Faculty Feature: Hannah Price

We are excited to welcome our new Violin Teaching Artist, Hannah Price, joining us to provide private lessons and groups class instructions to our Academy families. Ms. Price is an active soloist and collaborative artist who has performed nationally and internationally. In addition, she has numerous years of teaching experience as a private teacher, lecturer, and guest artist, offering private lessons, group classes, and masterclasses for students of all levels. This fall, Ms. Price will teach the Violin Beginnings, an introductory class for beginners ages 4-6, and Violin Adventures, an elementary level technique class open for all private lesson students ages 5-13. Please join us to welcome Ms. Price for a quick Q&A and learn more about her music story.

What excites you the most about joining the Mason Community Arts Academy?
I’m most excited to get to know the community and the chance to work with so many fabulous people. The faculty is full of energetic, dedicated musicians and teachers, and I’m thrilled that I get to join them!

How did you first fall in love with music?
My journey with the violin was a slow but lasting burn. It was full of hundreds of small moments that added to my passion for it, the first of which happened when I was a little tot driving in the car with my parents. They had a CD in the car that always began with the Tchaikowsky piano concerto No. 1, and we listened to it almost every day. One day, I noticed the little soda bubbles of excitement that would build in my chest in anticipation of every big musical moment. Since then, my goal has been to experience those bubbles with my playing and teaching.



Tell us about a teaching experience you have had that was especially memorable.
I had an older adult student once tell me that the thing he valued most from our lessons was that he learned not to give up on himself and that once he learned how to acknowledge his achievements, he was able to do even more than he thought he could. It was, and is, such an honor to be a part of such valuable personal growth and to know that it can happen at any stage of life, regardless of circumstance. I experienced two human beings being inspired by one another that day, and it is one of the moments that ignited my journey as a teacher.



What are some unique things you do when you teach?
Music is all about storytelling, so I look for every opportunity to incorporate that into my teaching. I explore form and structure using animals and colors that my students get to pick before learning a new song, which helps with memory. Honest self-assessment is also significant for me, so I have some tactics in each lesson that help my students (even the little ones) apply objective self-assessment and set goals for the next time.

Do you have any pets?
None right now, but I love dogs and hope that I’ll be settled enough to get one soon!



What else would you like us to know about you?
As a musician, I have performed in eight different countries across two continents and feel so lucky that music has taken me to cool places with such contrasting cultures. I have a quickly-growing bucket list of places to visit and love to exchange travel stories with people!




Piano Students Earned Regional and State Recognitions

Seven piano students received recognition for their high-level performance and skillsets in national standard examinations created by the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM). Three students received Gold Medals for earning the highest score in the Southeast Region, and seven students achieved the highest marks among all Virginia contestants.

“This is a great honor and a huge congratulation to our RCM winners this year,” said Piano Teaching Artist Faith Zúñiga, who teaches private lessons and coaches the students in preparing for their exams. “It’s because of my students’ hard work and their parents’ support.”

The seven students who received the recognition are:

Gold Medalists:
Annabelle Yeh, Preparatory A
Madison Do, Level 1
Keira Konson, Level 8

State Certificates:
Annabelle Yeh, Preparatory A
Emerie Wonnum, Preparatory B
Madison Do, Level 1
Grace Amartuvshin, Level 5
Chloe Tan, Level 6
Jayden Nguyen, Level 7
Keira Konson, Level 8

RCM provides national standard examinations for numerous instruments guiding young musicians for a holistic music study. The examination assesses students’ musicianship through several testing components such as performance, sight-reading, aural skills, and technical tests. Students progress through levels of difficulty from Preparatory A to Level 10.

Congratulations again to all our RCM winners. We are so proud of all your accomplishments. Check out our RCM winners’ pieces of advice for our young musicians who are preparing for a music exam or competition:



Grace Amartuvshin
Years of Piano Study: 7 Years

“Exams and competitions aren’t everything, and if you don’t do as well as you wanted to, it doesn’t define who you are as a performer. Don’t compare yourself to others- focus on being better than you were yesterday.”



Madison Do
Years of Piano Study: 5 Years

“Practice a lot without burning yourself out, and then play with confidence and have fun.”




Keira Konson
Years of Piano Study: 13 Years

“When you are preparing for a recital or competition, practice in as many ways as you can! Once you feel confident that you have the piece ready and can play it from memory, get creative: making recordings is a great way to test yourself and prepare for a performance. Or play in front of your family or friends exactly how you are going to for the performance. You will feel more confident when you get up on stage to perform for a broader audience if you have already played in front of different groups of people you know and trust. The last thing is to have fun with it! Performing is an incredible opportunity, so don’t lose sight of that!”



Jayden Nguyen
Years of Piano Study: 7 Years

“Participate in as many piano recitals or festivals as possible that give you the opportunities to perform in front of many people and to help build the confidence.”



Chloe Tan
Years of Piano Study: 7 Years

“Persistence makes a long way. The closer you are to the events, the more tiring it will feel. But persistence will help you get closer to your best.”



Emerie Wonnum
Years of Piano Study: 6 Years

“Always keep practicing and focus a lot on your technique; it will help you a lot.”




Annabelle Yeh
Years of Piano Study: 6 Years

“Practice with helpful things like the metronome and counting out loud to help you learn rhythms.”





Director’s Reflection—Patriot Violins Through the Pandemic

This post is written by Claire Allen, Director of Patriot Violins.

