CMPI Clarinet Fellow Melissa Everson lives by a motto: Just keep going. This seems like apt advice for everyone, especially as the world just surpassed the one-year anniversary of the pandemic. Everson, a senior in high school, believes it is important that people continue to grow, even during difficult times. “If you can keep going forward, even just a little, then one day you’ll look back and realize that you did grow, even if it was a slow process.”
One recent area of forward progress is that Everson’s wind ensemble at Lockport Township High School has started to meet in-person for the first time in a year. “It’s socially distanced and we have to wear face masks with little slits in them. We tried using instrument bags [to capture the escaping air particles], but that didn’t work, so now we use bell covers. It sounds…different,” she said during a recent Zoom interview from her home in the southwest Chicago suburbs. “Our director keeps telling us to use more air, but most of us think that when we take off the instrument covers, we are going to blow the roof off the building.”
Everson navigates a full musical schedule these days. In addition to alternating in-person and virtual music classes, she also is juggling college admissions (music performance major with a potential minor in production); private lessons (with Garrett Matlock); auxiliary music organizations (Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, Honor Band of America, to name but a couple), and a full slate of programs with CMPI.
“I definitely had convinced myself that there were no organizations committed to diversifying classical music,” said Everson, discussing her introduction to CMPI. She was pleasantly surprised when she learned that not only did such an organization exist, but it was local, in Chicago.
“The more experiences I have with CMPI, the more I realize that these are people who really care about The Cause: about creating more diversity in the classical music world. There’s a stigma that, in orchestras, there’s not much diversity because there’s not enough diverse people who are talented enough to make it in those ensembles. But that’s a huge misconception and CMPI is ready to change that.”
Everson, who is of Mexican and Mayan descent on her maternal side, believes that diversity in music should be celebrated. “I’m really proud of my heritage, not just because of the great traditions of Mexico but because growing-up mixed race taught me to be aware of myself and those around me.” (Her dad has ancestral roots from Europe, specifically to Germany and Poland.)
As Everson continued to learn about her culture, she gained emotional maturity and insight. One such discovery, while researching genealogy her freshman year, was that her grandfather was a famous trumpet player. “I had no clue! He was a big-time player in Mexico. It was crazy to find out this information and sometimes I wonder if that’s where my musical inspiration comes from.”
One person Everson can lean on during this time of professional discovery is her CMPI mentor, Steven Gooden. “He is fantastic,” she exclaimed. “At first I was nervous – I had no impression of having a mentor—but he’s always so excited and encouraging. For example, he always comments on Zoom in all caps, MARVELOUS!” Everson has been particularly glad to have a mentor throughout the quarantine.
“[Steve] relieves a lot of stress. He playfully tells me I am not allowed to have any pity parties during COVID – which has been helpful. He assures me that I’m doing fine. He lets me know that it’s completely normal to feel anxious about this time and that even the pros feel anxiety.”
Another way that CMPI recently has impacted Everson is through its robust masterclass series (taking place virtually these days, of course). She recently had a chance to play for, and speak with, New York Philharmonic Principal Clarinet Anthony McGill. “It was an eye-opening, life-changing experience! I can honestly say that,” said Everson.
“You don’t meet people [like McGill] who are that passionate about music very often. The advice that he gave me, the critiques that he offered, were all so well said and so honest. Sometimes we, as musicians, are afraid of criticism, but it came from such a genuine place, and he has a nice way of expressing himself. He teaches from a place of appreciation and understanding.”
Everson played for him the seminal Mozart Clarinet Concerto – a standard audition piece for conservatories and orchestras alike. So, the advice from McGill—who just was named a Distinguished Chair of Music at the Curtis Institute — was all the more appreciated by Everson. “He talked about being less strict with one specific way to play it and, rather, honoring a variety of sounds. I had a perception that the piece was supposed to be very mournful, but now I see that it’s both: you can be mournful, but you can also be celebratory.”
Did You Know?
- Melissa’s favorite drink at Starbucks is an Iced Chestnut Praline Latte with Almond Milk
- She plays on a Yamaha CSRV, but is looking into a barrel upgrade.
- She chose the clarinet, in part, because she and her friend wanted to be like the character Squidward from Sponge Bob Square Pants
- Is IRL friends with fellow CMPI woodwind fellows Eric Bahena and Miguel Rodriguez.
By Benjamin C. Wise