Young Artist of the Month


Neapolitan Connection recognizes the amazing student talent of musicians in our community! Do you know a promising music student that you would like to nominate as Young Artist of the month? Email us at

May's Young Artist is: Faith-Dinah Gumahad










Faith-Dinah Gumahad is a 20-year old soprano from Toronto who has been a scholarship recipient in the Kiwanis Music Festival and also a performer in Neapolitan Connection's Young Masters of Classical Music. We interviewed Faith-Dinah to get to know her better as an artist:


Q. How did your life as a soprano/musician begin?


FDG: My musical journey started off when I was around the age of 12. I took vocal lessons in order to gain confidence and self-esteem. At 15 I decided to take music seriously after being advised by my teachers  that I had the potential to take my vocals to the next level.

Q. What is your most memorable performance experience?


FDG: The most memorable experience I had so far was during my performance of "Or Sai chi l'onore" from Mozart's Don Giovanni. I remember getting caught up in the moment and giving it my all, up to the point where I felt a button pop from the back of my dress. Luckily, nobody noticed and I managed to keep my composure and my dress on until the performance was over.

Q. What is your favorite opera, and why?


FDG: My favourite opera is Vincenzo Bellini's Norma. The bel canto and drama in Bellini's opera create emotions within me that I don't experience often compared to other operas. The music itself brings me to tears and combined with the other elements it becomes an absolutely stunning piece.


Q. Which performing artist has inspired you the most as a young musician?


FDG: The person who inspires me the most would be Maria Callas. Her voice was one of a kind. Although she went through so much with not only in her music career but her personal life as well; her love for music never changed and I admire her for her for that and her passion..

Q. Do you have any other interests or pursuits in addition to music?


FDG: Aside from music, my interests are found within creative writing and reading western philosophy.   

Q. Where do you dream of performing in the future?


FDG: Toronto's Four Seasons Center Stage is definitely one of the places that I dream of performing. I know that it's not as big of a deal like The Metropolitan, Sydney Opera House, or even the prestigious opera houses in Europe. But personally, performing at the Four Seasons Centre is a dream that I hope to fulfill and accomplish someday.



Watch Faith-Dinah's performance as Donna Anna from Mozart's Don Giovanni, beginning at 6:00:
























March's Young Artist is: Sarah Velasco










Sarah Velasco is a young and talented Canadian violinist who has won top prizes and scholarships provincially and nationally. A six-time laureate of the Canadian Music Competition, she has performed with noted ensembles such as Toronto Sinfonietta and Orchestra London. Sarah also runs a blog, and was also featured as a model on Bo Bartlett's Galilee painting in New York. Sarah was the grand prize winner of Young Masters of Classical Music in 2012, and was invited as Neapolitan Connection's guest young artist in a past Toronto Centre for the Arts concert production. Now studying music in the U.S.A., we got in touch with Sarah to be updated on her current musical life and endeavors. Read our interview with Sarah below:



Q: How did your life as a violinist/musician begin? What made you decide to pursue music professionally?


SV: I started playing the violin at a young age and entered local violin competitions at seven years old. I didn’t take music seriously until much later but I remember that there was something I loved about being on stage even then. Though at that age I didn’t enjoy practicing, I loved performing and I never felt nervous. Even today, I still feel the same way about nerves. To me, there is just something comforting about being on stage. I decided to attend University of Toronto for journalism at 16 years old, and after that I decided to pursue music professionally.  


Q: What is your most memorable performance experience?


SV: One of my most memorable performances is when I soloed with an orchestra for the first time.  I was 12 years old and I performed Zigeunerweisen by Sarasate. It was a pretty surreal experience. There is something so special about soloing with an orchestra. It is such an emotional experience and unlike anything you can imagine.


Q: Which musician or music composer would you love to meet, past or present? Why?


SV: If I met a musician (or two) from the past it would be David Oistrakh and Jascha Heifetz. Probably most violinists would give exactly the same answer but with good reason! Oistrakh had such a wonderful sound and stayed so true to the music, while Heifetz gave such brilliance and had such a distinct, personal sound. I would not just like to meet them, but lessons from them would be nice too, haha!


Q: Who or what inspires you the most as a musician?


