Inside Sounds Promising

Sisters Kaitlin (19) and Emily (16) Webster-Zuber are our first Sounds Promising students to have participated as both composers and performers.

We asked them to share some thoughts on their experiences here. We’ve been delighted with how much they’ve made of the program. With their talent, commitment, courage, and good humor, they’ve been an absolute joy to work with.


This season, we’ve had the grand opportunity of participating in both Salastina’s “Sounds Promising” and “Promising Composers” programs. Salastina didn’t tell us what to play (although they did give us choices). Salastina didn’t tell us what to compose. And Salastina didn’t tell us what to write here on this blog. Rather, they gave us free reign to express the perspective of the next generation of Classical music!

Salastina adopted us into their program with the excitement of adopting a pet, or its LA equivalent

Salastina adopted us into their program with the excitement of adopting a pet, or its LA equivalent

As a composition coach (*cough* Derrick Spiva *cough*) once said: “If you ever find yourself on stage and someone in the audience asks what inspired you to write a piece, you can always start with ‘Well, I was looking at the moon one night…’”

In all seriousness, Derrick was a wonderful composition coach. From the beginning, we knew of Derrick’s past involvement with Salastina. We didn’t realize just how prominent he is in Los Angeles until we received the LA Master Chorale’s 2019-20 season brochure. There he was, on the front cover -- and in an awesome jacket!

During our first meeting, he helped us find our individual voices by quizzing us on our favorite things to listen to. It was so exciting to become more closely acquainted with the kinds of sounds that attract us. Coincidentally, when asked for an example of the type of music we enjoyed listening to, we independently chose tracks from the same soundtrack: Disney’s Brave. It’s no wonder people initially assume we are twins. (Here’s Kaitlin’s favorite, and here’s Emily’s.)

Derrick also helped us move away from traditional harmonic triads. He encouraged us to experiment with contrasting chord colors. Maybe most importantly,  Derrick energetically reminded us that there are 88 keys on the piano. As pianists, we obviously knew this already. But he heightened our awareness of the 88 distinct sounds available at our fingertips. (What DOOO we do with all of these delicious notes?! Roll: Lucy, Chocolate Factory). This got us thinking deeper about what other instruments (flute/violin/violoncello) can and can’t do.

He was very professional when discussing attainable goals for our next meeting. His expectations were crystal clear. Derrick even introduced us to several technical program tools available for composers and other artists. This included copyright laws and publishing information -- crucial knowledge in order to join the professional music world.

In beginning our compositions, we had to decide on instrumentation. The Salastina musicians at our disposal of this year's annual Sounds Local concert were piano, string quartet, and flute. Curious about non-string instruments, Emily chose to write Pastorale for flute and piano. Kaitlin wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the piano trio, so she chose to write Rhapsody for piano, violin, and cello. Since we were both participating as pianists in Salastina’s Young Artist program as well, Maia had suggested we play the piano on each other’s pieces. So Emily’s piece was written for and performed by Kaitlin and Ben Smolen, and Kaitlin’s piece was written for and performed by Emily, Kevin, and Yoshi.

With Salastina’s Sounds Local performance dates as a deadline to get to the “double bar” (the completion of our compositions), it was imperative for us to stay focused. We made composition a part of our regular practice routine. Suddenly, we were turning into groomed and confident composition workhorses.

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 After all rehearsals were complete -- with every minute of our compositions thoroughly investigated, and all changes applied -- we were finally able to share the world premieres of our pieces with Salastina’s audiences. It was extremely beneficial to be present at the rehearsals of the professional composers whose pieces were also on the program. Watching them interact with the Salastina musicians was very instructive.

We felt a little like this while directing each other and Salastina musicians during rehearsals of Pastorale and Rhapsody.

We felt a little like this while directing each other and Salastina musicians during rehearsals of Pastorale and Rhapsody.

Being included in the performance of seven composers’ musical stories allowed us to look at how the program -- in its entirety -- told a universal story. We started with Emily’s Pastorale, which took us on the beginning of an adventure to a new world guided by Mother Nature (the flute).

Next, we heard a series of pieces, including Kaitlin’s Rhapsody, which illustrated mysterious, reflective, and powerfully energetic sounds that come with a Peregrine Falcon’s first journey through an unknown environment.

The concert concluded with the world premiere of a piece our coach, Derrick, had written for Ben, the flutist. Throughout both concerts, we saw how all the pieces on the program gave us the ability to see music “travel” through stories and/or life experiences.

After these concerts, we felt a great sense of accomplishment. We had completed our musical ideas, turning them into gratifying live performances.  It was even more thrilling to have been able to play each other’s pieces!


Sounds Promising also gave us the opportunity to perform alongside a singer for the first time. And not just any singer: Josh Wheeker from the LA Opera. One of the most important things we learned was to pay close attention to his breathing techniques and patterns. While  similar to working with wind instruments in a chamber music setting, it was different in that we were trying to make sense of the poem he was singing. We needed to do our part to tell a story. We enjoyed making sense of the two poems composer Ethel Smyth had set -- The Clown and Possession -- in order to convey their meaning to the audience. Listening to and interacting with Josh as a singer made these two pieces very meaningful to us.

Josh was a very receptive and fun collaborator. A highlight of playing the Ethel Smyth pieces was our very first rehearsal with Josh. As soon as we heard his voice, we both were excited. He had the perfect range to illustrate the moods of the works. We knew it was going to be great!

Post-concert with Josh.

Post-concert with Josh.

Since our performances with Josh, we’ve been paying closer attention to finding the singing voice of the piano. Though we were slightly nervous at first, we began adjusting to the constructive criticism received. Soon, we were comfortable enough to give constructive criticism in return!

Salastina’s “Sounds Promising” and “Promising Composers” programs enabled us to receive valuable and effective feedback for both performance and composition. Since we have participated in playing chamber music for several years, we had a good idea of how the coachings, workshops, and practice would likely be structured. However, we were always blown away by the added life and creativity the Salastina team brought to the table. Upon experiencing chamber music with Salastina members, we were able to be fully immersed in the professional music setting.

Talk about a life changing experience. We are fortunate to have been participants in these exceptional programs, and are inspired to continue offering our musical exposure and composing abilities on the professional level.

THANK YOU SALASTINA. We’d also like to thank you the supporters and members of Salastina who give Maia and Kevin the chance to help students like us grow.

Thank you, Kaitlin and Emily, for sharing your thoughts. And thank you to your family, especially your mom Denise, for their support, involvement, and encouragement!

Kaitlin and Emily have their own musical organization dedicated to musical outreach. It’s called Musical Traces, and we encourage you to check them out!