CMPI Mentor Brent Taghap began playing the violin at age five in his home state of Florida. Taghap recalls asking his parents for a violin after seeing a child playing the instrument on a PBS special. He subsequently took lessons at a local music store as a kid, and his interest in the violin gradually increased.
After high school, he pursued his violin studies at Florida State University in Tallahassee, under former concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic Eliot Chapo and acclaimed soloist Corinne Stillwell. “Mr. Chapo gave me an appreciation for the violin and its traditions. He had that distinct, old-school sound. It made the violin seem magical,” he said. Stillwell, who also serves as concertmaster of Tallahassee Symphony, approached teaching violin differently. “Ms. Stillwell was almost the opposite of Mr. Chapo, focusing on tools and technique. She was of the school of thought that every path was valid and, no matter what, supported our goals. Both teachers were great influences and mentors to me.”
In the summer before his last year of undergraduate study, while attending Vermont’s Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival, Taghap met his current teacher, DePaul University’s Strings Coordinator Janet Sung. “She is very methodical; she combines the qualities of my previous teachers. Never harsh or cold. When I got to her, she whipped me into shape! I owe her a lot for making me the player I am today,” he said.
Taghap, who is of Filipino descent, recently played alongside several CMPI mentors and fellows at Symphony Center for world-renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra Music Director Riccardo Muti. “The experience was super fun. Maestro Muti, who participated virtually from his home in Italy, mentioned that one thing that will help humanity back on track [as the pandemic hopefully continues to lessen] is listening to music. He was so kind and gentle when talking to the CMPI fellows and made sure they understood how to play the music they are working on properly; really capturing the character and the feeling of the music. Maestro Muti also provided validity to what we do, especially in troubling times. People want to hear music, be moved, be around people. There’s an energy in those spaces, and people miss it.”
Taghap encourages his mentees to avoid comparisons, organize themselves, and always record their playing. “It’s hard not to compare yourself to people to others. Everyone moves at a different speeds; you are only responsible for yourself! If I could go back in time, I would be more organized. I used to do that thing where I would play only to show off or feel good – ‘selfish playing.’ Understand what you’re doing technically, musically, and artistically. Start to hone those skills at a very young age. Listen, listen, listen! It’s an integral part of mastering any instrument. Record yourself playing while you practice. Everyone has a phone with a camera.”
Now in his second year as a mentor with CMPI, Taghap continues to enjoy the experience. “It’s been great. I love the families, and my mentees are great kids. I’m so proud of them. They are dedicated, enthusiastic, have a perfect environment, the parents are on board. All the variables are in place for them to succeed. I can’t wait to see the results of this program in 10 years.”
TOP: CMPI Mentor Brent Taghap. | Photo by Brent Lee