A young master of the strings

Wantagh Middle School student has had unique musical training


A trip to a music store had a profound impact on Adrian De Chavez.

Adrian, an eighth-grader and a member of the orchestra at Wantagh Middle School, remembers when he received his first pair of instruments at age 6. He walked into a music store with his father, and was surrounded by instruments of all shapes and sizes. He told his dad he needed to buy an instrument, so his father bought him a viola.

Adrian said he preferred the size of the viola compared with other orchestral instruments, including the smaller violin.

“I feel like it makes a much more broader sound than a violin, and much more fun,” he said of the viola.

In the years since that trip to the music store, Adrian has become a talented violist. He plays in the middle school orchestra and jazz band, and has taken part in the All-County Music Festival and the Long Island String Festival since fifth grade. According to Thomas Brody, who directs the middle school orchestra, Adrian’s dedication to his craft has made him a leader in the orchestra program whom other students look up to.

“He brings a sense of maturity that is helping out a lot of other people in our orchestra with how to operate, how to behave, what sound to listen for, and how to play in tune,” Brody said. “All the values that we look for in orchestra musicians here, Adrian already embodies that.”

Adrian also plays in the New York International Youth Philharmonic Orchestra and the Joyous Music School’s Youth Orchestra, which he said are exciting environments in which to hone his skills. “It’s fun, enjoyable, and I learned many techniques from it,” he said.

For the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, he rehearses for an hour and a half every two weeks at the Joyous Music School, in Flushing. At the end of every school semester, the orchestra performs a graduation concert with its seniors, and the younger musicians perform with them. The Joyous School’s Youth Orchestra, Adrian explained, is smaller than the Philharmonic, but plays in larger venues, such as Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden.

He remembers being scared when he played in these arenas for the first time, but he overcame the fear. “I didn’t get used to it,” Adrian said, “but I felt that you shouldn’t be scared because you’re just there. Everyone’s watching you. If you make a mistake, it’s fine, because you just have to keep going. You can’t stop. You can’t start over.”

Adrian has been trained using the Suzuki method, which relies on ear training, repetition and parental involvement. According to Wantagh High School Orchestra Director Eliza DellaMonica, students in school learn to read music first, but Suzuki training focuses on listening and playing, which can speed up the learning process.

“The result of teaching kids in this way enables them to learn the techniques of the instruments much faster,” DellaMonica said, “because they focus mostly on technique and on ear training.”

DellaMonica added that in the Suzuki method, parents are involved with home practice, creating a triangle with the student and teacher, all working together on a child’s musical progress.

Adrian said he works with private teachers and by himself, and is making his way through a series of books. DellaMonica said that the books contain musical pieces that students need to learn before moving on to the next book. The training, Adrian said, has made it easier for him to do orchestral work, but is challenging.

“It progressively gets harder through each book and through each song,” he said.

The method is popular in New York City and parts of the Northeast and the South, DellaMonica said, but it isn’t common on Long Island. She and Brody both said that few students trained in the Suzuki method come through the Wantagh program, which makes Adrian unique.

Learning music has also helped him excel in school, because it has taught him patience and how to focus. For students who might be interested in music, Adrian said to keep practicing despite the initial challenges.

“If you keep on practicing, it’s going to get easier,” he said, “and it’s going to become more enjoyable.”