Catalina Island News

Avalon Student Influenced by Catalina Island Museum Holiday Symphony Applies to Stanford

Catalina Island Museum

For the second year, the Catalina Island Museum and the Stanford Symphony Orchestra presented a rare musical challenge to a select group of Avalon High School students. Four music students were given the opportunity to compose an orchestral score. Prior to the museum's Holiday Symphony Concert, the Stanford Symphony Orchestra performed the scores in front of a group of about 60 students, teachers, parents and event sponsors during the private rehearsal.

Avalon High School senior and one of the composers, Susanna Savitt, recently spoke with the Catalina Island Museum about her experience and how it inspired her to apply to Stanford University.

What was your earliest exposure to music?
My dad was a musician and he played the drums. I basically grew up at my parents’ restaurant, Flip’s. They always had music going on and my dad was always up on stage.

What instrument(s) do you play?
My first instrument was the piano. My parents made me take lessons starting in first grade. I wanted to learn the electric guitar, but my dad wanted me to learn classical piano first. My lessons continued through ninth grade. Now I play the trumpet.

You had the unique opportunity to write a music score to be performed by the Stanford Symphony Orchestra last year and this year. How did it feel to hear your composition being played by a live orchestra.

It was very impactful, especially last year. By no means did I consider myself a music composer. The whole composition was frenetic and somehow they made it sound amazing. This year, the conductor talked about the improvements to our scores and I definitely noticed it. They all sounded so much better. It is really different hearing music on the computer played by parts, compared to hearing it performed by live musicians.

Why do you think this is a valuable experience for young musicians like yourself?
I think it shows you that music is something serious. A lot of people think music is recorder class in middle school and that is as far as you can go. Music is something that you can pursue. You can go to a place like Stanford University to major in music or simply play music as a side thing while you are pursuing another major. It is really something students should keep in mind.

What were the major takeaways and brightest memories after this year’s Holiday Symphony Concert for you?
I actually got to talk to the musicians one-on-one more this year than I did last year. It was really interesting to see the different types of people that make up the orchestra and the kind of mindset they have, they were so ambitious and driven but also really quick and witty. They were really fun to talk to. I also had the opportunity to ask them questions like how they got into Stanford. It was cool to get to know what such a prestigious college was looking for in their students.

Stanford Symphony Orchestra also gave a presentation for the high school music class. What did you learn from that?
They gave us an intro to what all their instruments were and what sound they made. The string players were the most interesting because we don’t have a string section since our school is so small. I never had the opportunity to try playing the violin or anything like that. The students let us play their instruments. To see it, hear it and play it was really cool.

You attended a program at Stanford University last summer, is that correct? What was the program for?
I applied and got accepted to Stanford’s Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY). I took a 3-week course in civil and environmental engineering. I lived with like 30 other people at a sorority house. I had one professor and attended a lecture everyday. It was a really cool experience.

What are your plans for the future? Are you applying to Stanford University?
I did apply to Stanford a few weeks ago, and many other schools in California. I want to study civil and environmental engineering.

Between the EPGY program and meeting the students in the Stanford Symphony Orchestra, do you feel more confident about the possibility of attending Stanford University?
Definitely. Both opportunities were great learning experiences that gave me a lot of insight.

Events such as the annual Catalina Island Museum Holiday Symphony Concert demonstrate the museum’s commitment to expanding the island’s cultural offerings. Supporting the museum will help to ensure these types of events continue. Donate or become a member today!

The Catalina Island Museum is Avalon’s sole institution devoted to art, culture and history.  The museum, its digital theater and store are located on the ground floor of Avalon’s historic Casino and are open 7 days a week, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information, the museum may be reached by phone at 310-510-2414 or at its website: