Hannah Rose Caton

For the July edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Hannah Caton (stage name Rose Caton), a rising third year undergraduate actor in Juilliard’s Drama Division. Born in London, England, Hannah studied at The BRIT School for Performing Arts (http://www.brit.croydon.sch.uk/).  Prior to joining the Group 48, Hannah acted in theater, film, television, as well as a commercial and music video.  Read on to learn more about Hannah’s acting experience as well as her many off-stage hobbies and talents.  Also, be sure to check out Hannah’s movie reel and IMDB page (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5359541/?ref_=tt_cl_t6)!

Hannah Rose Caton

When did you begin acting and how did you decide that you wanted to pursue drama professionally?A young Hannah hanging from some bars at a playground

I have loved performing from a very young age. My parents created this dress up box, full of props and costumes for me to play with as a child. I would spend hours in it, begging friends and family to play with me! I was also a very physically expressive child too, I took figure skating and ballet classes but I was also incredibly shy! My first role was in Primary School playing the Pharaoh in the musical “Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat.”

hc13I remember a defining moment being in a tree house in Norfolk, England and as a little girl, I was playing an imaginary game with Sophie and Rachel, two sisters I grew up with and Sophie turned to me and said, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” and I said an actress. I don’t think any of us really knew what that was! I must have only been six but that memory is very vivid in my mind. Then as a teenager, in London, different schools take part every year in ‘Shakespeare’s School Festival’ and I remember that being everything to me. Playing Viola in “Twelfth Night” was the role that made me decide I had to do this for the rest of my life. I also had a teacher who really believed in me, called Ms Vicars and she supported me in applying to the BRIT School for Performing Arts when I was sixteen – I got in!

You have acted in film, television, commercials, music videos and theater.  Is there a particular medium you enjoy the most? If so, why?

hc24My first love is theatre! l have a fervent, passionate love for being on stage. I love the community that surrounds building a play and enjoy the particular type of artistic struggle it brings. Though, film is a very close second. For me, films have that ability to transcend borders; they can be honest and beautifully life altering. I grew up watching a lot of cinema with my Dad, I took to it quickly and would like to direct and write films later on in my career. I’m currently writing a film called “Leilah” about a young Iranian woman who travels to England after the Iranian Revolution in 1969.

As you know, admission to Juilliard’s drama division is highly competitive. Were you intimidated to apply?  When you found out you were admitted to Juilliard, how did you react?

hc21.jpgI actually wasn’t intimidated because my desire outweighed my fear! And I was so adamant that I needed the training because I had sort of hit a brick wall in my craft and I knew that I had to take a big risk. It felt like the next step on my journey. It felt like a calling although that didn’t make it any less nerve wracking! Juilliard was the only Drama school I applied to that year. I kept on saying to myself, how much do you want this?

I had gotten home from a long flight and my family were all very curious about the three-day audition weekend. I told them that it was one of the most enlightening acting experiences I had encountered in such little time. That evening though, I went to sleep with very bad jet lag! The next morning, I was in my room and I had found my lucky necklace on the floor of my bedroom. I had forgotten it during the three-day audition process and was kicking myself that I hadn’t remembered my good luck charm. I picked it up disappointed (I’m aware of how ridiculous this sounds) and then my phone started to ring with an American number. I assumed it was the hotel calling with receipts. I picked it up and it was Kathy Hood! She then announced that I had been accepted for the B.F.A Degree in Drama. It was one of the most tremendous feelings I’ve ever had in my life! I cried and cried – I couldn’t believe it! I ran downstairs and my parents just knew. I screamed, I got in! I got in!

You are half way through your degree program. What do you hope to gain in the next two years?

I hope to delve deeper into the love and ferocity of the work and to keep on growing into the artist and woman I was born to be. I hope to be challenged and to keep on learning from the brilliant teachers and directors that surround me. I hope to strengthen my sense of purpose, gratitude and to not take anything for granted. I hope to gain experiences that best prepare me for my journey ahead.


It is now summer, one of the rare times that Juilliard drama students can pursue outside opportunities and relax (if such a thing is possible). What are your plans for the summer both personally and professionally?

hc11I’ve just moved into my first ever apartment in NY with Drama graduate Jasminn Johnson! I intend on making it my own sanctuary. Feng Shui and all that! My best mates from London came out to visit me last week and it was wonderful to spend time with people who you have known and loved for so long. They’re great supporters of mine!

Personally I want to eat good food (I love cooking), spend time with friends and get my running shoes on! During July I’ll be involved in rehearsing the play “Hay Fever” produced by Deb Hecht (Voice teacher), alongside a group of Juilliard actors, and we will be performing it in a town called West Fulton. Then, In August I plan to visit my family in Carriacou (it’s a small Caribbean Island off of Grenada – it’s beautiful) my grandparents have retired out there. I’m also hoping to travel to Canada and visit my classmate Maggie! In my spare time, I’ll be writing and trying to finish the movement choreography for the student run-production of Othello next year.

You are able to do a number of different accents. When did you realize you had this skill?  Do you have a favorite? Is there an accent you find particularly difficult?

I was actually absolutely AWFUL at accents as a kid. My friends had this joke that every accent I tried sounded Scottish! My little sister Laura has a magnificent ear for accents though, and I think growing up around her and doing accents for fun made me pretty confident as an adult. I think sometimes you have to go through a period of sounding dreadful to come out the other side…I actually didn’t realize I was any good until I got into Juilliard and realized that I could pick them up pretty quickly.hc6

My favorite! I have two… The Caribbean/West Indian accent because my grandparents are from Grenada and it accesses a deeper, earth like part of myself. Also doing an Irish accent is incredibly freeing for me. I have no inhibition, I just go!

The hardest accent for me is an Indian accent because of the musicality, it’s extremely difficult to find the true authenticity of it.

Other than accents, do you have any other “hidden” talents?

I can wriggle my ears! I can also… figure skate… and I paint very abstract abstract art!

You were a resident assistant this past year. How did you balance the drama’s rigorous curriculum and this time intensive leadership position?

hc25I bought myself a diary and my whole life was in there! And if something took me less than a minute to do I would do it right away in my breaks. Anything longer had to be scheduled in…I also planned a lot in advance during the holidays. Luckily, I’m pretty creative and quick with ideas for programs and display boards. My mother is a teacher and I would often go into her school and put up displays. I once painted the Tree, Grandmother Willow from Pocahontas over the kid’s library.

I also think knowing what’s good for you and what makes a healthy living is very important! I would try the best I could to put my health first and then this meant I could be present with my job and artistry. The other RA’s were also always very supportive and we created a close-knit team of encouragement and support that you could depend on.

I’ve learnt so much from being an RA and hopefully this year off campus will bring new horizons for me! I’ll have different kinds of things to juggle.

From your experience as an international student and RA, what advice do you have for incoming students joining Juilliard this fall?

Soak up everything Juilliard and New York has to offer. Never be afraid to ask for help but also explore your own independence! I’ve been involved in GLUCK and Community Service grants and have loved those opportunities! If you need your best friend, Mum or Dad then call them. That will fuel your reasons for being here and fill your heart.

You are originally from London. Can you describe what it was like growing up in London and how it may have influenced you as an artist?


