(image: Youth Seminar student Annika Ekrem)

During our 2020 Youth Seminar, we connected with a participating clarinetist named Annika Ekrem. Annika is a college student studying chemistry, but music plays a critical role in her life too. Learn about how this bright student and “lifelong musician” balances her love of music with her passion for science, what she learned during our Youth Seminar, and how a Colorado Music Festival concert helped guide her to her perfect instrument.

Annika, thank you for taking the time to speak with us! Please tell us what you’re up to these days.

Annika: I am a sophomore at CU Boulder majoring in chemistry and participating in laboratory research on the directed evolution of fluorescent proteins. I began college as a dual major in chemistry and clarinet performance, but I found that the busy nature of the dual major detracted from my love of chemistry and music alike since I didn’t have enough time to fully devote myself to both. Ultimately, I decided to drop my music major in order to pursue music on my own time, and in doing so I have found that my love for music has grown immensely.

By choosing to pursue chemistry as my primary course of study, I have been able to use music as a creative outlet and a relaxing break from my studies. I am grateful for all that I learned in my one year as a music student, and one of the most important lessons my music education taught me is that it is more important for me to love what I am doing than it is to be the absolute best at it.

In the future I plan to attend graduate school and to hopefully earn a Ph.D. in chemistry or a similar field. I am also a lifelong clarinetist, and I’m hoping to learn how to play the piano in the future as well.

You participated in our Youth Seminar in the summer of 2020. What were your impressions? What did you learn?

Annika: Participating in the 2020 Youth Seminar was an amazing experience. I feel so lucky to have gotten the opportunity to meet and work with so many fantastic musicians, composers, and conductors, and I learned so much over the course of the seminar. I wrote down some points that made an impression or changed the way I look at music-making. Here are just a few of my takeaways:

???? Music runs on trust and vulnerability, and the two concepts are related – in order for trust to be established, all parties must be vulnerable, which fosters strong connections between players. In music, it is important to be vulnerable not only to connect with others but to express your artistic ideas and to take ownership of your playing.

???? It is more important to be a musician who plays the clarinet than it is to be a clarinetist who plays musically. Music should come from within and not from the specific instrument someone plays. Even without my clarinet, I am still a musician, and I am just as much of a musician on the clarinet as I am on the piano because musical instruments are simply tools to realize musical ideas. The only difference between the clarinet and the piano in my case is my familiarity with each tool – my musical ideas transcend instruments, and that is what makes me a musician.

???? When confronted with a difficult piece of music, it is important not to hide. Don’t let difficult music happen to you – approach it actively and artistically and use it as an opportunity to create and share musical ideas. No matter how difficult the music is, be yourself, be excited, and play in a way that is meaningful to you.

We learned that you decided to study clarinet because of a Colorado Music Festival concert. (Note: The Festival is the performance arm of our organization.) Can you tell us that story?

Annika: One of the most defining moments of my musical journey happened when I was about 6 or 7 years old when my family took me to a Colorado Music Festival performance. After the performance, the children attending the concert were given an opportunity to meet the musicians. I was very shy, but my mother convinced me to talk to the clarinetist since it was an instrument I had somewhat of a connection with already (I was a huge SpongeBob fan, and one of my favorite parts of the show was watching a character named Squidward play the clarinet very poorly).

Since I was hesitant to talk to the clarinetist, my mother initiated the conversation and brought up Squidward’s awful playing. The clarinetist laughed and told me he was a much better clarinetist than Squidward, and that he could play all sorts of things. He also took time to show me his instrument and pointed out how it differed from its depiction in SpongeBob. I was thrilled, inspired, and grateful to have learned something new about the clarinet.

From that point onward, my perception of the clarinet changed from a silly instrument played by a cartoon character to a beautiful, intricate, expressive tool wielded by talented professionals. I started noticing the clarinet everywhere, and my new awareness of it made me appreciate it even more. In 2011, when I entered 5th grade and it came time to choose which instrument I wanted to learn as a part of my school’s instrumental music program, I thought back to the Festival concert I attended when I was much younger and decided to play the clarinet because of how much that experience made an impression on me.

What role does music play in your life today?

Annika: Today, music is an escape for me. It is my own space in which I can express what cannot be expressed in words, and a place where I am free to improvise and explore my own artistic ideas without fear of failure or judgment. When I’m playing music, it feels like the rest of the world melts away, and all of my stress goes with it.

Music is also an integral part of my identity – I am a lifelong musician, and although it is unlikely to be the main focus of my studies or my career, music is just as important to me as eating, sleeping, and breathing. I want to continue to share my music with others, to teach and inspire young musicians, and to continue to learn and improve my own playing for years to come. There is so much music that I have yet to explore, and that is one of the things I love most about it.

Inspired by Annika’s story? Ready to find your own perfect instrument, take up the clarinet, or restart your piano lessons? The Center for Musical Arts offers lessons and classes of all kinds, for kids and adults!