Young musicians find early success in the classics
You know when you've reached the Keller household: When callers are put on hold, violin music comes on the line -- but it's not a professional recording, it is the music of sisters Laura and Mary Keller, taken from various concerts over the years.
'From the Top'
Oahu performance: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Hawaii Theatre. Tickets are $15 to $45. Call 528-0506 or visit hawaiitheatre.com.
Maui performance: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Maui Arts & Culture Center. Tickets are $10 to $40. Call 808-242-7469.
Also: Both concerts will be taped for broadcast at a later date. The show can be heard locally from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday morning on KHPR 88.1 Honolulu, KKUA 90.7 Wailuku and KANO 91.1 Hilo.
Laura, the elder of the two sisters at 17, will perform in Wednesday's taping of "From the Top," a nationally broadcast radio show featuring young musicians and student orchestras from around the country. "From the Top" airs weekly on nearly 250 public radio stations.
Laura will perform as concertmaster of the Punahou Symphony Strings, as well as a soloist. With her on the show will be 14-year-old pianist Andrew Ramos of Waipahu and other soloists chosen through a national series of auditions.
A second taping will be held Friday on Maui, featuring double bassist Kathryn Crandall Schulmeister and violinist Zoe Martin-Doike, both 16.
"Laura is a fantastic musician on a national and worldwide level," said Jonas Carlson, director of orchestras at Punahou. "She's a real nice person, humble, and she plays like a goddess, very expressive."
Laura also appeared in last year's taping of "From the Top," a show she's listened to for about five years. "It was really fun when I auditioned last year," she said. "I'm not nervous. I've done other types of shows."
Other types of shows -- that would include three performances with the Honolulu Symphony, the first when she was only 11 years old. She is also concertmaster with the Punahou Symphony Orchestra and plays in the Vaught Quartet on the side.
Still waters run deep with the Punahou student. She is equally at home with Bach and Beethoven as with the Beatles and Led Zeppelin.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
At age 17, Punahou student Laura Keller is already an accomplished violinist. She will be featured in the National Public Radio show "From the Top," to be taped this week.
Laura, a senior, has a lot of interests in common with other teens her age: seeing movies with friends, hanging out with her family on weekends, taking last-minute looks at college brochures.
But there are other demands on her time. Laura faithfully follows the Suzuki Strings motto: "Practice every day you eat." This comes to up to three hours a day, plus summer programs at the Cleveland Institute of Music. "There's not as much free time to spend with my friends, but this is something I could do the rest of my life."
Laura's talent was recognized by world-famous violinist and music teacher Helen Higa. Her skills have also been nurtured by supportive parents and encouraged by other private teachers, such as Jim Stanford and the late Hiroko Primrose, who invested their time in her future.
"Even when Mrs. Primrose was sick and in pain, she would have me come to her apartment for lessons and sight-reading," said Laura. "She continues to be a great inspiration to me, and I think of her often."
While Laura has always been serious about symphonic music, the senior Kellers only intended to add an appreciation of arts and culture to their children's lives; they didn't realize their oldest child held so much promise so early.
They watched Laura turn into a accomplished musician while she was still in single digits.
At age 3, Laura began playing violin in her preschool class. At age 4, she was studying with Higa, a Suzuki Strings method teacher. At 9, Laura studied with Primrose -- a year before the teacher's death.
Higa has also taught Laura's sister, Mary, 13, who was raised around violins. Today, Mary shows a lot of her sister's same promise.
"I was pregnant with Mary when Laura was starting violin. Mary started trying to play the violin when she could walk," said their mother, Cynthia.
"We didn't really think along the lines of them becoming advanced musicians. As parents, we're not musically inclined. We took piano lessons but we didn't practice."
Rarely has Laura missed a day of training. In 14 years, she's missed only five rehearsals. And she has practiced in some unusual spaces -- such as the waiting area of a Nebraska airport during extended down time.
Family trips in the Keller household often involve flying to competitions, driving to practices and scouting music conservatories. "My parents fly us around a lot. ... They've always made sacrifices for me."
"It's just something that evolved," said Cynthia. "We just take it in stride. ... It's the same for parents who have to drive their children to soccer or other sports. ...
"We want her to have a well-rounded education. We got that in the back of her mind. She thinks I worry too much, though."
The thought of being the concertmaster and a soloist for a radio program on the same day she has two final exams doesn't faze Laura. But those who know her well are amazed by the teenager's transformation once she's onstage.
"Laura has a sensitivity about music ... but while she loves to perform, she's a pretty quiet person. She's pretty soft-spoken," said her mother. "Another personality takes over when she gets up on the stage."
Also on Top
These young Oahu musicians will also be featured in "From the Top" performances in Honolulu and on Maui, along with the 55-member Punahou Strings from Punahou School:
Andrew, 14, of Waipahu is a ninth-grade honors student at Moanalua High School.
Along with the piano, he plays cello and is second-chair cellist in Moanalua's Concert Orchestra.
Ramos won the 2005 Junior Artist Music Teachers National Association Competition in November and is representing the state at the regional competitions Jan. 18 at the University of Las Vegas.
Kathryn Crandall Schulmeister
The 16-year-old Punahou School junior and principal bassist for the school's symphony has been playing the double bass since elementary school.
She has participated in the young artist orchestra program at Boston University's Tanglewood Institute.
She also performs with the jazz group Dead Man Blues, a quintet made up of musicians from her school.
Zoe, 16, is home-schooled and performs with the Punahou Strings and the Hawaii Youth Symphony.
She began studying the violin at age 5 and has won the Hawaii State MTNA Junior High String Competition twice and the Oahu Arts Center Mozart Competition earlier this year.
She will compete later this month in the Southwest regional MTNA Senior High Strings Competition.