Growing up in London I experienced different cultures, religions and economic backgrounds from a very young age. In addition to that, I’m also mixed-race, white and black British and have found that I can pass for many different nationalities. This has always been a bridge in connection for me, people often like sharing stories about their lives with me…I think this has made me a highly empathetic person which has empowered the type of artist I’ve become.

I also have a real Londoner spirit and this comes out especially when I get passionate, it’s a more tough grittiness to stand up for what you believe in. This voice also helps me in my work and is particularly a London influence.

If a friend was visiting London for only one weekend, what would you advise that he/she do in this very short period of time?hc23

Ooh hard one! I would say go during the summer, go for long walks and sit in Hyde Park or Kenwood Park in Hampstead Heath and have an ice cream. Then hit the town, go to Southbank, visit the London eye, get some fish & chips and visit the Tate Modern, watch a show on at The Globe Theatre and definitely go to a British pub! Maybe see if the Queen is home at Buckingham Palace? You know just casually. Then, for nights out and rooftop bars head towards Shoreditch!

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Sports played a giant role in my life, and shaped the type of artist and person I am.

I was very athletic and everyone had high hopes that I would make it as a sprinter! I remember telling my dad that, above all, I wanted to be an actress. It was a moment of revelation but also of sadness because I was closing another door and I thought that my family might be disappointed. I was only 15 and I knew that I had made a life-defining decision. I soon got into the BRIT School for Performing Arts and the rest is well not history but definitely the beginning of something wonderful… I was fortunate enough to work as an actress before I got to Juilliard. I played supporting roles in the films “Last Knights” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2493486/) and “The Falling” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3294200/?ref_=nm_knf_i2). And I still very much love monkey bars!





Laura Careless

For the June edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Laura Careless (http://www.lauracareless.com/), an alum of Juilliard’s Dance Division.  Born in the United Kingdom, Laura graduated from the Royal Ballet School in London (https://www.royalballetschool.org.uk/) and the Ecole-Atelier of Maurice Bejart in Lausanne, Switzerland (http://www.bejart-rudra.ch/) before attending Juilliard. In addition to being a founding member and Principal Performer at Company XIV (http://companyxiv.com/), founder of Alchemy For Nomads (https://alchemyfornomads.wordpress.com/), and a faculty member at Eliot Feld’s Ballet Tech (http://ballettech.org/), Laura has toured around the world as a dancer and solo choreographer.


Photo Credit: Amanda Tipton

When did you begin dancing? When did you know that dance would be your career?

Movement is my first language; I was walking six months before I said my first word, and as an infant and a toddler I was, shall we say, extremely emotionally expressive! Both my parents have an artistic background so putting me in a dance class where I would have an outlet for my need to move was an obvious idea, and it quickly became the only hour in the week when I could be guaranteed not to be throwing a tantrum. Dancing has always been one of the great loves of my life, and I never wanted to do anything else as a career except a teenage dream of being an orchestra conductor, which I now get to do by living through my husband!

Your resume contains a long impressive list of dance, teaching, and choreography credits. Is there one or two projects that stand out among the rest for you? If so, which ones and why?

Photo credit STG Photography

Photo Credit: STG Photography

It was very special for me to perform at The Metropolitan Opera recently in their new production of Rusalka. As a girl, dance was synonymous with ballet, because that was all I knew. As I grew up and branched out into other styles of movement which better suited my adult self, I always carried a little sadness around the fact that moving away from a career in ballet had also meant moving away from big productions in giant opera houses with live orchestras and fabulous costumes. In dancing at the Met I was granted, in my 30s, a childhood dream that I thought I had given up, and dancing choreography (by XIV Director Austin McCormick) that I adored. There were a few minutes in the third act where I knelt still and alone on stage, listening to the orchestra and the offstage chorus, surrounded by a magical woodland set as a conduit for the experience of thousands of opera lovers. Every performance, I felt like my heart might explode at that moment.


What project(s) are you currently working on? Can you tell our readers a little bit about them?

My creative life is a real patchwork quilt at the moment! I am writing this in transit from Switzerland, where I have been working as a visiting artist for Juilliard Global Ventures, performing and teaching in schools; I’ll be returning in July to lead the dance faculty for the Juilliard/Nord Anglia Summer Arts program in Geneva (https://www.juilliard.edu/nordanglia). On my return to New York City, I’ll be diving into final rehearsals for The Wild Current, a commissioned work from Eliot Feld for the students of Ballet Tech, with a premiere at The Joyce Theater on June 9. I’ve been teaching kids at the school for nine years now, so it’s been very satisfying to share my creative life with them beyond my role as their teacher. I’m really passionate about advocating for movement and creativity in 21st century life, and in this vein I’m about to launch my project Body Story, a series of short movement meditations suitable for people of all movement backgrounds which will be available for audio download starting on Memorial Day.

Still from a dance film by Jonathan Watkins, filmed in the woods outside my house.

Still from a dance film by Jonathan Watkins

IMG_3195And I’m in the process of developing She-Wolves, my latest one-woman dance theatre extravaganza, in consultation with the historian and BBC presenter Helen Castor. She-Wolves tells the stories of the medieval Queens of England who attempted not only to reign but to rule in their own right. They are amazing, rarely told stories which demonstrate the historical difficulties of women holding power, and each queen will be represented through a different artistic collaboration (with a choreographer, playwright, visual artist or musician) for each queen to highlight the individuality of her story. Transforming a work of non-fiction into a piece for performance (and then getting it seen by anyone other than my cat) is a massive undertaking and I expect to be working on it for several years. I’ll be presenting a workshop version during a residency grant at The Church in upstate New York on August 12, and my ultimate ambition for this work is to tour it throughout the U.K., retracing the footsteps of its heroines.

It does not seem like you have very much downtime, but when you do have a few minutes to yourself, what do you enjoy doing?

My husband Ryan and I are both freelance artists and travel a lot, so our time at home together is precious. Domesticity has become extremely exotic; I dream about things like cooking dinner, painting a room, gardening, even house cleaning! We recently moved upstate to the woods outside Rhinebeck in upstate New York and are loving the opportunity to live in a house for the first time in our adult lives after many years in city apartments. The living room is big enough to double as a dance studio! Other pleasures in my life include saunas, long hikes in the mountains, playing with my nephew, adult colouring books, essential oils, flamenco, and loose-leaf tea from a teapot, preferably shared with a friend.

Since graduating in 2007, you have stayed connected to Juilliard in a variety of ways including programs not directly related to dance.  For example, in February 2016, you participated in OIA’s International Alumni Panel and in March of 2017, in celebration of Women’s History Month, you were a panelist for another event called “Celebrating Diversity, Overcoming Adversity: An Inspiring Conversation with Juilliard Alumni.” Why is it important for you to stay an active member of the Juilliard community?

President Polisi’s vision of the artist as citizen was hugely formative for me during my time at Juilliard, and advocating for the importance of the arts in our culture, in our schools and in our daily living is an essential part of my artistic practice. It is always an honour to be invited to add my voice to these conversations at Juilliard, and engaging with students, faculty, staff and alumni is an important source of community for me. A freelance lifestyle can get lonely, and it is important for me to engage with others who are thoughtfully asserting their personhood through an individualized artistic path.

