It only takes a few notes for 17-year-old cellist Amos Chon to name the background music playing at a local café: “This is Hungarian Rhapsody No. 4,” he says. “I love this song. It’s on my iPod.”
Chon’s music preferences are probably centuries away from his peers, literally. He listens almost solely to classical music, even when driving in his car. “I listen to NPR in the car. I’ll be just smiling, moving my head along to Mozart driving to school or home.”
Chon and violinist Zach Matteson, 15, are the youngest regular members of the Glacier Symphony. While their friends crammed for finals or played in high school athletics last week, Chon and Matteson spent their nights practicing for last weekend’s production of West Side Story with the rest of the symphony, most of whom are old enough to be their mom or dad – or in Matteson’s case, are his mom.
“My mom plays the bassoon in the symphony,” he said. “She’s the one who got me into it.”
Both musicians started playing at a young age, and have since become accomplished players, attending prestigious music camps, pushing themselves with private lessons and playing at events with various groups throughout the community. They average around two hours of practice each night, whether it’s alone, with the symphony or at a lesson.
Matteson, a sophomore at Glacier High School, started violin lessons at age 5 in Russia, where he would attend music school after his regular classes. “Music classes there were way more intense. The instructors weren’t afraid to let you know if you weren’t doing very well that day, or to get in your face a little,” he said. It also wasn’t unusual for musicians to start playing young.
“It was more expected there, and I think people respected it more,” he said. “They don’t call people like ‘orchestra nerds,’ because they have a better idea of how much work goes into it.”
Matteson’s schedule is full. Last week, he was studying for finals, practicing for West Side story, going to 5:45 a.m. swimming practice and preparing audition tapes for summer music camps. He hopes the hard work will pay off with college scholarships and maybe a professional career one day.
Chon, who was home schooled until 10th grade, is finishing up his second year of classes at Flathead Valley Community College. He plans on studying science and music at Southern Adventist University, a school he chose because it’s strong in both programs.
Chon, who is in his third season with the symphony, began playing the cello at age 6. When local music teachers told him they thought they couldn’t help him improve anymore, he started lessons with a Montana State University instructor in Bozeman and then with a renowned teacher in California. He flew to practice with her several times last year.
“I’m so fortunate that she lets me be her student, but the plane tickets are so expensive,” he said. “Mostly I just work on my own.”
Chon and Matteson have trouble describing exactly what it is that they love about orchestra music, but talk about things “clicking” or a challenging piece “just coming together.” It’s obvious they enjoy the challenge.
“It’s something that just gets engraved in you,” Chon said. “Even if I don’t make music my profession, it’ll always be something I do.”
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