NYU Student, Grammy Award Winner, Talks Uplifting Black Songwriters

Noelia Carrasco, a talented cellist studying cello at NYU, talks about the process of recording an album in the midst of a pandemic and the importance of representation in music.

(Courtesy of Noelia Carrasco; photo by Angela Weiss)

NYU student Noelia Carrasco is no stranger to awards, but being part of the first youth orchestra to win a Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance felt different.

Carrasco was a member of the New York Youth Symphony when they recorded their award-winning album, which included works by Florence Price, Jessie Montgomery and Valerie Coleman. Carrasco recalled the great tension that hung over the clock and the excitement that followed the announcement of the group’s victory.

“At first it was a complete shock, because how could this be possible?” – said Karaska. “But then I got a huge sense of pride, like that really warm pit in my stomach when something amazing happens.”

Members of the New York Youth Symphony are no strangers to the hard work involved in honing their craft, but the pandemic has brought a new challenge: How do you play and record a symphony without physically being together?

Carrasco said that in addition to individual training, the orchestra had to get used to watching conductor Michael Rapper’s movements while listening to click tracks, follow the beats of a metronome that helped them stay in time, and play in a mask.

“During the recording sessions themselves, we had to split the strings into three groups, and then there were separate groups for brass, brass and percussion. Thus [the string players] never even heard what brass/brass/percussion sounded like until the rough draft of the recording was released.’

A first-generation Taiwanese Bolivian who grew up in New Jersey, Carrasco said her experience in New York and performing with the Youth Symphony helped shape and form her musical work.

“Between New York Youth and my time at NYU, I’ve been involved in many collaborations in different types of music—not just classical—and I find each new experience as exciting as the next,” said Carrasco. “It just gives me excitement to continue to expand my music career.”

Karaska has been playing the cello since the fourth grade and was the only one in her elementary school who did.

“I remember the first time I played in a full orchestra with strings, brass, brass and percussion — I had never experienced such an incredible wave of sound before,” Carrasco said. “I think that’s what got me.”

She currently studies cello at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development with Marion Feldman, a leading chamber music performer and educator, and is motivated by others who also enjoy sharing their musical gifts.

Aside from winning the Grammy, Karaska stressed that one of the most rewarding aspects of her music career is being able to highlight black composers.

The New York Youth Symphony Orchestra performed pieces originally written by black women such as Valerie Coleman, flutist, composer and Play Today’s Classic Woman of the Year 2020; and Jesse Montgomery, composer and violinist which was christened BBC one of the “most distinctive and communicative voices” in the United States.

The orchestra also honored Little Rock, Arizona composer Florence Price. During her lifetime, she became the first black female composer to have a symphonic work performed by a major national orchestra.

Carrasco said that while it was empowering to play these pieces, the music industry still has a long way to go in terms of representation, both in writing and performing music, and stressed that positive representation can inspire kids to keep playing music .

“I think a lot of kids who are exposed to music already have an interest in music,” Karaska said. “But the drive to continue ends early because of the frustration gained from stereotyping.”

Karaska advises young musicians of today’s age to put themselves out there, despite the fear.

“[There are] there are always ups and downs, there are periods of little progress but it gets better and then it goes down again, but you just have to get through it.’

Contact Sidney Johnson in the Art Department[email protected]

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