Additionally, I know from experience that programs such as these can greatly enrich the student experience. I would be a lesser person today if it wasn’t for the Juilliard Summer Grant program, Community Service Fellowship, Student Leadership opportunities, the mentoring program, and many other “extracurricular” activities which ensured that my social awareness and intellectual curiosity kept pace with my artistic achievements. As a student at Juilliard, I was encouraged to create my own version of success by cultivating my interests beyond the technical demands of my discipline, and that’s a gift I would like to pass along.

Womens History Month Panel Photo

Laura Careless and the other panelists at “Celebrating Diversity, Overcoming Adversity: An Inspiring Conversation with Juilliard Alumni”

Graduation took place on May 19th.  What advice do you have for recent Juilliard alums? Do you have any specific guidance for international graduates?

In general, my advice is, don’t ask for advice! Instead, gather as much information as you can, consult with your gut and the hairs on the back of your neck, and then appoint yourself as the authority over your own decisions! This is something that is still difficult for me, so I think the sooner you start, the better!

For international graduates, if you would like to remain in the U.S., here are some learned-the-hard-way tips from my 11 years as a non-resident alien: Start all the immigration work four-six months earlier than you think you need to. Speak with multiple lawyers before you decide to work with one of them. Juilliard’s International Advisement Office is a great resource even after you graduate, and Cory Owen rocks. Keep hard copies of all programs, reviews, and advertisements that carry your name. Be very, very careful about applying for a green card through the Exceptional Ability category; the requirements are different than for an O-1 visa and it’s safer to keep renewing the O-1 until you are sure you have the appropriate materials. And if at all possible, try to fall head-over-heels in love with a gorgeous American person who is also crazy about you.


Wedding dance break! Photo credit Franziska Strauss

Laura with her husband, Ryan, on their wedding day.  Photo credit: Franziska Strauss

Where in the United Kingdom are you originally from?  Can you tell our readers a little about your hometown?

I grew up in the little village of Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight, a small island off the south coast of England. It’s only a few miles into the Channel, but there is no bridge and so the island has it’s own feeling: sleepy, low-key and small-scale. Some people live their whole lives there with only the occasional trip to “The Mainland”. Bonchurch is the kind of English seaside village where there is a landscaped duck pond, a Victorian hotel where Charles Dickens stayed for a few months, and where the “New Church” was built in the 19th century and the “Old Church” is mentioned in the Domesday Book.

You have lived in the U.S. for a good number of years now. Do you still experience culture shock?  Do you have reverse culture shock when you return to the UK?  If so, can you give some examples?

Fun with my nephew Ted!The wonderful thing about emigrating to New York City is that the population is so diverse, you can consider yourself an authentic New Yorker whether or not you were born there, and without giving up everything from the culture you came from. I don’t identify as American, but if somebody challenged my New Yorker label after 13 years in the city, I would be extremely offended! In retrospect, I believe I was drawn across the Atlantic because Juilliard encapsulates a New York idea of individuation as a way of life. So, any home comforts I missed were more than made up for by being able to create a sense of being at home in myself.

The most difficult things about integrating into the culture were more to do with growing up away from my family than about the culture specifically, such as getting a bank account, finding an apartment, and getting health insurance on my own. I’m experiencing some of this again now that I’ve moved out of the city and have a whole new set of skills to lean – driving a car, for example!

Lake swimming in the US
Nowadays, I feel fluent in the cultural languages of both the UK and New York. My accent is literally trans-Atlantic: I sound British to Americans, and I sound American to Brits – although my husband tells me that my English accent comes back in full force the moment my Mum picks up the phone. There are also some things that don’t feel right wherever I am: when I’m in America, I miss the comfort of polite small talk; when I’m in England, I cannot understand why people will not say what they really mean!

You describe yourself as having “nomadic tendencies.”  Can you elaborate?img_2576.jpg

Living and working on the move suits the same restless streak in my nature that led me into dancing. Although I love my house, I’ve come to identify home as a feeling, not a place. There is of course a sense of liberation that comes with this, but I also find it sad in some ways; I dream of having a family and living in a community of people who know me, and eating dinner around the table every day and sleeping in the same bed every night, but my life is flowing with a different tide at the moment. So I trust that, like performing at the Met, this dream will come back to me when the time is right and in the meantime I enjoy the gifts that my travels offer to me.

When OIA contacted you about participating in Eye on Culture, an auto-reply was received that stated you were “unplugging for vacation.” These days, it is rare for someone to unplug from technology in this way. Why is this important to you?

IMG_0569As a freelance artist, you are a business owner as well as an artistic director and performer, and the email load can get heavy. Add in the demands of media updates, scheduling, production requirements and other planning, and you have yourself a minimum of 2-3 computer hours every day. My inbox is never empty, there is always a deadline a few days away or a double booking to negotiate, and so it can be very difficult to switch off the computer, let alone my mind. This can cause a constant, low-level anxiety which has repercussions on my mental and physical health, and my ability to create. As someone whose physical state is at the center of my identity, my work, my self-expression and my pleasure, it is essential for me to continually break the inevitable dependency I develop with my devices. While I appreciate technology – my life would not function without it – I am in a consistent state of shock at how intrusive we allow it to be. If we had a relationship with a person that was as out of our control as our relationship with email or Facebook, our friends would be staging an intervention!

Laura sitting in the woodsIs there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

I am very excited about the release of Body Story on Memorial Day! This project was prompted by my own need for a guide to moving my body and transforming my mood when I feel stuck after long journeys, too much computer work or other stressful situations that take me out of my body. I figured I was not the only one with this need, so I drew on my work with a wide range of movers to develop ten-minute movement meditations on seven themes: Return, Flow, Command, Embrace, Express, Clarify and Surrender. They’re suitable for everyone and available through my website.

Giorgio Consolati

For our May edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Giorgio Consolati (http://www.giorgioconsolati.eu/), a third year flutist from Milan, Italy. Prior to coming to Juilliard to study under internationally renowned flutist Carol Wincenc, Giorgio studied at the Conservatory “Verdi” in Milan and at the Scuola di Musica di Fiesole in Florence. In addition to winning top prizes at a number of international competitions, Giorgio has performed in major concert halls in the U.S. and Italy including Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, David Geffen Hall, and in the Sala Verdi in Milan.

performing paganini in weill hall

Giorgio performing Paganini at Weill Hall

You began playing the flute at eleven years old. Did you play any other instruments before you picked up the flute?

I started playing the recorder in elementary school when I was eight years old and this probably marked the beginning of my musical journey, even though at that age I was not aware of how important music was for me. In school, we all had to play recorder and I remember playing it with other 30 or 40 kids in a sort of “recorder chorus”! At that time, I did not really practice for it, nor I knew very well how to read the notes, but one thing that I remember is that whenever we had to play “solos” in the concerts, they would usually pick me, even though I was not aware of why! I guess that I had a musical sense back then, that eventually grew up as I got older, and that surely helped me in my music studies

What do you like most about the flute? Why did you decide it was the instrument for you?

The most beautiful aspect of the flute is the sound and I clearly remember how I always wanted to have a good sound, even when I was a young beginner. When I listen to a flutist (myself included!), I always look for a beautiful, glowing tone. The continuous search for this own voice, the flute sound, is what fascinates me and makes my practice a great time every time. The sound is also the ultimate way of expression for any musician and, with the flute or the voice, it is so incredible how our body is the instrument of it and we can feel it growing inside us.

