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Young Trailblazer Nominee

Leon Baker III

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Nominations

Nominated by Melva Hall

“Leon is a talented violinist who is a member of the Colorado Springs Youth Symphony Orchestra where he is the concertmaster. He is also a member of the National Youth Orchestra and the Sphinx Organization, a non-profit organization dedicated to the development of young Black and Latino classical musicians. Leon was invited to the summer program at the Juilliard School and performed at Carnegie Hall.”

My Black Colorado Interview

Background information.

I attend Colorado Connections Academy. I am in 12th grade. Being a military child, I moved from Hawaii to Colorado springs in 2017.

How long have you been here in Colorado?

I have been in Colorado for 4 years. I moved here at the start of my 9th-grade year.

Your nomination sounds like you have a strong music background. Can you tell me a little about your background in music and how you got into it?

I started playing the violin at the age of three. At the time, my dad was stationed in North Carolina, but we soon moved to Hawaii. Here, I studied under Alexia Luscher. Although I have moved to Colorado, I am currently still taking lessons with her online through skype to get ready for college auditions.

What do you like about playing the violin? What made you stay with it? Because a lot of people start instruments and then, just find something else later on.

In middle school, I started to take music more seriously. I joined the Hawaii Youth Symphony and found that playing in a group setting was very enjoyable. At the time, I was also involved in gymnastics. The commitments to both became increasingly difficult, meaning I would have to choose one. This orchestral experience is what allowed me to choose the violin as my number one passion.

What do you think people like most about you or value most about you? If asked, what would people say about you?

I believe that my friends most value my honesty. They find me to be an approachable person to which they can come to for advice, as well as comfort. This is something that I am very proud of.

When you’re not in class and not playing the violin what are things you enjoy doing?

I enjoy spending time with my siblings. Our favorite activities are playing Mario Kart and board games.

What is the best advice someone has given you recently?

Due to my recent experience with applying to college, I would advise someone to live more in the moment. Daily life can become stressful and sometimes having a little fun is just what we need to find some sanity.

Have you decided where you want to head yet, or if you’re going to college now? Or maybe wait until after COVID has calmed down? What’re your plans?

I do plan on attending college next fall My first choice is Oberlin due to the five-year dual degree program they provide. This program will allow me to pursue a major in both violin performance and biology.

What is one thing you want to get better at?

I would like to get better at living in the moment. I love working hard to achieve my goals, but this can be very stressful. Finding time to unwind and relax is very important and something I believe I can do more of.

I think when it comes to people who play music and musicians, sometimes they get a bad reputation for not being organized or task-oriented. Do you ever feel like that or do you ever hear about those stereotypes for musicians?

Personally, I am very organized, but I definitely know other musicians who fit this stereotype. I believe that it depends on the musician. Every musician is different in their own way.

What do you think is one piece of advice that adults need to hear when it comes to helping them connect with the younger generation?

I believe that just being willing to listen can do wonders. Past generations believe that the experience they possess trumps the new ideas and new interpretations we could potentially bring to the table. Just listening to each other can bring about new ideas and potentially make the world a better place.

What accomplishments or awards are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my performance at The Juilliard School and the receiving of the concertmaster position in the Colorado Springs Youth Symphony.

Tell me more about Juilliard, what that was all about. How did that happen and what did you get out of it? What is Juilliard in the music community?

Juilliard is one of the top music schools in the country. I was very fortunate to have performed here. This would not have been possible without the efforts of the Sphinx Organization. This experience also allowed me to overcome a great deal of performance anxiety, as well as experience diversity in music for the first time. I had never studied or performed with so many African American musicians. This is an experience I was truly grateful for.

What were the processes and training like at Juilliard?

Your admission to the camp is determined by an audition. Once you successfully audition, you will be flown out to Juilliard for free. Once there, you will be assigned a private teacher for the next two weeks. In between your private lessons, you will also perform in quartets, masterclasses, as well as participate in seminars every evening. In the mornings, you are expected to practice before your lesson. After your lesson, you continue to practice until further notice. It is definitely a very intense camp, but well worth the experience.

Tell me about the Colorado Springs Youth Symphony and what your involvement has been. What is the role of a concertmaster?

I joined the Colorado Springs Youth Symphony in 2017. I was placed in the “Ovation Orchestra”, which is their second-highest group. In this group, I was the concertmaster. The next year, I moved to their highest group, the “Youth Symphony”. I played in this group for an additional year before I became the concertmaster again. The responsibilities of the concertmaster include communicating with the other section leaders of the symphony, as well as matching up fingerings and bowings of the string section. When I was in Ovation, I was concertmaster as well. So there’s first violins and second violins. The concertmaster is the first stand, first violin who controls both the first violin and the second violin sections, the bowings, and the fingerings. This is a big responsibility and I am honored to have been given this opportunity on more than one occasion.

How do you get that position? Part of it is being good at what you do, but is it also communicating and having leadership qualities?

It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to obtain this position. You must first audition to obtain this position to make sure that your playing skills are up to par. The conductor also assesses your character and ability to lead the group in an effective way. All of these factors go into preparing someone to receive the concertmaster position.

Sounds like all the work you’ve been putting into music has really helped build life skills as well.  What skills do you think transfer over from music to help you with life in general?

The most valuable skill you obtain from music is effective communication. You have to communicate with other musicians in the orchestra, to convey different musical ideas and different interpretations. I felt that this has really helped me feel comfortable speaking to and in front of others. this skill is very important in becoming successful in life.

What’s your career aspiration and why? Do you want to be a full-time musician? What’s your outlook?

In the future, I definitely want music to continue being a part of my life. I plan to attend a university that provides a double degree program, such as Oberlin, to allow me to pursue multiple interests. Here, I plan to major in both violin performance and biology. Along the way, I might use my degree in biology to become an orthodontist. While doing this, I will continue to pursue music. On the contrary, I might decide to pursue music whole-heartedly. I am leaving the possibilities open so that when the time comes, I will be able to make the best decision for myself.

Does your family have a musical background?

Yes, my family has a musical background. Both my mom and grandmother played classical piano. My dad also dabbled in the piano a bit when he was younger. My younger sister, Caris, played the piano as well but decided that dance was her real passion. My aunt played the violin all the way through college, but eventually switched to a medical path. My younger sister, Londyn,  also played violin for a short while but decided that gymnastics was her calling instead. I have had many musical influences throughout my life.

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