Kerry Walther: A High Schooler Playing in National Orchestras

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Photo by Leo Ambrogelly

Walther’s primary instrument is the viola. She’s also able to play the violin and a bit of the piano, but she finds herself favoring the viola because of it’s richer sound.

By Nancie Huang-Ball, Sage Creek High School

While other students head off to clubs, sports or home after school, junior Kerry Walther heads off to rehearsal, walking diligently with her viola case in one hand. Whether it be at school, at Mira Costa or somewhere else around California, it’s all the same: Walther joins the orchestra and gets out her viola and bow, preparing for rehearsal. A sense of thrill is overcast while she waits to begin, and you can tell by the determination in her face that she’s ready for what’s to come.

Many kids learn an instrument growing up, yet not all of them persist and develop it into something greater. Walther has been playing the viola—an instrument that is similar to the violin, but with different strings so that a deeper sound is produced—for around six years. Six years isn’t that long compared to other musicians, but hard, dedicated work has launched Walther to become a highly skilled violist throughout the years. Today, she has gathered a long record of events that have made history in her eyes.

Walther routinely plays in national orchestras such as a youth orchestra run by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, held at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Performing in the Walt Disney Concert Hall is a goal that many musicians hope to accomplish in their lifetime.

“They accept around 100 people and I got in twice,” Walther said.

Renowned conductor and violinist Gustavo Dudamel conducted the orchestra, and Walther considers him to be a huge inspiration to her.

“One of my life goals was to play with the LA Phil and get to meet Gustavo Dudamel… and then I got to do that, which is so crazy,” said Walther. “Honestly, I kind of zoned out because I had always dreamed of seeing him. I always wanted to meet him because he’s, like, one of the best conductors in the world, so getting to work with him was a life goal, and I got it at age 15.”

Photo Courtesy of Kate Walther
Walther has been a part of the Renaissance Institute of Music since it’s “early days”. Pictured is Kerry Walther (third to the right), but also Nicholas Tappin (fourth to the right), a friend of Walther’s and a fellow musician. Now, Walther is a part of the Teaching Artists Certification Course that the institute provides.

Locally, Walther is a part of the San Diego Youth Symphony and the Mira Costa College Symphony Orchestra.

“With Mira Costa, I was the youngest person to join. It was really weird,” Walther said, explaining how intimidating it was with all the adults there. “But I feel proud when I’m one of the youngest.”

Music to Walther naturally stuck to her, and with hard work and dedication, Walther has made extreme efficiency with the work she puts in.

“Kerry loved playing the viola from the beginning, and showed an unusual understanding of music for one her age.” Walther’s previous music teacher Kim Stephens-Doll said. “Kerry’s work ethic has been of great benefit to her, and she has made great use of the good instruction she has received by ‘going the extra mile’ when given learning tasks.”

Through balancing school and music, Walther is able to manage to find time to practice her instrument—though, like many musicians tend to do—she ends up playing late at night. The balance between school and academics is not an easy one, however.

”My teacher has a set number of hours he wants me to practice every week, but sometimes that’s almost impossible with all my school stuff going on, and I have to, like, pick between school and music.” Kerry stated.

Kathleen Robinson is a close friend and musician to Walther and actively performs with her in orchestras.

“She works so, so hard. When it comes to her music she’s very serious about that, and that’s one of the many things that I admire about her.” Robinson said. “She was pretty much the outlet to music for me at first, and she’s introduced so many programs in my life and I’ve met so many new people.”

Photographer unknown
Kerry Walther performs in her 5th grade’s talent show on the viola. She recalls not being very nervous during the time, and that it’s ironic how she now has more stage fright, along with more skill.

“It is extremely rewarding to work with a student like Kerry, who is willing to study and is able to understand the message of the music at an even deeper level.” Stephens-Doll said. To her, Walther’s passion for classical music and deep understanding of its meaning makes her very enjoyable to work with.

Walther’s confidence with playing the viola has launched tremendously over time.

“She was at first a little bit unconfident in her abilities,” Robinson stated, “but over the years she’s grown to be such a confident player and a way more confident person who kind of knows where she’s going in her direction.”

Walther takes music very seriously since it’s a priority to her, just like how school is for others. For some students, hobbies are for fun, scholarships or to keep them busy. Traits such as responsibility and time management can be developed through many hobbies, but those aren’t the only traits Walther is taking into the future. For her, every minute spent with music is benefiting her future directly.

“I want to major in music performance. In a perfect world I’d be in a professional orchestra that tours the world, like the LA Phil. Or more realistically, I’d be in the San Diego Symphony.”

Junior Nicholas Tappin is another friend and musician who performs with Walther frequently.

“She’s able to adapt to a bunch of different environments really well. I’ve seen her grow from this very shy and timid 9th grader to the leader and brilliant musician she is today.” Tappin said. “Each orchestra has a different mindset and conductor, who has a different mindset, and you need to adapt to that. You only grow as a musician if you adapt.”

Throughout the years, Walther has shown great character development, changing from being a timid freshman to an even more accomplished, risk-taking junior.

Photo Courtesy of Kate Walther
Walther is found frequently performing in the Mira Costa College Symphony Orchestra. Walther’s current private viola teacher, Branden Muresan, is also the symphony orchestra’s conductor. Walther looks up to Muresan as one of her top inspirations.

“I remember her first year I was always like ‘Louder, Kerry! You sound great!’ but she was afraid to play out. She’s always had a great sound and I just wanted more of it.” Sage Creek Music Director Juliana Quiñones recalls. Today, Walther tends to be an independent worker, but she contributes valuable knowledge when adding to the discussion.

“She’ll be quiet and then something she’ll say will catch you off guard. It’s always the quiet ones you’ve got to look out for.” Quiñones said.

Walther truly demonstrates the phrase ‘quality over quantity’ through her musicality and active involvement in music, which is something that will support her future in music. Not many students can say they’ve been preparing for their career during high school, and not many musicians can say they’ve accomplished what Walther has in a mere six years. Walther is someone to look out for in the future.

This story was originally published on The Sage on February 12, 2020.