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How Skype lessons led KayCee Galano to violin stardom, Carnegie Hall

Cincinnati Enquirer logo Cincinnati Enquirer 10/11/2019 Madeline Mitchell, Cincinnati Enquirer
a woman holding a guitar: KayCee Galano © Provided/University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music KayCee Galano

KayCee Galano was 10 years old when she mastered all six Bach solo sonatas for violin. 

Eight years later, on Saturday, she will play them all at her Carnegie Hall debut in New York City.

Galano, a native of the Philippines, has been playing the violin since age 4, when she accompanied her mother, a piano teacher, to the music school where she worked.

“I kept peeking inside the violin studio, listening to the lessons, to the point that I couldn’t hold back anymore," she said. "I was like, ‘I really want to learn the instrument.’ And so I told my parents.”

University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music professor Kurt Sassmannshaus admits that it is unusual for a 4-year-old to be so enamored with the instrument.

"But that flame hasn’t been extinguished," he said. "She’s just – all violin.” 

From Skype lessons to CCM

The two met in the summer of 2011 in Beijing at The Great Wall International Music Academy, which Sassmannshaus runs.

Sassmannshaus heard the 10-year-old Galano play in a recital, and asked her who her teacher was. At the time, Galano didn't have one. 

"Well, there is Skype," Sassmannshaus replied.

For five years, with over 8,000 miles between them, the two met on Skype for lessons on Tuesdays at 8 o'clock; 8 p.m. for Galano and 8 a.m. for Sassmannshaus. 

At age 15, Galano moved to Cincinnati and enrolled in the Starling Preparatory String Project, a Dorothy Richard Starling program for gifted kids and teenagers. She was still finishing up high school as a homeschooler under Philippine law at the time.

“Honestly, I had not ever heard of the city until I got here,” Galano said of Cincinnati, laughing.

People opened up their homes to Galano. She stayed with host families in Cincinnati as she went through the program.

a woman taking a selfie: KayCee Galano © Provided/University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music KayCee Galano

“The family I’ve had here, they’ve just been amazing," she said. "I’ve never felt more welcome. Before I moved here, I was a little bit scared, of course, but after living with the host family and meeting the Starling family, I felt at home."

Now, Galano is a sophomore at CCM. She says she has been amazed by the music program, its intense chamber orchestra and what it’s like to be a music student in general.

“My first impression was, ‘Wow, what a big school. Wow, this is what America is like,' " she said. "And from the conservatory, you can see the big football field. I was overwhelmed by the size.” 

'All you’ll see on stage is KayCee and her violin'

Galano says she has a favorite piece to play, but her answer is really a list of the greats.

“I love all things Bach ... and Brahms ... and Beethoven. And Mozart!" she said. “I just fell in love with the whole rep, I really did.” 

Lately, in preparation for her Carnegie performance, Galano's world has been all about Bach.

She will play all six Bach sonatas and partitas, alone onstage, from memory. Sassmannshaus says the pieces require an incredibly clean style of playing and are very sophisticated. He believes her performance will be a "memory marathon."

“She has it all in her head and in her fingers," he said.

And she won't have to share the stage with anyone else, either. 

a crowded city street surrounded by tall buildings with Carnegie Hall in the background: New York City’s Carnegie Hall © Jeff Goldberg/Esto New York City’s Carnegie Hall

Galano will be playing the solos without accompaniment. As Sassmannshaus says, it will just be "KayCee and her violin."

She will have the entire range of the violin available to her, he says, from pianissimo to fortissimo.

"I have the whole hall to myself," Galano said, smiling. "Which feels pretty good.” 

Galano's family will be flying in from Brunei for the performance. Her Cincinnati host family will also travel to New York City for the recital, along with other conservatory students, parents and the dean.

"I am really – honestly – really thankful for all of the opportunities that came before the Carnegie," Galano said. "And now Carnegie Hall ... It’s been my dream. To really play in the hall itself and I'm just so very thankful for this opportunity.” 

When she looks ahead, Galano envisions a long career of performing. Her violin is the thing she loves most in the world. 

“It was the sound and the way you played it," she said. "How you can just sing with it, without really having to use your voice.” 

Galano will make her Carnegie debut on Saturday, Oct. 12, at 7:30 p.m. in the Weill Recital Hall. The performance will last two-and-a-half hours and will have two intermissions.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: How Skype lessons led KayCee Galano to violin stardom, Carnegie Hall

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