By Cristina Schreil
Meet violinist Logan Valleroy, cellist Zlatomir Fung, violinist Charlotte Marckx, and cellist Olivia Marckx. Anyone convinced that today’s teens are more passionate about apps like Snapchat and Pokémon Go than classical music is in for a refreshing surprise. These rising stars share their inspiration, greatest challenges, future goals, and driving ambitions in keeping music a priority amid the many demands of teen life.
16, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
When Valleroy and his brother, Casey, were younger, they would bang out music on percussive items found around the house, which was the origin of their duo name: Bucket Brothers. Eventually, Logan’s mother suggested the violin and he gave it a shot. “And now, it’s nine years later,” Valleroy shares, after getting back from a camp with violinist Christian Howes. Valleroy’s repertoire is diverse, something he’s gleaned from his teacher Gabriel Pelli. He enjoys playing all types of music, especially swing, gypsy jazz, bebop, Latin jazz, fusion, classical, bluegrass, old-time, and ragtime. And he still plays with his brother Casey—after many years of recording works in their home, the Bucket Brothers just released what Valleroy calls their first “real” album. As for what the future holds, Valleroy says he’s not yet sure whether he would major solely in performance, or also pursue film scoring, jazz composition, music production, or music education.
What have some of your biggest challenges been, musically speaking?
One challenge has been (and still is) managing my time between school and music. During the school year, I typically do all my homework as soon as I get home; my violin practice then usually happens after dinner, which is not always the best time to be doing it. Another challenge I’ve struggled with at times is technique. I’m currently trying to improve some of my less-than-optimal habits and strengthen my technique so that I can go to the next level in my playing.
You’ve competed in the Hoppin’ John Old Time and Bluegrass Fiddlers’ Convention and at the Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival, where you won first place. What skills should a musician possess to excel in this setting?
For competitions, I think a musician should practice the specific things that the competition requires over and over again, which is what I have done, especially for my seminar audition. Another thing that I think is important is to come up with your arrangement well in advance and develop a creative arrangement.
It is not enough to just decide what tune(s) you’re going to play—you really have to think through what the arrangement will be as well.
How was attending Christian Howes’ Creative Strings Workshop?
I learned new practice techniques and exercises that I think will help me a lot in the long run. One of the instructors, Jason Anick, whom I met last summer at another camp, and who teaches at Berklee, led a clinic and gave us lots of really good études.
For the ensemble portion of Creative Strings, we worked on an original tune by [violinist Alex Hargreaves] that challenged me a lot and also taught me new things about the realm of composition, which was interesting because I do a little composing myself.
Unlike some violinists, you’re quite comfortable with improvising. What’s your secret?
Good improvisation requires listening to the other musicians you are playing with.
Another great way to develop good improvisational skills is to record and listen to yourself. Doing this allows you to hear aspects of your improvising that you wouldn’t otherwise notice, and work on improving them.
How has being a string player inspired or empowered you? Do you think studying the violin has benefitted you in other areas outside of music?
Being a string player is interesting, especially when it comes to jazz. I’ve been to jazz camps where there are literally nothing but horns everywhere.
At a jazz workshop at the University of North Carolina, I was the only violin player out of about 100 participants two years in a row.
It felt really special and unique to have an instrument and sound that were distinct from everyone else at that workshop. That’s one of the things I like about jazz violin—there are relatively few jazz violinists in a sea of horns. (And I do like horns.) I also like bringing more jazz attention to the violin, going back to the roots set down by early players like Stéphane Grappelli.
More broadly, I am kind of a quiet person by nature, but being a performer has helped me become more comfortable with public speaking.
Charlotte Marckx & Olivia Marckx
14, and 17, Bellevue, Washington
Musical sisters Charlotte, a violinist, and Olivia, a cellist, found the name of their duo, Sempre Sisters, in a musical dictionary after attending a workshop by the legendary Scottish fiddle duo Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas. The musical term sempre means “always.” The notion of union is fitting: They both began studying their instruments at five and a half. While the siblings perform outside of their duo, working on their solo repertoire or playing in chamber-music ensembles, they’ve shared exciting moments together, including appearing on NPR’s From the Top, playing at Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market, and composing and arranging their own tunes. They both attended the Aspen Music Festival this summer; later this year, they’re performing the Brahms double concerto with a local orchestra. They both plan to pursue careers in music.
What do you love about your instrument?
Olivia: My mom is a cello teacher, so I didn’t actually “choose” the cello—it chose me. Since I have been playing for so long, I can’t imagine my life without it. One aspect I love about cello is how versatile it is. It is so much fun to play an instrument that can both play concertos and also function as the percussion part of our duo.
Charlotte: I started on cello, too, but I was terrible at it. My parents decided I needed to have my “own” instrument, rather than follow in Olivia’s footsteps. I actually wanted to play the piano, but my parents (both string players) picked the violin for me. It worked out well, because I fell in love with it the minute I saw my 10th-size violin for the first time. Also, I love the virtuosic and soulful violin repertoire.
How has being a string player helped you outside of music?
