Magazine Fall 2023 Reaching the Rockies

Violinist Flourishes in Aspen

Sophia Chan Magazine 2023

For eight intense weeks last summer, violinist SOPHIA CHAN ’25 felt pushed and stretched as a musician. However, she fondly remembers performing at the Aspen Music Festival and School, where peers, her professor and festival staff greatly encouraged her.

“I studied with professor Cornelia Heard, who supported and nurtured me as a musician and person, helping me navigate my first large music festival,” she says. “I met and performed with Augustin Hadelich and Gil Shaham, who were both incredibly kind and bright-spirited. But most of all, I loved meeting and befriending fellow students.”

At the end of long days rehearsing and performing, she and her new friends formed an amateur choir, singing Mozart's requiem in practice rooms or under the stars outside.

One of the top classical music festivals in the United States, Aspen features more than 600 classical music students from around the world. “It’s insanely competitive,” says Ruth Lin, who chairs the Westmont music department and directs the Westmont Orchestra. “She joined students from top conservatories, studying with teachers who are classical music superheroes.”

Sophia, a biochemistry major, felt rusty after not practicing during Westmont in Cairo last spring. “No one is completely prepared for all the projects, performances and practicing at Aspen,” she says. “Whenever I had the courage to share I'm not pursuing a degree in music, people were intrigued and surprised and thought that was cool.”

Her biggest challenge came in her second performance when the festival orchestra premiered Donnacha Dennehy’s “Violin Concerto” with Hadelich and Henk de Vlieger’s compilation of Wagner’s “The Ring of the Nibelung.” “When I faced a hard project, I told myself it would be okay because I had survived ‘The Ring’ and Dennehy,” she says. “I knew I had grown as a musician at the end of the festival, becoming more confident and secure in my playing,” she says. “Back at Westmont, people told me they could hear a big difference in my playing, which really encouraged me!”

She also grew as a person, settling into a new living area and lifestyle after Cairo. “I learned to trust others and God, to ask for help and to cherish my unique experiences,” she says.

The Loma Linda resident enrolled at Westmont after watching her older sister participate in the annual Music Guild competition. Violist Sarah Chan ’22 finished as a finalist, played in the Westmont Orchestra and graduated with a degree in biology and a minor in chemistry.

“Being at Aspen helped me realize that I made the right decision in pursuing a liberal arts education at Westmont,” Sophia says. “I get a well-rounded education that includes studying abroad, majoring in biochemistry and going to the Aspen Music Festival!”