When Timothy reopened for this anything but typical year, many wondered how, with all of the rules and restrictions, the music department would continue to work with their many students. This past semester, high school junior Jonny Pae has proven that not only will students continue to play, they will reach new heights in their musical education.
Jonny, a junior, has been a cellist in the Timothy orchestra since fifth grade, has been selected for the 2021 All-State Illinois Music Educators’ Conference.
This is a huge honor. This year, 1,500 students from across the state were selected for All-State ensembles (which entail everything from vocal jazz to symphonic orchestra) based on their audition scores and participation in their District’s Festival. But getting selected is no easy feat.
ILMEA splits Illinois into 10 Districts, each of which has a District competition. If students excel—like Jonny did—in their District, they will advance to the All-State Conference. What makes Jonny’s achievement all the more impressive is the fact that Timothy students compete in District 1, the most competitive district in the state. That means that Jonny has proven he is one of the best and brightest of the best and the brightest.
This wasn’t his first time going through the audition process, though. Jonny has auditioned every year from eighth to eleventh grade. In eighth grade he made it into the Middle School District 1 Festival, and as a freshman, Jonny qualified for the Senior District 1 Festival.
However this year, he says, was different. “The excerpts they chose this year were really tough compared to the past two years and I struggled a lot while learning them,” he says. The auditions were also entirely virtual this year, meaning that the audition wasn’t so much about how you performed under pressure, but about how much work you were willing to put in.
Thankfully, as a member of the varsity mock trial team and the high honor roll, Jonny knew how to put in the work. He began learning the music for the auditions last spring. “I started seriously preparing roughly a month and a half in advance,” he says. “I was practicing 30-45 minutes a day two weeks before the day I started recording.”
It should be noted that Jonny was a home learner throughout this whole process. He never actually stepped foot in the orchestra room for the entirety of first semester. He hadn’t even seen his cello teacher since the previous March.
But that didn’t stop Jonny from participating in class, honing his skills, and preparing for his audition. His Timothy orchestra teacher, Mrs. Linda Fox, says that under her supervision, Jonny, as well as his brother Joshua Pae, worked independently on their musical pursuits from home throughout the semester. The two brothers would frequently send her videos of them playing duets on the violin and the cello. Mrs. Fox set up several Google Meets with Jonny before his ILMEA audition to help him fine tune the pieces. “Even though the music was difficult and District 1 is a very competitive district, Jonny never gave up!” she says. “He nailed the passage from Carnival Overture Op. 92 by Antonin Dvorak!”
This dedication, Mrs. Fox says, is nothing new. She says, “ I have enjoyed seeing him grow as a musician by always wanting to learn more difficult music, leading class sectionals.” Outside of school, Jonny is a member of The Youth Symphony of DuPage, and Mrs. Fox says that he’s always eager to offer musical insight from his experiences as a member of that group. He’s not keeping all of that talent to himself either; Mrs. Fox says that Jonny will often transcribe music for her and tutor younger players.
Despite all of this commitment, Jonny says that he’s happily surprised at his musical success this year. “I never thought that I'd actually make it this far,” he insists. “I was already excited to make it into the district ILMEA but I didn't really think that I'd ever make it into All State.
If this were a normal year, Jonny would soon be headed to Peoria for the All-State Conference. Once there, he would be assigned to an orchestra and then rehearse for days under the tutelage of a guest instructor, until finally he would perform in the most important high school orchestra concert in the state. But obviously this is not a normal year, and Mrs. Fox is praying that her student will be able to take advantage of such a unique opportunity to play amongst students who have the same passion for music that he does—whatever form the event takes.
In the meantime, Jonny is back at school in person this semester and has finally returned to the orchestra room. Mrs. Fox is elated to have such a dedicated student back in her class. Whatever the rest of the year brings, one thing is certain: Jonny Pae will continue to strive and grow in his music and as a leader amongst his peers.
- performing arts