JT Mullins was 5 years old when music piqued his interest, and he began playing piano.
Years of study and practice have paid off for this Hershey High School junior who recently won the West Shore Symphony Orchestra’s Concerto Competition. He will perform with the symphony this month at its final Family and Masterworks concerts.
If devotees of classical compositions had concerns about their favorite genre getting old and dusty, they only have to look at Mullins and the other seven finalists chosen from more than a dozen applicants as hopeful signs that Mendelssohn and Mozart are in the expert hands of the next generation.
“These events provide an opportunity for students to perform for their peers in a highly selective, specialized setting,” said Jennifer Sacher Wiley, the orchestra’s music director and conductor. “The concert in May, featuring the winner, is the West Shore Symphony Orchestra’s way of recognizing young musicians in the region and our support of music education.”
Wiley admitted having “mixed feelings” about music competitions since she believes there is a place on the stage for many individual musical voices, but finds value in providing performance opportunities for young artists as they launch their careers.
“This particular competition was a nice way for me to build relationships with community members and music educators in the region,” she said.
Mullins is grateful for the opportunity. He is a member of his school’s concert band, is the principal trombone with the Harrisburg Youth Symphony, and recently auditioned into the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association All-State Concert Band for euphonium.
He will play Grieg’s Piano Concerto, a popular piece that listeners will easily recognize from the start. The prospect of winning the competition and his upcoming public performance has the young pianist “beyond excited,” he said.
“My family, most especially my mother, and my teacher, Eun Ae Baik-Kim of Dickinson College, had worked tirelessly with me to ensure that I was as prepared as possible, and I was extremely happy to see all of our hard work come to fruition,” Mullins said. “My mother is the best manager, photographer and chauffeur that I could ask for, especially because I pay her no salary.”
The competition’s judges noticed the results of Mullins’ hard work, said Wiley.
“In my experience, judges tend to pick pieces that would engage an audience, performed with confidence, technical command and with flair,” she said. “JT certainly had all of those qualities when he competed for our panel of judges in January.”
Mullins admitted that one audience member, his little brother, Jesse, was never as impressed as those judges. At home, whenever Mullins would begin to practice a slow, classical piece that he’d be working on that week, Jesse would almost instantly fall asleep on the couch.
“Those who know my brother know that getting him to fall asleep is, in fact, not much of an accomplishment,” Mullins said. “But I choose to take it as a compliment.”
Along with Mullins’ upcoming solo performance, the West Shore Symphony Orchestra’s May concerts will showcase composers whose music is inspired by nature. Audiences will hear recorded bird sounds in these performances that share the theme, “Sounds of Our World: Past, Present, Future.”
“Of particular note is a 2015 composition by Tan Dun, American composer of Chinese descent,” Wiley said. “Tan Dun recorded bird sounds on ancient Chinese instruments that are intended to be played on cell phones, as audience participation, and on the phones of orchestral players, as part of the piece.”
JT Mullins will perform at the West Shore Symphony’s concerts on May 5 and 6 at the Pollock Performing Arts Center, Camp Hill. For more information, visit www.westshoresymphony.org.
Along with Mullins, other young performers will take to the stage for those performances. These include two middle-school orchestras, Mechanicsburg’s Eagle View Middle School under the direction of West Shore Symphony Orchestra’s Concertmaster Margeaux Katz-Sgrignoli, and a middle school from Alexandria, Va., led by Veronica Jackson. On Friday, May 4, Jackson will lead a clinic for area orchestra directors and hosted by Sgrignoli at Eagle View Middle School.