SV: What/who inspires me the most are wonderful musicians, friends and family, and life experiences. I’m always inspired by violinists who play with personality and emotion. It makes me want to be at a higher level every single day. The support of friends and family, especially my mom, makes me a better musician. While life experiences, the ups and the downs, really help me tap into the emotional part. It helps me relate and better understand the music I’m playing. 


Q: Do you have other interests or pursuits besides music?


SV: Besides music, I’m a blogger. I was a guest writer at a fashion publication in Toronto and left when I went to school in the U.S. After I left the magazine, I decided to create my own site and blog on all things related to music, fashion, beauty, and food. Everything I love in one place. I am really fortunate that I have made relationships with some amazing companies over the past five years, so I often feature really neat products on my site and have a really amazing fan/ reader base. I’m extremely grateful for all the loyal readers I have gotten over the past few years. I’m also a huge foodie and I love to try new restaurants and new types of food and I have been planning on getting into yoga. Apparently it’s also great for musicians. Unfortunately, the yoga mat I bought has been under my bed for over a year, unused…haha


Q: What do you hope to be doing 10 years from now?


SV: In 10 years from now, I hope I’ll be out of school haha, and by then I also hope I will be traveling and performing all around the world.


Here's a video of Sarah performing Chopin's Nocturne in C Sharp minor with Orchestra:



















February's Young artist is: Eric Tan


















Eric Tan is a talented young pianist who has been a past winner of many local and national piano competitions, has performed at Roy Thomson Hall and appeared on Toronto's Classical 96.3FM. Now a student at Cornell University, we were interested to learn more about Eric's current musical life and endeavors. Here is our interview with him below:


Q: How did your life as a pianist/musician begin?


ET: I've been playing keyboard instruments since kindergarten, starting with a "melodica." At the age of 6, my family immigrated to Canada. In grade 1, I improvised the first few lines of O Canada on a piano in class after hearing it every day in primary school. My teacher then persuaded my parents to register me at Dixon Hall Music School. I officially started learning piano at the age of 7.


Q: Do you have any particularly memorable performance experiences? 


ET: Probably my solo six-city tour of Ontario as the winner of the ORMTA Provincial finals. My travels ranged from Niagara Falls to Thunder Bay. Just before the first concert, I got really sick and had a terrible cough. I couldn't practice or speak without coughing. That's when I discovered Halls cough drops, and it allowed me to get through, an hour at a time, with much reduced coughing. I never thought I would ever do a performance with candy in my mouth. But it worked, and I thought it went well. Later on, in Owen Sound, the lights went out halfway into the recital (due to automatic motion sensor lights), for all of 10 seconds in the middle of L'Isle Joyeuse. It still went smoothly.


Q: Who or what has been your biggest musical influence as a young musician?


ET: My piano teacher Gloria Saarinen was crucial in providing the knowledge and technique to learn faster and play more musically. Several people have been instrumental in my growth as a musician, but the one who made it all possible was my mom. She was always there with me when I practised, giving me encouragement and support, guiding me along to achieve my goals. I would probably have accomplished little if my mom wasn't there to make sure I played to the peak of my ability and knowledge.  


Q: Do you have any favorite music composers? 


ET: Beethoven is my favourite composer. His piano works exude intense excitement, rhythmic drive, and deep expressiveness in the slow movements. His music is very explosive, and I enjoy playing explosively - sometimes too much. He also embodies romanticism within the classical forms, with just the right balance. However, that doesn't mean I don't like other composers, just that Beethoven is the perfect embodiment of my musical tastes.


Q: What musical projects are you currently working on?


ET: My senior piano recital was on January 31 2015, and with that, I have mostly completed my Music (dual) degree at Cornell University. I’m focusing on finishing my engineering degree this semester. I aim to continue learning new repertoire for the rest of my foreseeable life and perform when the opportunity arises.




Click on the link to watch Eric playing the Beethoven Piano Concerto no. 4 with the Cornell Symphony Orchestra:





January's Young Artist is: Tabitha Johnson















At age 18, pianist Tabitha Johnson has already made great strides on the musical scene. She recently achieved 3rd place in the 17 & Under piano category of the 2014 Canadian Music Competition, and was named Young ORMTA Artist in 2013, which subsequently led to a 10-city tour in Ontario, Canada. The interview below enlightens us more about Tabitha's life as a young musician:


Q: How did your life as a pianist/musician begin?


