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by Eric Nickerson

On February 17th I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play for my cello hero Sheku Kanneh-Mason. This was both an inspiring and triumphant experience for me. Sheku inspired me to take lessons with the hope of playing advanced repertoire.

I remember that awe-inspiring moment like it was yesterday; I was an eighth grader practicing my cello over Zoom during the COVID pandemic. During one of our breaks, I came across the recording of Sheku playing the Elgar Cello Concerto at the BBC Proms. I remember watching the entire video in complete silence as I was completely amazed at his playing. This was the first time I saw or heard cello playing at this level. That was the moment I wanted to find a teacher and get private lessons. I understood that making music like that was possible and I wanted to be a part of it.

Everything came full circle when I learned I would be playing for Sheku, but this isn’t the only thing that made this masterclass special. At the beginning of this year, I had a medical emergency that resulted in me being in the ICU for a few days. Recovering from this was very hard and I was unable to practice for the majority of the month leading up to the masterclass. I was blessed to make a full recovery; however I had to practice even harder to make up for the lost time.

My performance at the masterclass was a success with the help of CMPI. Prior to the masterclass, I was given a performance opportunity at the University of Chicago to play the concerto I would be playing for the masterclass. I was able to gain performance experience with this piece and learn from my mistakes, all in preparation for the masterclass. When the day came for me to perform for Sheku I was well prepared and very confident in my playing.

In return, I was able to gain so much musical knowledge from Sheku. He helped me explore different ways to express musicality in my playing through technique and understanding the harmony between the soloist and the orchestra. Sheku continuously challenged me to think deeper about the composer’s decisions and how I can personally relate to the music. He told me to always question myself on why I may have a musical idea and how I can expand on these ideas in my playing.

That week I took what I had learned and implemented as much as I could into my playing. Later that week I finished as a runner-up in my CYSO orchestra’s concerto competition. Thank you CMPI and of course Sheku Kanneh-Mason for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This will be a memory I will always treasure.


Eric Nickerson with Sheku Kanneh-Mason

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