Stage Presence: From Competitions to Orchestral Concerts, Every Performance has been Unforgettable

Cellist Brandon Leonard discusses the most valuable lesson he’s learned from playing cello in this 2021 feature on teen string players.

By Brandon Leonard | From the March-April 2021 issue of Strings magazine

Cellist Brandon Leonard received second prize in the 2020 National Sphinx Competition and Center Stage Strings Young Artist Solo Competition. He has also won the Samuel Fordis Concerto Competition and will be soloing with the Georgia Philharmonic. In addition to his participation in such summer music programs as the Tanglewood Junior Strings Intensive, Leonard is a member of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra and has been featured on NPR’s From the Top.   

NAME Brandon Leonard
AGE 15  
HOMETOWN Stone Mountain, Georgia 
SCHOOL Chamblee Charter High School 

Why I Chose the Cello
In the 4th grade, when I was around 10 years old, we had to pick an instrument and I was more particularly drawn to the stringed instruments. Everybody else was playing violin so I didn’t want to choose that, and I really liked the sound of the cello so that’s what I chose.


There are so many talented musicians, and watching them perform inspires me to work harder to reach a higher level.

Why I Love Being a String Player
Playing the cello has really opened my eyes to the amazing world of classical music, because before I started playing cello, I didn’t know much about the classical world. There are so many talented musicians, and watching them perform inspires me to work harder to reach a higher level. I have had several traveling opportunities because of competitions and music camps. For example, I was able to travel to Detroit for the Sphinx Competition and the Center Stage Strings music camp at the University of Michigan. What I love about this instrument is being able to convey my emotions through music to the audience. 

One of the most important things about my string playing is the opportunities I have been given. I’ve had the privilege of performing in master classes with several gifted artists, attended concerts of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and have had several performance opportunities that will not be taken for granted. I have also enjoyed being able to teach cello and piano to younger students who are developing an interest in music.

My Most Valuable String Lesson
I think the most valuable lesson I have learned from playing the cello is patience. Sometimes practicing is like watching grass grow; you don’t see the results you want day to day, but in the long run the results of hard work pay off. 


My Musical Life
A few outlets I have are the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Talent Development Program and the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra, which offers many performance opportunities, private lessons, and scholarships. I also participate in the annual Georgia Music Educators Association All State Competition once a year, which brings together the top musicians from all over Georgia to play together.

Most of my closer friends are understanding about how the cello is my passion, but others think classical music is boring and not something I should spend my time doing. But I’ve met several friends who share the passion of playing a stringed instrument at music camps, and I keep in touch with them via text and Zoom. 


My Most Memorable Playing Experience
One of my most memorable performance experiences was playing with an orchestra at the 23rd annual Sphinx Competition. I had made it to the finals, and it was my very first time performing as a soloist with an orchestra, so naturally I was extremely nervous when I walked onto the stage. I tried to avoid eye contact with the audience because it would have only made me more nervous. In the beginning, I was still in awe that I was actually playing in the hall where the Detroit Symphony performs. As I continued to play, I felt more comfortable onstage and ended up enjoying myself. It was an unforgettable moment in my life.

My Career Goals
I love playing the cello and would like to attend college to study music performance. After that, I hope to start a career with a major orchestra or quartet and play music for the rest of my life. 

Our Teen Strings Tip Sheets get young string players excited and inspired about making music. Download this FREE PDF for 4 tips for awesome YouTube videos, great metronome hacks, and more.