TJ: My grandfather shared his love of music with me at a young age. At his request, I began piano lessons with Cheryl Graham. There were times I did not think piano was something I wanted to pursue but growing up in such a musically enriched environment my ideas soon changed. I became heavily involved in piano performances, competitions and accompanying various instruments, singers and choirs. Eventually, piano became an important part of my life rather than a mere task or chore.


Q: What is your most memorable performance experience?


TJ: It happened when I was accompanying my school choir at a competition. I was playing on a beautiful Shigeru Kawai and noticed there was water dripping from the ceiling over the piano and me. The water was splashing on my glasses so I could not see the music or my hands while I was playing for the choir! Fortunately, the music was somewhat memorized so I was able to continue without the audience noticing.


Q: Who is your favorite composer, and why?


TJ: My favorite composers change based on my mood or what scores I am studying the most. Currently my favorite composer is Dvorak because of his memorable melodies and his ability to connect with the listener.


Q: What musical projects are you currently working on?


TJ: I am preparing for auditions in the beginning of the year to study music on the post-secondary level. I am also devoting time this year to develop my technique.


Q: What are some of your musical goals for the future?


TJ: I enjoy teaching at a school and privately and would hope to one day teach at a post-secondary institution. I also enjoy performing very much and would hope to one day play in concert halls where the most brilliant classical pianists have performed.


Here's a video of Tabitha playing the Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor:






























November's Young artist is: Tiffany Tse











Q: How did your life as a pianist/musician begin?

TT: At first, when I began piano lessons at the age of five, I was just looking to play for fun. But after my first piano competition at the age of six, I started to take piano seriously and became extremely devoted to it. It wasn't just a "hobby" to me anymore but rather, it became a part of my life. However, I started growing as a musician when I was about ten years old, which was the first time I entered in the Canadian Music Competition - it was the largest competition I've ever been to at the time.

Q: What is your most memorable performance experience?

TT: My most memorable performance experience has got to be the first time I performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Being on that stage, and performing one of my favourite pieces there was such a magical feeling... I would never exchange that performance for anything!

Q: Who or what has been your biggest musical influence as a young musician?

TT: As a young musician, my piano teachers have been my biggest musical influence. They taught me what it meant to play music, and not just keys on an instrument. They brought me to where I am today and I am so thankful for them.

Q: Who is your favorite composer, and why?

TT: My favourite composer is Chopin at the moment because his works really touch me. I know this is super cliche but I especially love his Concerto No. 1 - not because it is popular, but because it really does speak to me. Beethoven's music has also always interested me too. The most phenomenal part of his music is the way he expresses his own suffering and tragedy in it, but also keeping in mind the hope and happiness of the world.

Q: What other hobbies do you enjoy in addition to school and music?

TT: I am currently in the school Concert Band playing the flute as well as Jazz Band, playing the piano. I enjoy swimming and playing basketball (although I'm not allowed because it could potentially hurt my fingers). My favourite subject is school is definitely physics!



Watch Tiffany's spectacular performance of Mendelssohn's Capriccio Brillant Op. 22 with Ithaca Symphony Orchestra:



















October's Young artist is: Sujari Britt












Sujari Britt is an extraordinarily prodigious young cellist who is already taking the classical music world by storm. Now age 12, Sujari has begun her college level studies at Manhattan School of Music in New York City, and maintains a busy performing career, with a prior Carnegie Hall debut and White House performance for President Obama to boot. Sujari was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer our questions in the interview below:




Q: How did your life as a cellist/musician begin?


SB: I began my studies on the cello at age 4 years, after having had formal piano lessons at age 2, along with guitar and violin lessons. I selected the cello as my instrument of choice because of the joy I felt listening to and watching YoYo Ma perform Camille Saint Saens’, “Swan”. I felt as if the cello spoke directly to me; I was immediately and deeply moved both by the longing in the piece, and by Mr. Ma’s seeming connection to the instrument.



Q: What is your most memorable performance experience? 


SB: When I perform before an attentive and appreciative audience, I feel as if all of my senses become tuned-in to the magic of life all around us! It seems as if I become one with the music and it takes me into the very souls of those around me. While I have thoroughly enjoyed my performances at the White House, Gracie Mansion, TED-x, Carnegie Hall, and United Nations because of the special guests in the audience, and/or owing to the coveted fame of the stage, each and every experience of performance holds treasured memories for me. For example, I remember clearly a performance in Gary, Indiana where students my age, older and younger approached me to congratulate and marvel with me about how deeply the sound of the cello can feel. I remember performing for an aging couple in New York who literally cried as I presented Bach in their living room. In a recent performance in New Mexico, I was moved when a young girl in the audience promised that she would give extra attention to her violin, having heard and met me. No matter when, for whom, or where I thrill to the inspiration that my presentation seems to bring, and can almost taste the special flavor of each performance.



