Success Stories

Alumnus Justin Parker A Student’s Journey of Discovery

(An excerpt from his essay for college admission applications)

“Two local college professors changed the direction of my life. I’ve always liked building things, taking them apart and rebuilding them more efficiently. For those reasons, I thought I wanted to be an engineer. For my eighth grade science project, I designed and built three different shaped hovercraft to determine which shape moved the fastest and most efficiently. It was a great project and I won several awards at the Houston Science Fair. During spring break of ninth grade, I toured several major engineering schools in still thinking I wanted to be an engineer. I was unsure of what kind of engineer I wanted to be. Engineering seemed too restrictive because what I really wanted to do was invent things. Unfortunately, not many schools have inventing as a major.

In high school I continued taking orchestra, because it fulfilled my arts credits. At the time, that’s all I thought it was going to be used for. I had a rented cello at home, but mostly it stood in the corner and collected dust. By eleventh grade, primarily through attrition, I was the second chair cellist. In the fall of eleventh grade, the orchestra director distributed the music for the fall concert. The music was so easy and boring that I almost dropped out. My class schedule was challenging because I had talked my advisor into letting me take honors pre-calculus so I could take AP calculus as a senior. I decided to stay in orchestra class because it was a break from all the math and science, but to make playing the cello more interesting, I asked my private teacher to teach me how to play more difficult pieces. From August to October, I worked on new techniques and pieces. In three months, I learned enough to catch the attention of the two local university professors who attend my high school’s orchestra rehearsals every Friday. My orchestra director and I were talking one day during lunch when he mentioned that the professors had asked him to ask me if I would be interested in playing with their select orchestra. I agreed. I thought it would be great for my resume and I might have a little fun, too.

I rolled my rental cello into the first rehearsal not knowing anyone or what to expect. All I knew was the rehearsal was three hours and I’d never played that long at one time in my life. I soon found out that not only were the rehearsals long, but also the music was unbelievably difficult and every cellist in the orchestra was great. I was embarrassed at the level of my audition piece, which turned out to be about the level of a warm-up piece for the rest of the orchestra. Luckily, the Maestros (professors) knew that if I continued to work, I would fit in just fine. I had my doubts. The music distributed that evening was the exact music played by professional symphonies, and I was well aware that the level was far beyond my playing ability at that point. I made fifth chair out of six. I worked with my private teacher almost four hours a week just to be able to play the music at a reasonable level. And I practiced… for hours… and hours… and hours.

After the first concert in December 2006, I could play at almost the same the level as the cellists a chair or two above me. I loved playing the cello and I wanted to get better. The feeling that accompanies artistic progress is unrivaled. I couldn’t stop practicing. I was shocked and excited with the amount of progress I was making in such a short period of time. For the first time in my life, my mother yelled down the stairs for me to stop practicing. In two months, I worked my way up the repertoire ladder from a grade 1 solo (a little harder than “Greensleeves”) to a grade 10 solo (performed by professional soloists). In May 2008, [as a solo artist for Virtuosi of Houston’s spring concert], I performed the first movement of Haydn’s “C Major Concerto.” The moment I finished playing the final note and the applause started, I knew that for a long time the only thing I will be building is my cello repertoire.”

Justin Parker was a two-year member of Virtuosi of Houston, winner of the 2008 Virtuosi of Houston Immanuel and Helen B. Olshan Foundation Concerto Competition (strings division) and currently the only freshmen in the cello section in the University of Texas Symphony Orchestra.