Gabrielle Skinner : New Haven Symphony Orchestra Fellow & Viola Extraordinaire

Published March 2nd, 2018

What is the NHSO Fellowship?

New Haven Symphony OrchestraThe New Haven Symphony Orchestra has introduced a brand new fellowship that could change your life. The two-year program is open to promising, diverse violinists, violists, and cellists pursuing an orchestral career. With the intention to include more diverse backgrounds that are traditionally underrepresented in orchestras, the NHSO strongly encourages applicants from diverse backgrounds to apply and join the ranks of some of the best professional strings players at this program.

Two key differentiating factors of this program are community outreach and mentorship. Fellows bring classical music into the New Haven, CT, community through hands-on work in local high schools, and merging language arts and music through hip-hop. Fellows also have the opportunity to rehearse and perform alongside the orchestra, receiving invaluable career development and audition preparation. This direct, hands-on enrichment within the fellowship encourages generational inclusion and one-on-one learning that is truly in a class of its own.

What it’s like to apply, win, and then experience life as an NHSO fellowship recipient? To find out, we spoke with one of this year’s inaugural award winners, 24-year-old Gabrielle Skinner. A dedicated grad student at Rice University, Gabrielle is based in Houston and travels to CT regularly to participate in her fellow ship at NHSO. A kind person, lovely conversationalist, and an incredibly talented viola player; Gabrielle has earned every bit of this fellowship. Read on to learn why and hear her story.

New Haven Symphony Orchestra Fellow: Gabrielle Skinner

Gabrielle Skinner

Interview performed by Acceptd Digital Marketing Coordinator, Amy Overturf.

Acceptd: First off, congratulations, Gabrielle! Can you describe the NHSO Fellowship in your own words?
Gabrielle Skinner: Thanks so much. I think this fellowship shows growth in the classical community. The industry in this day and age has to find a way to be malleable with what is coming our way. In the ways of technology, especially. It is really important for the new generation to embrace and encourage movement in the industry, but show love for the history of classical  music, too. It’s a bit of a classical revolution right now, and being a fellow has helped me to get more involved in that.

A big part of what we do as fellows is try to expose the younger generations to the idea that classical may not sound that exciting, but we have a lot to share. We want to show them what they’re capable of and what we do. Music has been a great way for me to get out in the community and help create a new generation of listeners and supporters of the arts.

Acceptd: How did you first discover your love of music? Do you have an early “musician memory” you can share with us?
Gabrielle Skinner: Nobody really knows where I first heard music. My family is a military family, and I liked to do a lot of things growing up, including ballet, creative writing, ice hockey, and violin.

But, the story is, when I was four-years-old, I went to my father and said, “Daddy, I want to play the violin!” Taken aback, he told me to ask him again at my 5th birthday, thinking I would surely forget by then. But, I kept asking, “When can I start violin lessons?” I started violin shortly after.

I attended Governor’s School for the Arts in Virginia. The first two years were really fun, but when my Dad was deployed in Iraq my junior year, I felt an intense connection that I just needed to play.

Acceptd: What has been your proudest achievement as a musician?
Gabrielle Skinner: Getting into grad school. I cried when I found out I got into Rice. I wanted to work in Houston, especially with Ivo. He is so kind. I remember that day so clearly: I was sitting at a coffee house when I got the call.

When I learned about the Harmony Fellowship, I cried about that too. I spent an hour-and-a-half just calling people and thanking them for their time and help. Four teachers had taken time out of their schedules to give me mock auditions, and it was an emotional and proud moment for all of us!

Also, when I was in undergrad I worked at the Cleveland Clinic, performing mini recitals for patients with Alzheimer’s and cancer. Anytime I can work at the hospital, or work with kids it’s incredible. I help kids at the hospital write their own songs, and there’s no words to describe the feeling of helping and inspiring kids, even when they’re having a bad day.

Acceptd: That’s amazing. You’ve had so many great experiences, why did you apply to the NHSO Harmony Fellowship?
Gabrielle Skinner: The emphasis on community outreach was really important to me. The work I do with children and in the hospitals is one of the most meaningful parts of my life as a musician, and I want to do more of that in my professional career.

Acceptd: What advice would you give to musicians who are considering applying to this fellowship or other similar programs?
Gabrielle Skinner: Be passionate. Be compassionate. Completely immerse yourself in the experience.

It’s one thing to apply to something like this and do it, and it’s another thing to really feel and empathize with the people we’re serving while getting the hands-on experience. Communities are open to having music in their lives. Music is such a universal language. I was in New Haven for a week in December, and there were high schoolers who couldn’t speak English and had special needs. But, it didn’t matter, because once you’re in there, you communicate through music.

Acceptd: How has your experience in the fellowship influenced your life?
Gabrielle Skinner: The biggest thing is my step into the professional world. In our profession, there are so many talented and deserving musicians, and it’s so hard to go to an audition and sit behind a screen and play. It’s a difficult road. It’s hard to learn and accept how it all works, but I’m still learning. I have an audition next week and I’m terrified already! That doesn’t change.

Another big impact on my life is somebody is believing in me, or even a whole bunch of somebodies, who hear what I say, and think that it means something. I’ve been encouraged to apply to a couple more opportunities, and I’ve started doing independent studies to learn how to make my life better and more applicable in the New Haven community.

Acceptd: Do you have any audition or application tips for applying to NHSO or other programs?
Gabrielle Skinner: Keep your files organized on your laptop. Always have a folder with your updated bio, resume, and essays labeled.

Don’t ever hesitate to ask your colleagues or teachers to read your resume -- they want to help you!

Auditions are hard. We go into a recording session and it has to be perfect. We have this little voice saying, “If you mess this up in the first minute, they’re not going to pass you to the next round.” It’s important to show something about your personality and your passion through your audition tape. Yes, it’s crucial to play in tune and rhythm. But to quote Beethoven: “To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.”

Acceptd: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Gabrielle Skinner: I’m so excited about the fellowship! I like my colleagues, and everyone has been so warm, welcoming, and helpful. I’ve already been surrounded by so many cheerleaders and wonderful human beings. I’m excited for what’s going to happen. It’s the first time we’re doing this, so it will be cool to develop it for years to come. I would love to help New Haven create a bigger program and keep it going!

Acceptd: What advice do you have for young musicians?
Gabrielle Skinner: Go for it. Never tell yourself you can’t do something. You never know what’s going to happen! Life has a funny way of working itself out when you put yourself out there.

Best of luck to Gabrielle throughout this amazing opportunity. Stay tuned next week on the Acceptd blog for an in-depth Q & A with Gabrielle's co-fellowship winner at NHSO, James Keene. Learn more about the New Haven Symphony Orchestra fellowship here. Stream the NHSO playlist here:

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