Q: Who or what has been your biggest musical influence as a young musician?


SB: I have the fortune of being touched by gifted devotees who have helped to mark my path. For example, my instructor Marion Feldman is a superb cellist and a committed instructor. Owing to her unique ability to hear and to feel me through the cello, she is able to push me just so. At a very young age I met and enjoyed an impromptu Master Class with YoYo Ma, and have since had the

fortune of visiting with him at the conclusion of his New York performances. Alisa Weilerstein is another remarkable cellist who inspires me through her gifted delivery and seeming unquenchable passion. Our duet at the White House will linger in my memory for time to come! I also count the noted “greats” amongst my influencers: I never tire of indulging in performances by Jacqueline Du Pre, a deeply riveting performer. The great Pablo Casals holds special sway for me as do Rostropovich and Feuermann.




Q: What other hobbies do you enjoy in addition to school and music?


SB: I enjoy composing music for the cello. I dream of someday creating for my performance with orchestra! I also enjoy painting on canvas with acrylic, oils, and water paints, jewelry-making, and sketching with charcoals. I am a long-distance walker, and I enjoy practicing (Bikram) yoga.



Q: What musical projects are you currently working on? 


SB: This is my first semester as a college student! My focus has been on learning to live in this wonderful new forum for exploring ideas both musical and academic. Besides my individual study focused on technical and literature mastery, I am working with a couple of chamber groups and orchestras.




Watch Sujari's inspirational performance at the White House with cellist Alisa Weilerstein:





























September's Young artist is: Thomas Dobrovich














Thomas Dobrovich is a talented young pianist from Georgetown, Ontario who at the age of 19 has already achieved many notable musical accomplishments, including winning first place in the 2013 Canadian Music Competition 18 & under piano category and being the Silver Scholarship recipient in the 2014 Neapolitan Music Festival. We caught up with Thomas in the following 'Q' and 'A' interview, to learn more about him and his life as a young musician:



Q: How did your life as a pianist/musician begin?


TD: I took my first piano lessons at the age of 4, although once hiding under pianos and some of the other youthful shenanigans began to subside, I truly started my musical studies when I was 5 years old. I also started saxophone at about 12. I was always very fortunate to have parents who greatly valued the importance of music, my Dad always playing guitar and having an innate musical ear, and Mom being a music teacher and owning her own music studio. But I was about 10 when I really started to take piano seriously.



Q: What is your all-time favorite piece of music to perform, and why? 


TD: It's so hard to chose only one! My favourites are always changing, but I've consistently enjoyed performing the works of Sergei Rachmaninoff. I've always loved Russian music, and the thick textures and dark melodic lines of his music make it so profound to both perform and listen to. 



Q: Who or what has been your biggest musical influence as a music student?


TD: My biggest influences throughout my musical studies up until this point have always been the mentors and teachers I have studied with throughout the years, as well as my parents and family. They have always given me much inspiration and helped me through so much - the good as well as the bad. I'm very fortunate to currently be studying with the incredible Yaroslav Pugach, and longtime friend and concert pianist Ron Greidanus. 



Q: What other hobbies do you enjoy in addition to school and music?


TD: I most enjoy spending time in the company of my closest friends and family. I have always enjoyed sports, and although now I spend much of my time practicing and teaching piano, I still love to play racquet sports, mostly tennis and squash. Reading is also wonderful, as it provides perspective and thought-provoking insight into so much, as well as watching films. 



Q: What projects are you currently working on?


TD: At the moment I'm teaching for two music schools as well as privately, with about 40 students total, to save up for my education and future. I also just completed my ARCT exam, so I will be aiming to prepare for the Licentiate examination next summer. I'm looking forward to applying for and beginning university next September. 



Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years time in the world of music?


TD: I am going to pursue an undergraduate degree in Piano Performance, and would like to progress to graduate studies afterwards, in hopes of becoming an adjudicator, examiner and hopefully one day a teacher/professor of music. 



Check out Thomas playing Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, 1st Movement in the video below:









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