Student musician receives award for solo jazz performance at Charles Mingus Competition

Niyati Hansaria, Reporter

It is said that music has the power to bring people together and turn around the saddest of days into the happiest. Music has the ability to inspire individuals of all generations and celebrate exceptional talent. Brookfield Central senior Hannah Sternberg’s talent had the opportunity to be recognized; her passion for music and her dedication towards the arts shined through when she became the recipient of the Jazz Outstanding Soloist award. I sat down with her to learn more about her journey, and how she received this prestigious title.

Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself! How long have you been practicing music, and what inspired you to pursue music?

A: I first started playing music when I was five, when a violin teacher would come to our school every Thursday and give lessons. I really liked it, so my parents started giving me private lessons. Over the years I loved playing, but never thought about it besides being a hobby. In middle school, I started to get into jazz and played violin in jazz band when I was in eighth grade. Once I got to high school, I knew I had to be in the jazz band. I walked up to Mr. Gillette, and he told me directly that violins were not normal in a jazz band, and he liked to keep things authentic. I told him I wanted to be in it no matter what, so he recommended that I learn the bass and join. The next week I walked in to rehearsal, and he looked surprised to see me so soon. From then on I started jazz through school, and eventually got heavily involved with the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s jazz institute and classical areas.

Q: What are your involvements with music at Brookfield Central?

A: I was in the Symphony orchestra freshman year, and then moved up to Chamber, along with starting Jazz Band in freshman year. I have also been in the pit orchestra on violin for the musicals Oliver and Cinderella, and I played bass for Newsies. Outside of school, I am in the Wisconsin Intergenerational Orchestra (three years) on bass and violin. Furthermore, I also am a part of the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music’s Jazz Institute. That is a program that meets for 3-hour sessions once a week, including one hour of jazz combos, one hour of music theory, and one hour of Big Band jazz. At the Conservatory, I am also involved in their Advanced Chamber Music Institute.

3. Tell us about how you were recognized with this title. Was there a process that you went through?

A: At the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, I rose to their top jazz group after two years of dedication. We are called the Batterman Ensemble, and we went to New York in February for a competition. I won the Outstanding Soloist award at that competition.

Our coach at the Conservatory, Eric Jacobson, said he wanted us to try learning some new tunes for a competition. The competition was called the Charles Mingus Competition, dedicated to Charles Mingus, a very well known bass player, who wrote hundreds of tunes. We had to play three of his songs for the video application. While submitting the video, expectations were very low about getting in, since only three groups were chose to perform in New York. But, after a month, we heard back and we found out we made it!

Upon reaching, we decided to rehearse. I had planned on taking a solo on our slowest song, but my coach figured the performance would go over our time limit if I did, so the day before the performance, he switched what song I would solo on. I had one run through to practice. To add, when you solo or walk a bassline in jazz, you improvise- make it up as you go while following the chords.

The day of the competition, I didn’t feel confident, but I played through it. We came back for the awards ceremony, and that was when I found out I won. The members of the Charles Mingus Big Band chose me for this honor after listening to all of the groups. That night, I got to sit in with the Mingus Big Band and play on the same bass as the, now dead, Charles Mingus. I was not expecting the award at all, since I only started bass three years ago, whereas the people in this competition have been practicing for months, and had taken more than one solo during their performance that day. I was so happy to be chosen for such an amazing honor, I never thought I would get that in my wildest dreams.

Hannah’s goals for the future include a profession in the arts, most likely as an orchestra teacher. She has already started preparing herself for this role, by starting an Independent Study in Music Theory with Mr. Gillette and involving herself with the LAUNCH Future Teachers program. “I have learned through experience, and the class of LAUNCH that I do love to teach, and I can see myself doing it for the rest of my life,” says Sternberg. Congratulations to Hannah, and good luck on your future endeavors!