I did not really decide that the flute was “my” instrument, it just happened. I started when I was eleven, for fun, and then my teachers pushed me to keep going, telling me that I could have a career in music, and so I decided to give it a try! At that time I was not really aware, I just did it for fun, and this is the way I like to think about it nowadays too!

How did your studies at the Conservatory “Verdi” and the Scuola di Musica di Fiesole prepare you for Juilliard?

My studies at the Conservatory gave me the basis of a good flute technique, the knowledge of the main important works of the flute repertoire and a preparation in music theory and history. After my graduation, I attended the Fiesole School for two years and I took private lessons and attended several competitions. I think that those two years were especially important to refine my technique because I could practice for many hours every day and I can tell you that, unfortunately, my neighbors did not appreciate that too much…but that is another story! After finishing Fiesole, I was ready to audition to European schools but then I had the opportunity to audition at Juilliard and I did!

playing strars and stripes on july 4th

Giorgio playing Stars and Stripes on July 4th

What do you think is the most common misconception about Juilliard and Juilliard students?

I think that people and other musicians believe that we are extremely competitive with each other and this is actually not true, at least from my experience. When I have been in some other musical environments, I sometimes found people to be more competitive and “aggressive” than Juilliard students. Talking about the flute department here, I think that everyone is very supportive with each other and whenever someone wins a competition or an audition, the other students are truly happy for the positive outcome of their colleague and friend!




Left: Giorgio with friend and Juilliard alum Stephanie Kwak
Middle: Giorgio at Central Park with Juilliard pianist Christian De Luca
Right: Giorgio at the MET to see Traviata with Juilliard French Horn player, Todd Leighton

Do you have a favorite performance? If so, what was it and what set it apart from all other performances?

I do not have a favorite performance in particular, but I believe that performing is always special. It becomes even more special sometimes, when we totally connect with the audience and we feel their empathy. I remember that this summer I played one of my favorite concertos, the Mozart Flute and Harp, with the National Repertory Orchestra (http://www.nromusic.com/) and that was a very magic concert, also because I was playing with a great orchestra and it was my US solo debut. At the end of the performance, many of the audience members came and congratulated us for our playing; that was of course a big satisfaction but, most of all, a profound emotion to see that we were able to convey the music with great expression and passion.

solo debut with NRO

Giorgio’s solo debut with National Repertory Orchestra

If you decided not to study music, what subject would you study and why?

Since I started playing, I followed a natural path that led me to keep going and I concentrated on it, even though in the beginning I felt it more as a “game” than a challenging commitment. Therefore now, I could not see me in any other field because music is a constant presence in my life! Maybe I would have done some art studies since I love art, and particularly visual art, because of the deep emotions that it conveys, similarly to what music does. For me it was always easy to see works of art everywhere in Italy and I am sure that this factor influenced my artistic formation in many ways.

Did you always know you wanted to pursue music? When you were a small child did you have other ideas of what you wanted to be when you grew up?

after studio recital concert with Viola Chan, Carol Wincenc and Renata -Urso Trapani

Giorgio after a studio recital concert

When I was a little child and I was not playing the flute, music was not actually super-important in my life. I remember attending a few classical concerts or listening to different kinds of music on the radio but it is not until I was about 13 years old that I decided to pursue a more serious career in music, or at least give it a try! When I was a young boy, I remember that I was enjoying playing video games or going to the park with my friends, but I did not have clear ideas on how my future would have looked like, I was simply enjoying my time! One thing that I really liked though were trains, so sometimes I was dreaming of actually driving one..but that never happened!

Where in Italy were you born and raised? Can you tell our readers a little about your hometown?

I was born and raised in Milano, beautiful city in the north part of Italy, famous for the fashion industry and for being an important financial center. It is not as touristic as Roma or Venezia but it has many important artworks, museums and the famous Duomo, the majestic cathedral in the central plaza of the city. Near the Duomo, there is also the Teatro Alla Scala, worldwide renowned theater where legendary singers, orchestras and instrumentalists perform concerts and operas every season. Every time I walk in the theater to attend a performance, I feel a deep joy and it always turns out to be a fantastic night that remains unforgettable forever. Milano also has a fervent musical and cultural life that naturally helped me growing up and shaped my artistic choices.




Pictures of The Duomo in Milan

One of your hobbies is cooking? What is your favorite dish to prepare?

Yes, food is very important for Italian people! So I both love cooking and eating out, trying new dishes or type of cuisines. I like to make pizza and I always prepare it with my mom when I am home. Pizza is such a great dish because you can be very creative with it and put any kind of toppings, so it can vary anytime depending on the vibe of the moment! And of course I love pasta too and especially preparing different sauces, like pesto, mushrooms or red sauce with mussels and clams.




Giorgio enjoying some delicious food

You also said you enjoy going to museum and art exhibitions. Do you have a museum in NYC that you would recommend to our readers? What do you like about this particular museum?

at madam toussaud museum NYC

Giorgio at Madam Tussaud’s in NYC

I remember being a museum enthusiast since I was little and I was going to some exhibitions with my parents. Here in NYC I try to go whenever possible because I think it gives the mind a nice break and, at the same time, it is very inspirational; visual art is always deeply connected with music. I personally love the Guggenheim and I remember how the first time that I walked in the area to go to the museum, I was so astonished by its architecture and shapes because it resembles a modern sculpture. Therefore, when I am inside looking at the exhibitions, I feel that I am observing art within a work of art in itself!



If you were an animal, what animal would you be and why?

This is an interesting question and I have actually never thought about it! I think that I would like to be a bird, and especially one that lives near the sea. That is because I love the sea and the water and I love freedom. When it happens that I am on the beach, I like to watch how some of these birds fly and then lightly glide on the water, almost caressing it. I also like the idea that birds are free and they can fly wherever they want and then land at any place. This gives me a sense of extreme liberty, and this is one of the most precious gifts that life offers us.

Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you?

I would like to spend a few words expressing my gratitude for the experience that I am having at Juilliard and in NYC, both musically and spiritually. In the beginning it was hard, it was like changing world from one day to another, but I found a very welcoming environment and extraordinary people here that helped me a lit. I would like to particularly thank my parents, who always supported my musical education and my choices, and my teacher Carol Wincenc, who, since the first day of Juilliard, has supported me in every possible way. I am extremely happy that I believed in my dream and it actually came true here in the US!


Cheng Jin Koh

For the April 2017 edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Cheng Jin Koh, a second year undergraduate student from Singapore.  Cheng Jin’s major at Juilliard is composition, but in addition to composing music, she plays a number of instruments including the piano, violin, viola, and the Yangqin, a traditional Chinese musical instrument. Read on to learn more about Cheng Jin’s artistic accomplishment as well as get to know her life outside of music.

Listen Cheng Jin perform and some of her compositions on soundcloud (https://soundcloud.com/cheng-jin-koh/tracks).

CJ playing with SCO

Cheng Jin playing the Yangqin with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra

Why did you decide to study composition rather than focusing on one particular instrument?

