May 20, 2014
By Keiji Hiramoto Jr.
IHS alum to play for prestigious symphony
Issaquah High School alumni Andy Abel’s musical aspirations took a major leap forward after receiving an unexpected phone call from the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Music Center.
“I was not expected to get in,” Abel said. “But when I got the call from (associate director of student affairs) Michael Nock, I tried to be very professional about it and called him back an hour later and said, ‘Yes, I would love to accept the fellowship position.’”
Abel, a Sammamish resident and now a freshman at the University of Washington, was awarded the Juliet Esselborn Geier Memorial Fellowship to study and perform with the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts this summer.
Tanglewood Music Center is considered to have one of the most prestigious orchestral fellowship programs in the world with approximately 20 percent of American symphony orchestra members and 30 percent of all first-chair players having participated in the program, according to the Broad Street Review, a music and art blog.
Seeing that the fellowship consists mostly of, if not all, graduate and doctoral candidate students, Abel, a college freshman, was out scrambling to find alternative summer plans at the time of the acceptance.
“I was thinking about teaching music to middle school band students,” Abel said. “I wasn’t expecting to be going to Tanglewood. It was the last thing that was on my mind because it is so competitive.”
While Abel took the acceptance as a pleasant surprise after submitting what he called “an OK tape” during the application process, his current and former music teachers were not surprised by the news.
“Andy is a very talented young man whose drive was there way before college students much older than him,” said Issaquah High School band teacher Patrick Holen, who taught Abel during his time there. “I was absolutely not surprised.”
Principal tuba of the Seattle Symphony and Abel’s current private teacher Chris Olka said he refuses to take ownership of his student’s successes because of Abel’s remarkable work ethic.
“Most people don’t have the discipline, focus and work ethic that Andy has,” Olka said. “It’s common for most 17- to 20-year-old (students) to lose some discipline and focus at one point or another, but that is never the case for Andy.”
Holen said he recalls a time when Abel became a substitute tuba player for the Seattle Symphony as a senior at IHS.
“For that to happen with the Seattle Symphony is almost unheard of,” Holen said. “That’s almost like being a backup player for an NBA team as a high school senior.”
Abel said his drive in wanting to progress as a musician developed in high school after playing music with other great musicians.
“There were a couple summers I’ve spent in band camps and high school festivals, and I really loved the experienced, and I kept thinking to myself, ‘Wow, this is awesome. I want to keep doing this,’” Abel said. “From that point, I just kept pushing myself.”
He added that having Olka as his mentor and teacher was instrumental in helping him find opportunities that were most accommodating to his desire to play with other great musicians.
“Thanks to Chris, I was given the opportunity to sub for the Seattle Symphony,” Abel said. “He’s an amazing mentor, not only as a tuba player but in all aspects of life. He’s the reason for many of my success.”
With Abel’s trip to Massachusetts coming up in June, Olka has no plans to change the private lesson schedule with his student.
“Andy’s discipline and work ethic is the reason why he got into Boston, the Seattle Symphony and the UW,” Olka said.
Abel agrees with his mentor’s plans.
“I will be with some extremely talented musicians,” Abel said, “and I don’t want to sound too bad sitting next to them.”
Keiji Hiramoto Jr. is a student at the University of Washington News Lab.