Cyrus Elia is a 16-year-old sophomore at Pitman High School with a knack, or rather a gift, for music. Recently named one of 16 cellists in California to make the All State Orchestra, Elia attributes his success to his musical family’s encouragement and the supportive Turlock Unified School District programs. Referred to as “easily in the top 1 percent of all the students I’ve had the pleasure to work with in my 14 year career” by Pitman High School director of bands Ruben Modesto, Elia spent time reflecting upon his musical experience and discussing his plans for the future.
Q. Which instrument do you play?
A. The cello is my primary instrument, but I play piano as well as guitar and bass.
Q. How long have you been playing and what initially drew you to music?
A. Cello for 11 years, piano for 12, bass for six years and guitar about the same. I come from a very musical family. My older brother plays jazz guitar, and played tuba in high school and college orchestra. My sister was an all-state violinist in 10th grade also. Also a pianist. She teaches music. My father is a drummer and was an all-state high school choir member; my mother is a singer. We have a family band. So I started piano at six and cello at seven. My sister, three years older than me, started piano at 3, and violin at 5, so it seemed normal to me to start music lessons as soon as possible. Music filled our home, and it was just the natural thing to do. Does it count that I started on a fake guitar at 3?
Q. What does it mean for you to be selected into the All State Orchestra?
A. It's an extreme honor to be chosen. I was competing against cellists from big cities with a greatly developed culture of music and access to the best. San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles. There were only 16 cellists selected from the state of California, so it was exciting.
Q. How does it feel to be one of two students selected within the entire Stanislaus County for this accomplishment?
A. There were only two of us selected to the all-state honor orchestra, but I believe there were Turlock High students selected to the all-state band. It says a lot for how strong the music program is in Turlock. The school district has encouraged and invested into our music program, and it shows. It has been made a priority to keep music alive in Turlock. I was in the Walnut Elementary Performing Arts magnet and had the opportunity to be in jazz band, choir, orchestra and band in 4th, 5th and 6th grades. At Turlock Junior High I was in band and jazz band. And in Pitman I'm able to be in jazz band, symphonic band, and chamber orchestra. My music teachers, as well as the administrators, have been very encouraging and supportive.
Q. Have you received other accolades for your musical ability?
A. I am awaiting audition results for several summer music camps, so hopefully full scholarships. I was selected as recipient of a Cazadero Music Camp's scholarship in 9th grade. I was selected as principle cellist in 9th grade in the Stanislaus County Orchestra. I was privileged to be selected to play in the CODA (California Orchestra Director's Association) at San Francisco State, in 9th grade which is similar to All-State.
Q. What is your favorite thing about music? Why have you stuck with it?
A. Getting into the groove of a piece, be it jazz, classical, gospel, electronic — immersing oneself and becoming one with the music. I've stuck with it because I see no other life for me.
Q. Can you describe your practice schedule?
A. I go for a weekly cello lesson with retired cello Professor Ira Lehn, my private teacher for 11 years. Depending on what I am preparing for, my practice always includes scales, exercises, and then I tackle the pieces I'm learning for a recital, or playing before an adjudicator, or a wedding, or for all-state. My teacher makes sure that I'm progressing and increases the difficulty of what I'm learning. I've had a very active sports schedule with football, then basketball, now track. So juggling music practice and school can be challenging.
Q. Where do you plan to go from here? Will you pursue music after high school?
A. I plan to go to music camps this summer, learn all I can on both cello and bass. I've auditioned for a 10-day classical camp in Santa Barbara, and a 7-day jazz camp through the Dave Brubeck Jazz Institute. I attended Stanford Jazz Camp a few years ago. You learn a lot. I plan to audition for all-state again next year. After high school I plan to major in music in college.
Q. What is your advice for someone who is interested in pursuing music but has yet to?
A. Dive in — the sooner the better! Get a good private teacher, a decent instrument, and go for it! Oh, and it really helps to have supportive parents!