I felt more confident playing Yangqin than the violin or piano despite learning piano and violin at an earlier age. It was tough for me to decide between Yangqin and Composition, because it meant either sacrificing more (for the time being) my performing life or my composing life. After majoring in Yangqin at the School of the Arts Singapore (SOTA) (http://www.sota.edu.sg/) I even thought about furthering my Yangqin studies in a conservatory, but then I felt strongly that composition (which I started only at 15 – a late age compared to most) was what I really needed to delve more into. The gratification that I feel hearing my music come to life in different versions through perceptions of musicians is what made me hold onto composing. Composing does not restrict my sound world to just one voice or one instrument, but exposes me to many with an astounding, vast amount of possibilities. I love the freedom and creativity associated with it, and love the inspiring collaborative processes with musicians playing my music. I am a shy and introverted person, and only in composing I can be truly expressive and extroverted. It is my way of giving back to the music world with maximized individuality as I inquire more about the art of music creating, making, and sharing.

CJ playing in Singapore National Youth Orchestra

Cheng Jin playing in the Singapore National Youth Orchestra

Can you describe the Yangqin to our readers who are not familiar with this instrument? When did you begin playing it and why?

CJ with standing Yangqin

Cheng Jin with her Yangqin

The Yangqin is a Chinese hammered dulcimer with roots from Persia and the Silk Road regions. It is played with light, bamboo-made rubber-coated beaters. One note is made up of 3-5 strings, so unlike the common western string instruments we know, if 1 string snaps, the note can still be produced. I started playing it when I was around 7, some years after starting the piano and violin. My mother told me she really liked its soft timbre and that kick-started my journey with it. I joined a Chinese orchestra in my first elementary school playing Chinese music with my brother playing the Erhu, and fell in love even more with the Yangqin. It is actually a very versatile instrument – chromatic, wide in register, with many sonic possibilities, and that was why I wanted to major in it when I went to SOTA.

Watch and listen to Cheng Jin play the Yangqin with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra

Your compositions have been performed by a variety of orchestras including the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and the Singapore Chinese Orchestra as well as at several composer’s workshop such as those at Oberlin Conservatory of Music and Cleveland Institute of Music. Can you describe your feelings when you see and hear a full orchestra playing a piece you created?

When I first heard the SSO reading my first orchestral piece when I was 17, I couldn’t believe it – I was filled with wonder and amazement as their sound enveloped the hall. The orchestra that I have admired for years is playing my music….it was such an unforgettable moment as if it was a dream. I am not exaggerating – I felt so grateful to hear my music stirring to life through their dedication and expertise. The music on stage always sounds better than my own imagination because it is now real and absolute. Another best takeaway was to be immediately informed of things I can improve on, be it as tiny as a note change, a different dynamic marking, to something as large as overall sound balance. Composing is active – I do not only write music in my room and present it to others, but also learn to craft it better with others’ interpretation and suggestions. It is really a humbling experience for me.

SSO Anniv (48)

Cheng Jin with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra

You were born and raised in Singapore, a small country full of a diversity in culture. Can you tell our readers a little bit about the cultural diversity found in Singapore?

“Regardless of race, language or religion” – as recited in our pledge, Singapore is home to multiple races and religion as part of a huge cultural “Rojak” (in malay: eclectic mix). Our people include Chinese, Malays, Indians, Eurasians, and many more races. In a single vicinity there can be a Buddhist temple, a church nearby, and a mosque across the street! Our first language is English, so it helps us communicate despite our own differences. Most of us speak two languages – English and our mother-tongue! For the Singaporean Chinese sometimes even in dialects as well, such as Hokkien, Cantonese, etc. In school we have Racial Harmony Day where we can learn more about other races, and even in education we were taught since young to embrace all cultures and even get to experience cross-cultural activities! We have different holidays and celebrations too, such as Chinese New Year, Hari Raya, Deepavali, Vesak and so on to commemorate cultural and religious festivities. The wide array of food specialties, art, literature etc. we have, demonstrates the exquisite richness of each culture, making it accessible to all as subtle forms of daily inspirations.

CJ in Brooklyn Botanical Garden

Cheng Jin at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden

Can you tell us a little about your family?  Do you have siblings? Pets?

My parents are a great support to my endeavors. I also have an older brother, a younger sister, and a pet terrapin.

What do you miss most about Singapore other than family and friends?

I really miss the hot weather. It can get to around 33 C, or 92 F in the day. The hot weather prevails all year, and we have no other seasons other than summer. As much as I love snow, I never realized how much I love being warm until I came to US and experienced really cold and harsh weather. I miss having the quirky Singapore accent and food around too – they are truly irreplaceable in my heart.


A collage of some of Cheng Jin’s favorite Singaporean food

What do you love most about NYC?

As a tropical girl, I believe the snow is one of the most beautiful creations. I experienced my first snowfall during my audition here – I remember staring at it in bewilderment through the transparent glass in school before my composition interview. Central Park is another sanctuary that provides me respite from the urban, digital structures and hectic school life. I also love the artistic variety here as shown through numerous museums and performance halls.

What is your favorite thing about being a student at Juilliard? What is the most challenging part of being a student at Juilliard?

CJ in St John the Divine

Cheng Jin at St. John the Divine Church

It is hard to have a favorite because I really love everything here. I love absorbing knowledge within the environment – the library is like a paradise with its never-ending, fragrant-smelling, sometimes yellowish scores, and immense video/audio collections. Our teachers are committed and wonderful, and lessons with my composition teacher Dr Robert Beaser are always insightful. Being around listening to like-minded friends in casual settings or concert halls are extremely motivating. I love working with friends on music too! Being in Juilliard also brings the MET Opera, NY Phil, Carnegie Hall artists and musicians near to me, since these are all in close proximity. Musicians that I heard on YouTube from Singapore now can be seen and heard live! For example, I was able to hear the Juilliard String Quartet, the Vienna Phil, Marc-André Hamelin, Waltraud Meier and many fabulous international musicians live.

CJ in Nyphil

Cheng Jin at the NY Philharmonic

The most challenging part of being a student here is to go for all concerts available. We seem to have concerts every day and because of classes it is not possible to go to every concert. The thought of what I would have missed on is sometimes shattering but I am comforted by the fact that I am going to as many as I possibly can!


What is your greatest aspiration?

My greatest aspiration is actually quite simple. I really want to connect with people with my music. When I went to Cebu, Philippines as part of the SOTA Global Perspectives initiative, I found great meaning in teaching music and art. I hope to bring the transformative and therapeutic power of arts to people all around the world.

Watch/listen to one of Cheng Jin’s pieces performed by Juilliard students
Violins: KJ McDonald and Mitsuru Yonezaki
Cello: Philip Sheegog
Viola: Hannah Geisinger

What is your greatest non-music related aspiration?  What do you hope to accomplish in your life outside of the performing arts world?

My greatest non-music related aspiration would be to learn as many languages as possible! I am now learning German at Columbia University as part of the BCJ exchange (http://www.juilliard.edu/degrees-programs/barnard-columbia-juilliard-exchange), and I hope to learn more in future. Having a grasp of languages help break barriers not only in music but in life as well.

If you could have a super power, what would it be and why?

It would be to split my soul into many complete versions of myself. This would help me go to more than 1 concert or show on a day if there are 2 conflicting performances, or travel to concert halls when I am physically unable, or even to teleport back to Singapore to take a look at my family and friends when I become homesick.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

It is April, which means the end of the semester is near. Keep the spirit going because every decision you make is worthwhile no matter the results!

