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Kalea, 14, to take the stage at New York’s Carnegie Hall

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Sounding out: Kalea Walker playing the violin (Photograph supplied)

Kalea Walker, 14, is headed to Carnegie Hall to play violin.

She was selected from 10,000 musicians eager to join the 2023 Honors Performance Series at Carnegie Hall. The prestigious weeklong programme invites 500 high school students to take lessons from master conductors.

It’s capped off with a performance at Carnegie, the historic concert hall that has played host to everyone from Tchaikovsky and Billie Holiday to Judy Garland and The Beatles.

Kalea, who moved to the US in August and takes virtual lessons with Breanna Thornton of the Bermuda School of Music, recorded 12 versions of herself playing excerpts from Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5, Edward Elgar's The Enigma Variations 2 and Joseph Haydn's Concerto in G Major, First Movement before she was satisfied enough to submit one.

“I had to choose the one with the least amount of mistakes,” the teenager said.

Her mother, Keesha Simon-Walker, received the acceptance e-mail four months later.

“I was in disbelief,” Kalea said. “I did not believe it would happen, especially because it took so long to hear back.“

She heads to New York in February. Although much of her time will be focused on performance preparation, the programme allows students to see some of the city. They can also receive college credit for their involvement.

Kalea was nominated for the programme by Ms Thornton. Elizabeth Weir, another 14-year-old at the Bermuda School of Music, was also accepted.

The former Bermuda High School student was initially concerned about how she would compare with other violinists in Georgia.

“The Bermuda School of Music prepared me a lot better than I thought it would,” she said. “Bermuda is pretty small, but they still did a good job because I am doing really well here.”

At North Cobb Christian School in Acworth, she joined the orchestra.

Kalea was also accepted into the Georgia Youth Symphony in Kennesaw, where most of the musicians are in their late teens.

She practises with the symphony every Sunday at Kennesaw State University, about 30 minutes from her home.

“The first time I showed up to play with them I was very nervous,” Kalea said. “I did not know how advanced everyone else would be. And I was in the very first chair of second violin.

“It is nice being around other students who play at the same level as I do.”

She particularly enjoys when they play a “mash-up” of songs from the hit Broadway musical West Side Story.

“I like to play anything that is fast,” she said. “That is really cool.”

Kalea joined a Kindermusik programme at Kiddie Academy nursery school when she was two.

“She loved the class so much that when it was no longer being offered at Kiddie Academy, we followed up at Bermuda School of Music and signed her up for a year,” Ms Simon-Walker said.

After a year, Kalea’s parents asked about piano lessons but were told she was too young. Instead, the teacher suggested the violin.

“We were introduced to LaTannia Ellerbe and the violin journey began on a little box violin,” Ms Simon-Walker said.

Both she and her husband, Winston Walker, were surprised by how quickly Kalea took to the new instrument, as neither one of them is musical.

“I know she was lucky to have had such an excellent teacher in Dr Ellerbe who set her up on a solid path for musical success,” Ms Simon-Walker said.

Kalea began classes with Ms Thornton a year ago, after Dr Ellerbe left the island.

“When Dr Ellerbe relocated it was really difficult, because they had such a deep understanding of each other,” Ms Simon-Walker said. “Fortunately, Breanna Thornton came on board and they now have a wonderful relationship, which continues to facilitate her growth with the instrument.”

Although she took flute lessons for a few years, violin is the instrument Kalea is most comfortable with. One of the challenges is that there is a lot of competition.

“It is a common instrument for people to play,” she said.

She remembers just how impressed she was hearing Dr Ellerbe and Ms Thornton play before her lessons began at 7am.

“They would sound so good,” she said. “I admire them both as violinists. I definitely wished that I could sound like them. I am getting there.”

She spends anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes practising every day, depending on what her music teacher has given her to study for the week.

When she was younger her mother had to remind her to do it, but not any more.

“You definitely have to give up your time to practise but I love making my violin teacher proud of me,” Kalea said. "So I make sure I have practised enough during the week to do that.

“I am working on a concerto that I got a few weeks ago from my teacher. It looked really hard at first but it is getting easier.”

She has no idea what she wants to do yet as a career, but she knows that she wants to continue with the violin. “It is pretty fun,” she said.

For more information visit honorsperformance.org; www.musicschool.bm

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Published November 22, 2022 at 7:52 am (Updated November 23, 2022 at 8:00 am)

Kalea, 14, to take the stage at New York’s Carnegie Hall

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