my head around it,” said Hoek. “It’s just been a really surreal experience, sort of categorizing myself with all these amazing, talented teenagers all across Southern California.”
Hoek attributed the arts community in Santa Clarita as a reason for her success and, more specifically, the theater department at Saugus. She credits the work of Gina Painter, Saugus’ head of the fine arts department, as having contributed to her advancement.
Sims, a freshman at West Ranch High School, plays string and electric bass for the school’s jazz band. Getting up early in the morning, rehearsing late at night and playing on the weekends is all part of the gig. Sims said playing in a big band and being around others who are just as passionate is a great way to learn music.
“They show that passion, too, and it’s important. I play in the big band and so everybody kind of has to put in the effort and the work in order to make this possible,” said Sims. “You know, we all get up early in the morning, we have late rehearsals, we do weekend stuff. We work as a team, and I’m really thankful for that.”
Sims submitted two jazz standards for his audition — the Paul Chambers Quartet rendition of “Dear Old Stockholm” and “Blue Bossa.” The audition, however, almost never happened and did, only, at the insistence of a friend.
“It’s kind of funny actually, because I didn’t originally plan to audition, because I was preparing for other things. But I was planning for a friend’s audition and they heard me and they’re like, ‘You know what? You sound really good, do you want to do [another] audition tomorrow?’ And I was like, ‘Sure,’” said Sims. “So I was surprised, honestly. I’m super thankful that I got the opportunity. But I just found it really interesting, how it turned out.”
Like Hoek, Sims attributed the arts community in Santa Clarita to fostering the advancement of his passion.
“I’ve had a really amazing time here with music in particular. I know that out of all the schools here, most of them have really great music programs and they have a bunch of other [great] things too, like the arts, acting, all that stuff,” said Sims. “It feels really good to live somewhere where I can pursue my art and be surrounded by people that are trying to do the same.”
Sims also gave a shout-out to the director of jazz studies at West Ranch, Brian Leff — who Sims said had a big influence on his development.
Jessica O’ Brien
O’ Brien, a junior at West Ranch, plays the flute and advanced to the semifinals of the competition by submitting the first movement of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s concerto in D major (K 218).
O’Brien said while the audition process was nerve-racking, she advises any young musicians to give it a try because you’ll never know what the result may end up being.
“Advice for other musicians out there: I know auditions seem really scary, and they are, don’t get me wrong. My palms were sweaty and my heart was racing the whole time,” said O’Brien. “But it’s a great experience because if you really want to go into music, then you’ll get used to it… you just have to live in the moment and not worry about winning, per se, but rather just gaining the experience and having fun with it.”
O’Brien began playing piccolo in third grade and moved on to learn other instruments such as the piano. O’Brien began performing with the Santa Clarita Valley Youth Orchestra for the past seven years and attributes much of her musical progress to being in that group.
In addition to playing in the SCV Youth Orchestra and being part of West Ranch’s music program, she’s also performed in all-state ensembles and the California State University Northridge Youth Philharmonic.
O’Brien said her teacher, Rosy Sackstein, has been a large influence on her and the West Ranch’s music program helped her branch out into other musical genres.
“My school really had an impact on me expanding my horizons, like with jazz, in my music,” said O’Brien. “I don’t think I would have gotten into it without my school.”