CJ with friends KJ McDonald, Carmen Knoll, Philip Sheegog and Theo Chandler

Cheng Jin with friends

Alexander Andison

For this month’s Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Alexander Andison, a third year student in the Juilliard Dance Division.  Born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, a city he calls “magical,” Alexander came to Juilliard in the fall of 2014 to study contemporary dance.  In addition to being a dedicated dancer, Alexander has excelled outside the dance studio in his role as a student leader.  For the past two years, Alexander has been a Colloquium Peer Mentor and Diversity Advocate (DA).  Don’t miss the opportunity to see Alexander perform in the upcoming Juilliard Dances Repertory. He will be performing in the 7:30 pm shows on Wednesday, March 22nd and Friday, March 24th, as well as the 2 pm show on Saturday, March 25th.  Also, don’t miss the chance to celebrate Women’s History Month at Alexander’s upcoming Diversity Advocate event entitled “Celebrating Diversity, Overcoming Adversity: A Panel Discussion with Women Alumni.”  This is a Foundations Program which will take place at 7pm, on Wednesday, March 29th in the Student Multipurpose Room.


Billboard for New Dances 2016 on 65th and Broadway

At what age did you begin dancing? What attracted you to dance initially?

I have been dancing for as long as I can remember.  My parents recognized my natural intuition for movement and started putting me in dance classes at age 3. I was a kid with a lot of emotions and energy, mixed with a desire to entertain, so dance seemed to be the perfect outlet.

Did you always know you wanted to study dance and pursue it professionally? Did you have other ideas for what you wanted to do when you “grew up” and if so, what were they?

Growing up, my parents were extremely supportive of my artistic ventures.  I think they saw that aspect of me at a very young age. I was really interested in singing, instruments, acting, photography, as well as dancing. I was fortunate enough to get to try out these different creative mediums. Coming out of elementary school, and looking at high schools, I had to decide what program was right for me.  It was at this point that I decided to narrow in and focus on dance.  High school was when I started my taking my training quite seriously. It was then that I knew that I wanted to pursue dance professionally.

See Alexander dancing in a short dance film by classmate, Mikaela Kelly.

The focus of the Juilliard Dance Division is contemporary dance in which students are trained in both classical ballet and modern dance. Do you prefer one dance form over another? Are there other forms of dance in which you have been trained? 

When I started dancing, I was taking creative movement, tap, jazz, even hip hop. My focus has definitely shifted since then. I started ballet later, when I was ten.  I have a special place in my heart for ballet technique and it really informs my work. I think it’s important to have a strong classical base to build on.  It’s contemporary dance where I really feel at home, although that can mean so many things. I think it is the vast scope of what is being generated under the domain of contemporary dance that makes it so exciting.


Photo from “Still in An Interrupted Time” by Yin Yue at Springboard Danse Montreal. Photo credit: Michael Slobodian

During the summer of 2015 and 2016, you had the opportunity to dance at the Netherlands Dans Theatre Summer Intensive (https://www.ndt.nl/en/participate/ndt-summer-intensive/homepage-summer-intensive.html) and at Springboard Danse Montreal (https://www.springboarddansemontreal.com/). In your experience, is the approach to dance and dance instruction in the Netherlands and Canada different from that here in the U.S.?

Being from Canada, I was accustomed to a more European based training. Coming to Juilliard, I had to familiarize myself with the vocabulary of American modern dance because, yes, there are differences. In the summers, it has been important for me to revisit some styles and repertory that I grew up doing. Summer also provides opportunities, not only to study, but to go out and experience things that interest you. I am glad that I can go and see the work that is happening in Canada and in Europe – to gain some perspective on the companies there. This will be important for me when looking at my career after my training.

You are originally from Vancouver, Canada. Can you tell our readers a little bit about where you are from?

It took leaving Vancouver to realize how magical it is. The landscape is unique as it incorporates both the city and nature. The West Coast is in my soul; the ocean and the rain are grounding for me. In spite of being so close, America and Canada are different places. Canada has strong European roots, as seen in things such as its official languages, French and English. There is the presence and influence of First Nations (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Nations) throughout the country. America’s cultural influence can be seen in our entertainment and artistic community. At the same time, the country has some decidedly Canadian features. It is the unique combination of elements that makes it very special.


Picture from Alexander’s childhood in beautiful British Columbia

If someone was to visit Vancouver for a weekend, what would you recommend they do?

I would tell people to spend time amongst the trees and on the water, but also to enjoy what the city has to offer. Stanley Park is the an incredible city park in North America that is actually larger than Central Park; residents and visitors love to walk, run, or bike its seawall.  I would also recommend that people make sure to get some of the amazing ethnic food. My favourite spot is a Lebanese restaurant called Nuba.

During your time at Juilliard you have held two student leader positions, Diversity Advocate and Colloquium Peer Mentor. What initially made you want to become a student leader?  What have you gained from these experiences?


Alexander helping with International Student Move-In, Fall 2016

Over the last few years, I have realized how important it is to stay engaged with the world beyond the dance studio. With the demands of the schedules at Juilliard, it is easy to get caught up in your discipline. Another aspect of deciding to come to New York was to experience new people and cultures. Being a student leader has been an important way in which to interact with my peers and to engage  with broader world topics.  Part of my decision to come to New York and study at Juilliard was so that I could be exposed to the unfamiliar. These leadership positions have been important for my own education – to make a contribution, but, more importantly, to learn from others.


Next year will be your third year as a Diversity Advocate. What have you accomplished as a DA over the past year and a half and what do you hope to accomplish next year?


Alexander with Cory Owen, fellow Diversity Advocates, and OIA work study students at OIA’s 2016 International Festival

As a Diversity Advocate, I have been able to plan events that have celebrated different cultures and brought attention to backgrounds that the student body might otherwise not get the chance to learn about. Coming up this spring, I am planning a panel discussion in which alumni address the adversities faced by women in the performing arts. I find events like these particularly informative because these are experiences that I don’t have first hand exposure to. Going into the future, I want to continue to have students contribute to the diversity initiatives of the school so that we can collectively continue to explore the different facets of diversity.
Check out Alexander in the Office of International Advisement’s DA Video



Alexander at Garret Mountain, New Jersey

When you are not dancing or being a student leader, how do you like to spend your time?

Outside of dance and civil engagement, I get a lot out of the simple pleasures in life. You can find me in a coffee shop, reading a book while drinking an Americano. I also really enjoy getting out in the neighborhoods of New York. I love going down to the East Village for a meal and to do some thrift shopping. I have also taken the time to experience many of the cultural offerings of the city. Students are encouraged to do this by the faculty, and I have been very fortunate to see some phenomenal productions.

What is one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?

This is a difficult question to answer. Dancers by their nature are quite expressive. I don’t tend to talk about myself a lot, so people may be reading about some things I have alluded to here for the first time – that I played the violin, that I have formal training in singing, and that I take a lot of photographs, but I am not sure any one of those things would be surprising. Actually, people would probably be surprised if I started speaking to them in French, but I can do this, although I am admittedly rusty.

Left: Alexander with classmates Simon and Taylor
Center: Alexander and his sister at the Frick Collection
Right: Alexander out in New York City with dear friends Paige and Christina

You are expected to graduate in May 2018. What do you hope to do post-graduation?

