21st Annual SBO Essay Contest

SBO Staff • FeaturesMay 2021 • May 4, 2021

“How has playing an instrument changed for you during the pandemic?” was the theme of SBO’s 21st annual scholarship essay contents. Nearly 2000 entries were submitted by students competing for ten, $1,000 scholarships. The awards are being given to five students in grades 4 to 8 and five students grades 9 to 12 and their respective school music programs received a matching award of music products from co-sponsors NAMM, Alfred Music Publishing, Sabian Ltd., and Yamaha Corporation of America.

Since its inception, the scholarship program has awarded $360,000 in funds and matching music products to the winners and their schools. The students and schools will be notified this month, and SBO will arrange for their local school music dealer to present their scholarship checks to the winners.

Congratulations to all of this year’s winners, and we encourage all students to enter again next year.

Carson Quick

Grade 5 , Age 10

Instrument: Flute

Zionsville West Middle School | Zionsville, Indiana

This is my first time playing an instrument… Playing the flute is crazy, and confusing. This pandemic makes me feel like I am caged up, and alone. Being in a band makes me feel more together and included. It is just like the pandemic in ways, and very different than the pandemic in others. Flute, you are stressing, just like the pandemic. Flute, are you there? Flute, you make me calm. Flute, sometimes you are stressing and anger me. Flute, sometimes you are too hard. Sometimes I just want to quit. ‘Suddenly, I feel like one with my flute.’ Flute, where are you? Flute, I am going to be patent. Flute, I am waiting. Waiting while others are being taught. Thinking about my Flute, the bond with my Flute and me. Flute, I see you! Flute, why are you running? Flute, I’ve caught you! Flute, should I play you? Flute, let’s play “Hot Cross Buns” Flute, why not? Flute, are you sure? Flute, are you ready? Flute, I lost you again! Flute… I hear music coming from my flute, is that you? I can always feel calm and relaxed around you. Like I am in my own flute world. I spin away from the world, yet I am still playing my own instrument. Dancing in and out of the holes in my flute. Really, my fingers are the ones dancing. I remember the times with my flute… ~ I am playing with the group; My flute is there. I am sitting in PE; My flute is there. I am eating garlic dip; My flute is there. My flute has always been there for me. Always playing in my mind, playing solo, or with the rest of the band, my flute is there. ~Flute, I’ve found you again! I realized I have not only found my flute… but I have found myself as well. Playing a flute makes me speechless, and it ends my words.

Isaac Lee

Grade 4, Age 9

Instrument: Flute

Margaret A. Neary Elementary School | Southborough, Mass.

In 4th grade at Neary school, students can sign up for band or string instruments. I chose flute because I like the sound that it makes. My teacher, Ms. Sherman, was so nice that she lent me a flute from the school. When I first started flute, it was hard because I’ve never met my teacher before. Also, it was difficult to start a new instrument during the pandemic because my teacher cannot see everything that I am doing over Zoom. At my first lesson, I learned three beginning notes: Bb, C, and D. Bb and C were a breeze, but D was very tricky. I couldn’t get the sound right at first. The problem was I didn’t hold the keys down hard enough. I kept trying and was elated when I finally got it. I learned perseverance and to never give up. At my second lesson, I was good at the note D, but a song called Snail Snail was not easy for me. It had eighth notes, and the notes didn’t sound right because I was playing too fast. Eventually, I figured out that I was rushing through the notes. I slowed down and was finally able to play the song. This taught me that I need to be patient to learn music. During the pandemic, everyone was quarantined and stuck in their house, but music helps to unite people together. Starting an instrument during this time has helped me learn perseverance and patience, which builds my character.

