Senior cellist performs at Carnegie Hall

Senior Damien Davis began playing the cello in the seventh grade when he decided to join the beginning orchestra, and has only had instruction from Walker’s Director of Orchestras Dr. Kyna Elliott. 

Although he has never taken private cello lessons with other cellists, Damien has used Dr. Elliott’s guidance and practicing every spare moment (including during lunch and free periods) to develop into an accomplished cellist. He has become so skilled that he was the only student from Georgia selected this year for the High School Honors Performance Series Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York City. 

Damien performed in February with the Honors Film Music Orchestra. Participation in the Honors Ensembles is limited to the highest-rated young performers from across the world. The program was created to showcase accomplished individual student performers on an international level by allowing them to study under master conductors and perform in world-renowned venues.

“Being selected to the Honors Performance Series is something each Finalist should be extremely proud of accomplishing,” said Marion Gomez, Music Director for the Honors Performance Series. “We processed nearly 10,000 nominations this year and selected the most talented student performers from around the world. Working with these conductors and performing at these renowned music halls is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that these musicians will never forget.”

Damien said the experience was eye-opening and gave him a glimpse into what the life of a professional musician is like. 

“I was there for three days, and we practiced eight hours a day,” he said. “The first time the conductor came in, everyone immediately stopped talking, and it was so quiet. The orchestra was much larger than at Walker, and we all had to be very focused and precise.”

Dr. Elliott praised Damien for his determination and growth both personally and as a musician because of his commitment to take auditions for the experience and not allow setbacks to stop him from trying.

“What people need to understand about auditions is that no doesn’t mean failure, it means ‘not right now,’ so I was pleased when Damien said he wanted to audition for Carnegie again,” Dr. Elliott said. “It is highly unusual for someone who does not take private lessons to be accepted into the Carnegie program.” 

Dr. Elliott says she gives her students a glimpse of the expectations of professional musicians by the way she conducts her classes. “They think I’m too strict,” she said. “You’re not!” Damien quickly added, saying his time at Carnegie showed him what strict looked and felt like. 

Dr. Elliott has extensive experience as a performer, educator and speaker. She has performed on Broadway, in orchestras led by conductors from The Metropolitan Opera and La Scala and gives recitals across Europe and the United States. She has designed and served as the head of fine arts programs from middle, high, charter, independent schools, and universities in the United States and Europe. She has spoken globally about the power of arts for social change and how the arts can be used as a tool for recovery and resiliency for victims of trauma, and has been published in two university resource books for educators on trauma-informed leadership and trauma-informed arts.

Damien is the third Walker student under Elliott’s guidance to be selected to the Honors Performance Series. In the upcoming spring orchestra concert on April 23 at 7 p.m. in the Coca-Cola Family  Auditorium, Damien and another senior student Martin Yuan will step in as the conductor of the Upper School Orchestra portion.

 “It is extremely rare for a student to be given the opportunity to conduct an orchestra,” said Dr. Elliott, who will play the cello in the orchestra while they conduct. “But talking with the Upper School Orchestra, they were excited for students to get the chance to stand on the podium. Damien and Martin were nominated by the orchestra and asked for the opportunity, they selected the pieces and they are working very hard.”

Damien said he won’t pursue music in college, instead focusing on pre-med, but is looking at schools with good pre-med programs that also have orchestras or other groups where he can play. 
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