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Sixteen-year-old violinist Ella Saputra is already well on her way toward a professional career. She has performed solo with orchestras several times, including twice with Midwest Young Artists Conservatory ensembles, and once with the Oistrakh Symphony of Chicago on viola. The James B. Conant High School sophomore is an active soloist, chamber musician, and orchestral player, as well as a prizewinner in numerous regional competitions.

Like many younger siblings, Ella started violin at age four after watching her older sister take lessons and practice at home. She began her studies with Taka Matsunaga and currently studies with Northwestern University faculty member and Lincoln Trio violinist Desiree Ruhstrat. She says of her teacher, “She always encourages me to explore beyond my comfort zone, and strive to constantly better myself. I would not be the violinist I am today without her guidance!”

Ella is concertmaster of the Midwest Young Artist Symphony Orchestra, as well as a member of their Intensive Chamber Music Program. Due to COVID-19, this year looks a little different. The orchestra is divided into three groups to comply with state guidelines for group sizes, and has been rehearsing outside in a field. Rehearsals now include temperature screenings, masks, and social distancing, with winds and brass in individual plastic booths. As Ella says, “Obviously this is not an ideal situation, but I am very grateful for the opportunity to still be able to make music with my peers.”

An expert at balancing school and music practice, Ella has some great tips for staying on top of it all. She practices about three hours a day on school days and recommends taking a break every hour or so. Ella states, “I prefer to work on my most challenging piece first while I am at my prime focus and energy, and then work my way through the rest of my repertoire.” Carrying this idea throughout her day, Ella recommends practicing before doing homework. “I found that I focus better if I practice earlier in the day, so I usually finish my practice first before I do my homework.” She says the key to balancing everything is efficient and smart practice.

Ella’s favorite musical memory was the time her violin studio performed with the Piano Guys at the Chicago Theatre. Not only was the performance fun, but she also enjoyed meeting the Piano Guys and bonding with the other performers from her studio.

Even as a seasoned performer, Ella says that, “Preparing for a performance is always a mix of excitement and nerves!” She suggests hand warmers as a pre-performance essential, both for warming up and for use right before a performance. Another tip is to ‘get in the zone’ before performing. “I try to calm my heart rate by taking deep breaths, and visualize myself giving the performance.”

Outside of music, Ella is one of the editors of her school newspaper, the Conant Crier. She is also involved in Peer-Assisted Learning and Services (PALS) at her school, a club that pairs students with and without disabilities and works on building friendships and community service.

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