Meredith Lima

Grade 7, Age:12

Instrument: Alto Saxophone

St. Gabriel the Archangel | St. Louis, Missouri

Music is the universal language that all souls will connect to, even if it’s in different ways a language I am versed in that I have only recently begun to share with other ears freely. My instrument to speak this language is the alto saxophone which I’ve played for 3 years now with instruction, and as with anything I have to practice it outside of the initial activity itself. The dark & slightly dank basement of my house is where I practice — there’s a door near the general area where I practice and it leads to the backyard, which leads to the alley where people tend to walk by a lot. That door always used to be closed because I just wanted the melodic words to myself, being afraid of what would happen if people heard my somewhat faulty speaking. Not caring what people think is one of the hardest life lessons to learn; it is now one I would like to say that I have learned. Let them all condemn my flat-sounding notes if they so choose. Now when it’s not too hot or cold, I open the basement door and let the pitches I play tiptoe their way out into the world and the ears of the passersby, so that they may hopefully enjoy something extra that day. When I used to hoard, I now let it all go, neatly tumbling out. After all, in this pandemic we should share with the less fortunate what we can.

Soham Shah

Grade 4, Age 8

Instrument: Piano

Playing an instrument has changed for me over the pandemic because it relieves me from this horrible time. I get a little stressed out from the many people that die and playing an instrument relieves me from the world. I have been playing the piano more than usual because it helps me. When I play piano I don’t think of anything else other than playing. Especially during this pandemic, I have been very stressed and sad of the many people that died Since I can’t be that social it gives me time to play, and I think of my piano as a friend. Many times, I would ask my parents when I could meet my friends but always got the same answer which I didn’t know. Whenever they said that I would play the piano and feel much better. It is amazing what music can do to you. I know I love it and my family does too. I encourage all to learn an instrument whether young or old because it will help you get through this horrible pandemic.

Ava Luo

Grade 8, Age 14

Instrument: Piano

I’ve been playing the guitar and piano for quite a while now, but I rarely practiced playing the piano or the guitar. I felt that practicing was a dull and tedious task, and I would only play my instruments once or twice a week three times at most. My parents would always nag me about this topic almost every single day, going on and on about how I barely touched the piano and the guitar and how it was such a waste. When the pandemic began to impact my state, everything changed within me in what felt like a couple of seconds. Everything was either cancelled or virtual. I was thrown into a whirlwind of confusion, stress, and boredom. With so much time on my hands and not much to do, I turned to music. Music became a way for me to cope with my feelings. Every time I played the piano, I felt like my fingers were flying across the keys, weaving stories filled with emotion and magic. Every time I plucked the guitar strings, I felt as if I was throwing stars into the night sky to twinkle like diamonds. As I started writing songs about my feelings and my thoughts, I started to see the joy and beauty that music produces, and the happiness it brought me. Through this experience, I discovered that music is an incredible, astonishing, and valuable gift that can help myself explore my creativity.


Dylan Flores

Grade 12, Age 17

Instrument: Percussion

Winston Churchill High School | San Antonio, Texas

Ever since joining the marching band freshman year, it has become a big part of my high school career. While practicing 12 hours a week was sometimes overwhelming along with my schoolwork, I still enjoyed playing on the drumline every Friday night on the football field during halftime. As a percussionist, I was required to learn a variety of different instruments and be able to excel at all of them. Even during the holidays, we were expected to come in and practice because most of the percussion students do not own the instruments we play, and because of the limited number of instruments, we could not take them home. In March of this year, when we were all sent home, we were just preparing for our next season. As a percussion student, the only way for me to practice at home is to drum with sticks and a drum pad. I could no longer practice any mallet instruments such as marimba and timpani, because I do not own these instruments and could not rent them. This led to finding alternative ways to continue practicing without having to go into school to practice. After finding the measurements, I found that I could construct a marimba out of cardboard. When it came to timpani, I figured out that using sticks to play on pillows creates a similar effect to timpani.

Jay Gopal

Grade 12, Age 17

Instrument: Violin

North Broward Preparatory School | Coconut Creek, Florida

The violin is one of my life’s great joys. I’ve always loved how every performer adds their own personal interpretive touch to a given piece, throwing in technical virtuosity and passionate push-and-pull of the rhythms. To share this joy, since 6th grade, I’ve volunteered with the Florida Youth Orchestra (FYO), a group of over 400 students who perform at charity concerts to help the underprivileged access music. Due to COVID-19, our concerts are no longer possible. Additionally, many young musicians disproportionately affected by the pandemic can no longer take lessons. To address both of these issues, my friends and I co-founded FYOCares to give a free virtual music education to the less fortunate. Remote lessons have been a challenge because posture is one of most difficult aspects of music for beginners, and teaching it is greatly aided by physically helping students or demonstrating proper technique in-person. By funding instruments and lessons for those who cannot afford them, we have impacted dozens of students. During 2020, I’ve learned how to teach music when the crucial artistic medium of proximity is absent. Becoming extremely aware of everything I’m doing when guiding my students has also changed how I approach playing the violin, bringing out my personal flair when I perform. Additionally, I’ve realized just how much flexibility and ingenuity is required to virtually teach young students with different learning styles. The pandemic has taught me an important lesson about how creative all teachers dealing with COVID-19 have to be!

