Cellist wins scholarship competition

Photos Courtesy of Nicholas Todorov | Carolina Roy has been playing the cello since she was in sixth grade. During the music school's scholarship competition, she performed a song she's performed four years prior.

Isabella Abbott | Features Editor

The odds seemed like they were stacked against junior cellist and music education major Carolina Roy. She had to play a live performance for 10 minutes from memory, without looking at her music. An $8,000 scholarship was on the line, and she was picked to play last. But, for Roy, she treated it as an advantage that helped her win.

Roy won the Mary Pappert School of Music’s 2024 Women’s Advisory Board Scholarship Competition on Feb. 20. This award is given to one junior or senior student each year in the music school who maintains a GPA of 3.5 or higher and is nominated by the music school faculty to compete.

The six other students who competed this year included trumpet player Ty Lewis, pianist Zane Wooddell, bassoon player Walter Vinoski, vocalist Collin McCormick and clarinet player Kyle Chauvette.

On top of her spot as last player of the competition, Roy was the only strings player, and she was nervous.

“I was sitting there for about an hour watching everyone play,” Roy said. “When someone tells you you’re competing for $8,000, you kind of get a little freaked out. It’s one thing if it’s just a performance, but when they wave the money in your face, I cannot say I was super confident.”

For the competition, Roy picked a piece she played years before as a junior in high school, “Kol Nidrei” by Max Bruch. Knowing she played it for another important competition that she won four years ago, she decided to “try it again.”

“I think it came down to just picking the right piece, I know my strengths lie in a more romantic style of music, feeling the music and putting emotion into it rather than super technical passages,” Roy said.

The emotion was there — Roy had a special bond with this piece and her late grandfather. She said they had planned to go see Kol Nidrei in a service at a synagogue before he was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in December 2019. Her concert in February 2020 was one of the only things he said he wanted to see before he died. He made it to the concert but ended up in hospice a short time later, where she played for him there and later at his funeral service.

“He was actually one of my biggest supporters in my musical career and even inspired me to play cello by getting me a tiny toy violin when I was a child,” Roy said. “He always came to all of my concerts and showed so much interest in my music.”

Her professor and Grammy Award-winning Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra cellist Adam Liu was the one who chose her to compete in the scholarship competition. He said she’s “very passionate” when she is on stage.

“She’s very accurate and plays with precision,” Liu said. “As a strings player, if your finger is just slightly a hair toward the wrong way, the pitch suffers, that’s why she’s accurate, she truly holds her ground.”

Liu also said she’s a “warm and open person” and that she shows this while she plays.

“Oftentimes in our profession, you can tell the performer’s personality from the stage, sometimes you don’t even know them, but you listen to them play, and you sort of get a good educated guess on what they are like,” Liu said. “Carolina, the way she’s playing cello, I described her as a passionate and accurate player, and she’s like that in life too.”

Roy isn’t the only cellist who has won the competition recently; another one of Liu’s students, Alyssa Baljunas, won last year.

Roy’s roommate and upright bass player, Anna Gartland, said she’s “very orderly.”

“She’s very serious about her work but pretty artsy as well,” Gartland said.

Though they haven’t played together except for the Duquesne Symphony Orchestra, Gartland said she “likes to play as much as she can.”

“She’s probably one of the top strings players in the program, she’s really good,” Gartland said. “And she always gets glowing reviews every time she plays in front of people.”

Those good reviews paid off, and she was announced as the winner shortly after she finished her piece. She said they caught her off guard when they announced her name minutes after she performed.

“I only played maybe 10 minutes before that, whereas everyone else had at least 20 minutes to calm down,” Roy said.

Although students have to be nominated for the award and must have a 3.5 GPA, Roy said they were told to use a song that personally resonates with them.

“‘Pick a piece that you feel connected with,’ the judges said to me. What made it clear to them who they wanted to pick was the fact that I brought them on a journey with me with this piece,” Roy said.