Olivia: I was diagnosed with very low large motor skills (in the low 1 percentile) at age five. My therapist through the public school system suggested that doing something different with both hands would improve my coordination, so my mom thought of the cello. She began teaching me and, although I struggled at first, I really got the hang of it. Cello was physically therapeutic for me and as my skills grew, it really brought me a sense of purpose and confidence.
Tell me about the different styles and genres you’ve become versed in.
Our uncle Scott is a fiddler, and he and his wife, Jeanie, introduced us to fiddle music by including us in small family jam sessions. Since then we have discovered that our favorite genres of fiddle tunes are all from the Northern regions (Scottish, Danish, Finnish, Quebecois).
We also love to arrange classic pop tunes such as the Beatles and Michael Jackson. Much of fiddle music is informed by dance and linguistics, which provide an inherent sense of rhythm and phrasing. Also, there is the expectation that performers will enhance tunes with drones, ornaments, etc. This helps us perceive the written sheet music in our classical work as a starting point, rather than the final product, which in turn has freed us up as performers.
What have some of your biggest musical challenges been?
Like many aspiring musicians, we have both suffered our share of rejections, losses, and disappointments. We try to focus on playing music we love and planning our next project in order to boost morale. Having other genres to turn to has been a big help.
Another challenge for us has been financial. My parents are teachers, and to pursue music at a high level is very expensive. This year we were both very fortunate to receive support through the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which offers financial support and educational advising to students all across the country. This program has been an incredible blessing to us.
What’s been a highlight experience for you so far?
Both of us love playing with orchestras, and we also both loved performing with the Seattle Chamber Music Society after we won their annual competition, but by far, our highlight has been being involved with From the Top. Through From the Top, we both have performed as soloists and as a duo on the radio, and also got to work with some of our idols (Time for Three and Mark O’Connor).
From the Top really validated our love of playing multi-genre music and also got us excited and invested in musical outreach projects. Their enthusiasm and sincere belief that music has the power to change the world has greatly influenced us, and the way we view our role as performers.
17, Westborough, Massachusetts
Zlatomir Fung started playing the cello at three and a half with the Suzuki Method, grounding him in strong technique and musicality. But he says it wasn’t until 12, when he went to the Indiana University’s Summer String Academy, that his love for the cello crystallized: “I realized how attracted I was to the sound, the color, and the wonderful possibilities of its range.”
Since, he’s competed in the Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians, the Brahms Competition, the Stulberg and Klein competitions, and the Johansen Competition, in addition to being featured on From the Top. He studies—mostly via Skype—with Richard Aaron, from the University of Michigan and the Juilliard School, and Julie Albers. Fung hopes to play cello professionally and admires both solo and chamber-music cello repertoire.
What have some of your biggest challenges been, musically speaking?
Working as the cellist in the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble in the summer of 2015 was quite a challenge, mainly because of the pace. I had to learn a new piece of music every week and perform it with few rehearsals. Also, at my first international competition, the Young Tchaikovsky, I wasn’t really expecting to get that far, so I worked mainly on polishing my repertoire for the first two rounds. So when I made it to the finals, I suddenly had to concentrate on the Rococo Variations, which I had barely ever performed.
You’ve participated in several competitions. Can you elaborate on some of the challenges there?
I find it so nerve-racking to listen to the other competitors (who are all so good!) that I usually don’t watch them play. At the Young Tchaikovsky Competition, in the first round, I was so nervous that my left hand slipped clean off the fingerboard twice!
The  Klein competition was a challenge on several levels. Besides the fact that the Klein is a competition of the highest caliber, I had recently been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that can attack my kidneys under periods of stress.
The day before the semifinals, I had an attack and spent half the day in the ER instead of practicing, and I felt quite sick while competing. Enduring that semifinal round was one of the most challenging performances of my musical life. But I learned that an adventurous response to adversity will nearly always yield more opportunity than inaction.
What skills should a musician have to excel in a competition?
The ability to focus and to remain calm is very helpful. It is also important never to lose sight of why we make music: for the passion and for the love.
What is your favorite musical accomplishment?
In October of 2012, I met a kind woman at the reception of one of my performances in Boston, who invited me to give a concert at her home in January.
When the time grew close, she requested that the concert be delayed so she could undergo medical treatment, at which point I learned that she had an aggressive brain tumor. I requested the opportunity to play a private recital (Bach’s third suite) for her, hoping to rally her spirits.
She and I both eagerly anticipated playing for her again, but three days before the new date for the house concert, she passed away. We chose to go on with the show and hold the concert in her honor. A family friend [of hers] told me then that my private recital was the last time that she had mustered the strength to come downstairs from her bedroom.
I dedicated the concert to her memory, and her husband told me that he had “felt her soul” in my performance. That was a defining moment in my musical life, when I felt that I had brought hope amid great sorrow. It truly impressed upon me that, as a musician, and as an artist, it is the lives that I grace and the transcendence I embody that give my craft its supreme relevance.
What are some tips you have for other teen players who are following their dreams?
Work diligently and always look on the bright side. Concentrate on the quality and focus of your practice, rather than the quantity.
Cultivate passion for the music that you play, and strive to convey that passion to your audience.