After graduating, I hope to join a professional dance company. I want to perform different contemporary repertory to learn a variety of work. Eventually I hope to work under one choreographer, to focus in on their vision and understand the depths of their work. This is my ideal dream, but with a profession like dance, you have to be ready to roll with the punches. Kerry Nicholls (http://www.kerrynicholls.com/), a guest teacher we recently had at school, advised us to embrace the counter-narrative to our lives, because it can be the most exciting aspect. That thought really resonated, and I’ve been trying to carry it with me.


Photo from “Return to Patience” by Aszure Barton. Photo credit: Rosalie O’Connor.

Do you have anything else that you would like to share with our readers?

I would like to extend a thank you to the people who have shaped my experience here at Juilliard: my amazing family and friends; Meg Popick and Cory Owen from International Advisement; Laura Lindsay from the Concert Office; Lawrence Rhodes, the Artistic Director of Dance, my instructors Charla Genn and Espen Giljane, and the rest of the dance faculty. There is always a risk in naming individuals, because so many people have contributed to my development and positive experience here at Juilliard.


Alexander with best friend Sasha in Seattle, Washington


Dror Baitel

For this month’s Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Dror Baitel (http://www.drorbaitel.com/), a second year master’s student studying collaborative piano. Originally from Tel Aviv, Israel, Dror came to the US in 2004 to start his undergraduate degree.  In 2008, Dror graduated from the Mannes School of Music (http://www.newschool.edu/mannes/) with a bachelor’s degree in piano performance. Between graduating from Mannes and starting at Juilliard in September of 2015, Dror “established himself in the world of music as a leading talent through his virtuosity and versatility across diverse genres.” In addition to his classical piano performances, Dror has performed on Broadway, has collaborated with various opera, Broadway, and cabaret artists, and has worked in music education at many New York schools. Interested in seeing Dror perform?  Dror’s recital, “To Build A Home,” will take place on February 24th at 8pm in Paul Hall.


mickey-lr-practice-14What is your first memory playing the piano and at what point did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in music?
Interestingly, I actually first played the organ in Suzuki classes so that was about a year before I started taking piano. I think one of my first memories of playing piano is playing the ‘Blue Danube Waltz’ by J.Strauss and making a musical impression on my teacher, I guess it was the first time I felt it! I probably realized I wanted to pursue a career in music at various times in my life, first when I was introduced to my first professional piano teacher at 16 year old, and then after being in the Israeli Army, I felt the music was my calling because I was of no use when I was there.


Why did you decide to come to the US to continue your studies?


For some reason, New York was very clear to me as place to pursue my studies. I’ve dreamed big and I wanted to be in a place where music is not only appreciated but consumed and demanded by big audiences. New York to me was ideal because of its importance in the world of classical music these days and the center for such talented and accomplished musicians.

What is your favorite part of being a Juilliard student? What is the most challenging?

My favorite part of being at Juilliard is being among the most talented and creative artists in the world. I always am fascinated meeting new students and learning about their work and passions. It inspires me. What is most challenging for me especially as a collaborative pianist is finding time to practice (LOL) since we run around from coachings, rehearsals and classes and we have so much on our plate that we have to learn how to practice very wisely in 15 minutes segments. I accumulate my practice every day through spreading my practice sessions and trying to use every break I get.

What were your first impressions of NYC when you arrived in 2004? Has your opinion of New York changed over the years?

I was very overwhelmed when I arrived in 2004. I was probably a bit culturally shocked. I think it’s the speed of the city and the vast amounts of people that you see every day. Israel is much smaller and you never see as many people like you see in the streets of New York. My opinion has changed over the city and it’s an ongoing love/hate relationship. There’s something about the energy and that ongoing pulse of the city which makes you feel alive and driven with a purpose and that’s what I love most about being here. But sometimes, because I am human, I need a break and so getting out of town could be so wonderful and therapeutic for me.


Dror playing a gig at the Mandain Oriental Hotel in Columbus Circle.  According to Dror, it is “always nice to play a grand piano…watching Central Park and the Manhattan skyline.”

In addition to being a performer, you have worked as a music educator at various schools and institutions and have been a Gluck Community Service Fellow. What originally attracted you to arts education and what do you like most about it?

Arts Education is one of the most important things in a musician’s journey and my Teaching Fellowship at school has been showing me this through my work with students. Music is a value that needs to be shared and passed on to the next generations and it is my “duty” to share my knowledge so I can create a value in someone else’s experience. I think teaching is something that I now want to continue on doing in my career because not only I am inspired by students but I also learn and grow from my work with them. And I just read that Bach was a teacher his entire life, and he was able to create this huge amount of work! Isn’t it amazing? I always bring something from my experience to share with a student and bring them joy through my teaching!


Dror at The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine after playing on Duke Ellington’s piano.

Although you are classically trained, you also have experience working in various other musical genres including Broadway. Can you go into some detail about the Broadway and Off-Broadway work you have done?


Dror in the Lincoln Center Theater before a “The King and I” rehearsal

Okay, this is an interesting question. I grew up as a theater boy actually, playing and singing musical theater and Disney tunes so I’ve always had the passion for this genre. Then after graduating from undergrad, I went down to Broadway to look for work in the pits and I met a lot of fascinating musicians. So I was able to land a gig and went on to have my Broadway debut playing at Mary Poppins. I’ve also worked on numerous shows as a rehearsal pianist. I found that I have passion for American theater music and that the nostalgia in the music is something that resonates with me. I don’t know if it’s the nostalgia to Israel but I also feel nostalgia to Rodgers & Hammerstein and Bernstein. I found through my work, that I am very flexible musically and I can play in many styles. I always and still want to be able to improvise so I can fake jazz pretty well 🙂 But yeah, I always look for theater in the mix because my music is being driven by character and theater almost scenery. I like to create the dimension of a theater experience through my performance.

Looking back on your various engagements over the years, do you have one that sticks out in your mind more than others? If so, can you describe it?

I had to jump in to play for a world premiere of a show that’s now playing on Broadway called Dear Evan Hansen. I had to learn the show in a few days, then had only a single hour rehearsal (!) with the musicians on stage and played and conducted my first show. I was excited and grateful to have this experience because I was playing live on an upper stage with the band while the actors where underneath us. It was also incredible working with an ideal dream team of writers and creatives so I was very fortunate to have this experience.

Far left: Dror with friends on a bike trip in Martha’s Vineyard
Center: Selfie of Dror’s entire family after his sister surprised him for his 30th birthday
Right: Dror with his friends Pasek and Paul, “incredible theater writers who are soon to be Oscar winners for La La Land” according to Dror.

You currently have an O-1 visa which can be challenging to obtain. Many international students who would like to continue to work in the US after graduation are interested in applying for an O-1 visa (https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/o-1-visa-individuals-extraordinary-ability-or-achievement).  Can you tell them what that process is like?  Do you have any advice?

The process is not simple and my best advice would be keep all your programs and important letters. Make important connection with musicians who can recommend your work. Get different work experience. And hire a lawyer you trust who knows about artists and O-1. It takes at least 3-6 months to build a good case for O-1.


Dror at Kibbutz Be’eri in the south of Israel

Although you have been living in the US since 2004, do you still get homesickness? What do you miss most about Israel?