Emma Grimmius

Grade 12, Age 18

Instrument: Cello

Pine Lake Preparatory | Mooresville, North Carolina

Can I borrow your rosin?” “Wait, the stand is too far away for me to see.” “Scoot over.” My stand partner and I met in orchestra class, and although we often teased each other, there was a mutual respect for the other person’s talents and strengths. Now, from the empty rooms of my house, the silence sounds so loud in contrast to the bustling music room we once played in. As the sweet notes of my cello echo through the air, the memories come pouring back. I play Mozart, and I remember the day of my freshman year when the entire cello section scrambled over spilt coffee in the middle of a rehearsal. I play “The Monster Mash”, and I remember when my stand partner came to school dressed up for Halloween in a banana suit. I play “Carol of the Bells”, and I remember instruments screeching wildly out of tune due to the first cold day of the year as we laughed and cringed at the sounds. I am transported to the long walk up the stairs, I recall the strange smell as I enter our cramped classroom. I can see the mysterious stains on the carpeted floor, hear the laughter of the entire orchestra as we fumble through a sight reading piece. But I open my eyes, and I am alone again, in my empty house, bunkered down in fear of the pandemic. So, I play another piece, hoping it takes me back to before March 13th.

Caroline Gao

Grade 10, Age 15

Instrument: Flute

West Albany High School | Albany, Oregon

Is this…how it’s supposed to look?” I asked the question through a flute face mask that encircled my head like a too-large tube top, leaving jowls of cobalt fabric pooled on my shoulders. As my fellow flutists turned to view my lopsided PPE, their eyes crinkled into smiles. Our band’s first sectional in eight months wasn’t the reunion I’d imagined, but I was still endlessly grateful to see my friends. It was a moment of light amidst a tumultuous, often lonely journey during the pandemic of rediscovering my relationship with playing the flute. The first few months of shutdown were hardest. Without performances and competitions, I struggled finding motivation to play. Days, even weeks, slipped between practice sessions. However, the time-sludge of COVID-19 also allowed me to reevaluate why I picked up an instrument in the first place: not just for showcasing skills and winning accolades, but also to create joy and refuge for myself. This new approach to my music prioritized what I needed over what others wanted. Sometimes, that meant replacing a soul-killing double-tonguing exercise with comfort songs like Ode to Joy. Other times, it meant letting myself skip a practice session when the weight of living felt overwhelming. Most of all, it meant finding the will to work tirelessly to create beauty even if no audience will ever hear it, because no matter how ugly the outside world is, the escape, hope, and healing I find in music can’t ever be taken away from me.

Noelle Treacy

Grade 12, Age 18

Instrument: Trumpet

Benet Academy | Illinois

Playing an instrument has changed for me during the pandemic as band has become a family to lean on, not just a group I play music in. When my musical was shut down two shows in, our company still zoomed to talk and continue our close knit community, even when we could not meet in person. My band may not be able to play in person right now, but we still reach out to one another to keep good mental health during these trying times. When making music together was removed due to the pandemic, love and community persisted. Not even a pandemic could stop my music family from being together. Over Zoom, google meets, outside rehearsals, etc. we have grown closer over these months, even without music rehearsals to pull us together. As I approach the end of my high school years, I have been blessed with an amazing group of performers and directors. This pandemic shifted my mindset. This strong community was always there, but it was not until it was put through a test of separation, that I realized how wonderful and loving this community was. In conclusion, playing an instrument has changed for me during the pandemic as I realized the community I had found of musicians could withstand even pandemics and was really all about love and togetherness, not just playing music. Is not music at its core love and community? Thanks to the pandemic, it is clear to me that music is love.

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