I do get home sickness, all the time. Except for when I’m busy which is most of the time so I don’t think about it much. But yeah, I miss my sister and my nephew and nieces a lot. My sister is my best friend 🙂

If you were to live and work anywhere in the world, other than the US and Israel, where would you ideally like to live? What about this place attracts you to it?

I would want to work where there’s a community that strives and lives for the arts because this is so important in my life. What attracts me most is the diversity and the differences of the people in this place. And the high level of art being crafted here.

You are expected to complete your graduate degree this May. What are your post-graduation plans?

I am taking my DMA auditions in the spring. I am exploring this at the moment. Definitely interested in conducting an orchestra soon enough. And please come to my recital everyone – Paul Hall Feb 24th at 8pm. TO BUILD A HOME is the theme and it tells a journey through music, in a way my own journey seeking to build a home through my music. There will be Broadway tunes with surprise guests!!

Dror Baitel recital program

Maria Fernanda Brea

For the first Eye on Culture of 2017, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Maria Fernanda Brea, a second year vocal arts student from Caracas, Venezuela.  Maria earned a bachelor’s of music from the Manhattan School of Music (http://www.msmnyc.edu/) after getting her initial music education from the Escuela Superior de Música José Ángel Lamas and UPEL-IPMJMSM (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universidad_Pedag%C3%B3gica_Experimental_Libertador) Music Education in Venezuela.  She currently studies under the tutelage of Juilliard faculty member, Edith Bers.  Maria has performed and/or covered for operas produced by the Wolf Trap Opera, The Juilliard School, Met + The Juilliard School, Prelude to Performance, Manhattan School of Music, and West Bay Opera in California.  She has also been a soloist for several concerts and the winner of an impressive number of awards and scholarships.

Maria Fernanda Brea

By age 11, you realized that you wanted to be an opera singer? What inspired this dream at such a young age?

I had to do a PowerPoint project for my computer science class, my dad works at a Music Academy called Johann Sebastian Bach. I decided to do my project about Bach and my dad provided the background music. He brought me a CD on Bach Cantatas, when I heard this music I knew that I wanted to be an opera singer.


You studied music at two different schools in Venezuela. How did this early education prepare you for your education in the US at MSM and now at Juilliard?

In both schools I received a really detailed training. At the University I was learning sociology, psychology, history, statistics and research. At the Escuela Superior de Musica I was learning ear training, music history, and dictation, piano and vocal technique. When I came to Manhattan School of Music I was able to place out of music history, some semesters of ear training and piano. At Juilliard I was able to place out of music history, some semesters of piano and ear training.

Last summer you attended the prestigious Wolf Trap Opera. Can you tell our readers a little about the organization and your experience there?

Wolf Trap Opera is wonderful organization that supports and provides training for young singers of various levels. They have two programs; the Filene Young Artist (http://opera.wolftrap.org/for-artists/filene-young-artists/) where young singers that are already having a career come to perform in one or several shows and the Studio Artists which is designed for singers that are still in school. I had the opportunity to work with so many coaches from different theaters and programs in the country such as San Francisco, Washington National Opera and Houston Grand Opera. I had the opportunity to audition for new people and get feedback.

You will finish your master’s degree this May and then returning to the Wolf Trap Opera for the summer. Where do you see yourself after Wolf Trap Opera concludes?

I would like to join a young artist program either in the US or Europe. I will be able to tell you in April, when results are out.J


Based on previous conversations, it seems that you are very close to your family, even though you do not get to see them very often.  Can you tell us a little about your relationships with your family and how they have been involved with your music education?

We are super close; I think it is very rare. Both of my parents lost one of their parents at a very young age, they wanted to make sure we are always close to them. My mom, Kitty, has five jobs but we always made sure that we would spend time together. At night I would be practicing and she would be working on her things next to me. My dad, Fernando, is a musician; he plays the guitar and the cuatro (Venezuelan traditional string instrument). There are pictures of my dad accompanying me with the guitar at age 4. Same with my little sister, Maria Eliana, she has a gorgeous voice, we would always sing duets together from folk Venezuelan music, pop or jazz along with my dad and also my mom, she loves singing too although she never studied it. We got the voice from our mom. My sister is a graphical designer and creates her own Japanese mangas.


Manhattan School of Music Graduation


Making sushi and singing for her friends

We know you are an accomplished singer, but do you have any hidden talents?

I belly dance, it all started a fitness tool. Now I do it less but I would dance for friends. I love cooking for my friends,  I make arepas (traditional corn meal plate from Venezuela). I also love dancing salsa, merengue and bachata.

Being an international student in the US comes with a variety of challenges (i.e. language barriers, cultural acculturation, immigration responsibilities, financial difficulties, etc.), but Venezuelan students can face additional obstacles such as currency control issues, travel difficulties, etc. Can you tell our readers a little about how these additional challenges impact students from Venezuela?

Venezuela is facing an economical, social and political crisis. Majority of people do not have access medicines or food. The shortages force people to make huge lines to get some rice, sugar or milk. Venezuelans are very well trained in our national universities; Venezuela has a free education system since 1870, so we have a history of preparation in the country. Most of the young professionals are leaving due to the crisis. But some of them cannot afford to study abroad because of the economical crisis and the currency control.         

Due to the challenges facing international students from Venezuela, it was uncertain how you would be able to pay for your audition at MSM might as well tuition and cost of living in NYCYou shared an interesting story and powerful news piece with me about how you were able to overcome this major obstacle. Can you share this story with our readers?

I was performing many recitals and word started to get out of my opportunity to leave the country to continue my career abroad. Much to my surprise, as I was trying to find funding to come to NYC, I was watching a program that was featuring a choir I knew from a festival I attended. I wrote a email to the TV channel with the hope they would know someone that could help me sponsor MSM. To my surprise the presenter from the program called me the next day and came to my house in the slum and filmed a video (see video below).  The show was a smashing success and I had a great response from people wishing me well, as well as from generous folks who were willing and able to help me out financially. Following the program, I met my wonderful sponsor who is the person I have to thank for my bachelors at Manhattan School Music.

Many mainstream media sources have reported that Venezuela is in a state of economic collapse while others report that the issue is less severe, but at the very least, Venezuela is in the middle of a severe crisis?  How would you describe the current situation in Venezuela, how has it impacted you and your family, and what do you think the future will look like for Venezuelans?

In my opinion, it is very severe. My mom was robbed this year three times, they put a gun on her head once and took all her things in a bus she was taking to go to work. My sister was robbed in the train, they had a gun. My father is diabetic, every month is a struggle to find the insulin he needs. Both of parents have 5 jobs and they struggle to make it to the end of the month. Even though they are both professionals, the inflation is so high that it makes everything not affordable.

*To read more about the situation in Venezuela from a New York Times article, click here (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/25/world/americas/hungry-venezuelans-flee-in-boats-to-escape-economic-collapse.html).

Even though there is a crisis in Venezuela, I am sure there are lots of things you miss about your home city. Other than your family and friends, what do you miss most about Caracas?

I miss Venezuelans; they are warm and always have a smile and a joke, although things are going badly. I miss going to the Teatro Teresa Carreño and also to my beloved Avila (the mountain that surrounds Caracas).


What about being from Venezuela makes you most proud?

Our sense of humor, we can make a joke about anything, Venezuelans are always laughing.

 Is there anything else about you that you would like to share?

I believe that if we fight for our dreams and if we work hard enough we will get where we want to be.