Last Summer, when it came time to design the curriculum for Patriot Violins for the 2020-2021 school year, no vaccine was in sight. We still didn’t know how the virus spread – all we knew was that we were sad, lonely, exhausted, and scared to do the one thing we wanted to do the most – make music together.

The mission of Patriot Violins is to bring together committed young violinists with a shared love of music and community and to bring that music to as many parts of our community as we can. In the 2019-2020 inaugural season, the Patriot Violins performed at Academy recitals, University events such as Arts By George, the Mason Arts Research Conference, and, most memorably, a Mason Men’s Basketball Game where they performed the National Anthem standing center court, and then performed pop songs side by side with the Green Machine.



How, then, to follow up that experience with something wholly online, during a pandemic? There were some of our students who weren’t willing to consider any additional online activities and declined to audition for our second season altogether. Others were hesitant, and afraid that the experience wouldn’t be worth it, but decided to try it anyway. As any teacher out there knows, engaging and connecting with teen musicians can be a challenge under the best of circumstances, which this was far from.

Ultimately, I realized that one of the most important parts of my role as a teacher is to give my students a taste of what the larger musical world is like, and that is where I sought inspiration. I saw masked chamber groups from orchestras playing for health care workers and giving neighborhood concerts in their driveways. I saw collaborations from all over the world creating virtual chamber music on apps like A Cappella, or split-screen videos where one performer played multiple parts. I saw musicians raising awareness for important issues like voting registration, racial justice, homelessness, hunger, education, and health care. Musicians were playing outside glass windows for residents of retirement communities and nursing homes, who were isolated during the pandemic. And, I saw musicians of the highest caliber offering online masterclasses, workshops, and demonstrations. Geography was no longer a limit, and that really excited me.



And so, I put together a curriculum. For the fall semester, we focused on building violin technique using Simon Fischer’s excellent book, Warming Up. We invited Laurie Niles, creator and editor of to teach a workshop on writing about music and the creation of online communities in the music world. I created a project called “The 21st Century Violinist Project,” where students picked one performing violinist to follow via website and social media to observe how *they* were handling the pandemic. Students researched these violinists, listened to their albums, and in some cases, were able to observe live concerts and masterclasses with them. Each class, students would share what they’d learned with their classmates, with the idea of getting inspiration to spark the second half of our year. And finally, we had a video editor join us via Zoom to teach the class how to make split-screen duet videos. The assignment was for each student to learn both parts of a duet and to edit themselves together.

This turned out to be an intriguing project – the students observed so much about their own playing as they recorded themselves and then tried to play together! One student noticed that they were very hard to follow and needed to use more body motions to cue. Another student noticed that they tended to change tempos quite frequently and had to become much steadier to make the duet work. As a teacher, I observed a lot of musical growth in each of the students as a result of having to study their own playing so intently.  



Going into the spring semester, with vaccines on the horizon and the hope of better weather, I asked the students to vote on a selection of pieces to learn and perform – to really think about the type of music they wanted to play and audiences wanted to hear, to think about who the composers were writing these pieces, and in what format they would deliver the performances. After considering the students’ input, I selected six pieces, all by American composers who lived during the 20th and 21st centuries, and called the program “American Voices.” Below is the program:

  • “…what story down there awaits its end” by Reena Esmail (b. 1983)
  • “Tango Ad Astra” by Julia Klumpkey (1870 – 1961)
  • “Emily’s Reel” by Mark O’Connor (b. 1961)
  • “Adoration” by Florence Price (1887-1953)
  • “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) and John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954)
  • “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin (1868-1917)



We lined up several physically distanced in-person performances and crossed our fingers for favorable weather conditions. Students created videos of themselves playing each of the pieces so their classmates could play “with” them and prepare as best as possible for in-person performances with no in-person rehearsals! We also were fortunate enough to have Rebecca Henry from the Peabody Preparatory and Dr. Cora Cooper from Kansas State University give Zoom masterclasses for the students as part of their preparation. 



All in all, the students performed four times – in one of their driveways for a distanced crowd of neighbors, for an intimate audience in the lobby of the Center for the Arts, in the Veteran’s Amphitheater as part of Fairfax City’s Spotlight on the Arts festival, and outdoors at Sunrise Senior Living in Vienna, where the aunt of a student’s parent resides. The students also created online content as part of a social media takeover where they shared clips of their playing, practicing, and talked about the pieces they were performing. You can access these via the #PatriotViolinsIGTakeover.

Within all of this, we prioritized connection, support, and showing up authentically in our online meetings. Every class started with a check-in, giving the students an opportunity to share how things were going, to express how they felt about life at that point, and opportunities to reflect on how we were still connected, even while apart. It’s this that sets Patriot Violins apart from other ensemble opportunities – the interpersonal connections are prioritized and nurtured alongside their violin playing. These connections have continued out of both the Zoom and virtual classrooms via text group chats, birthday parties, and more. I could not be more proud as a teacher to see how these students have shown up for each other as human beings and fellow musicians this year. One of the most rewarding moments for me was seeing them absolutely light up the first time they saw each other in-person after so long apart.



One parent shared, “Patriot Violins is so much more than a violin experience for these kids. My daughter learned about video editing, music history, how to support and encourage other musicians, and on and on. She not only improved her playing and performance skills through this group but also increased her confidence and gained friends along the way. I can’t imagine a better group for my daughter to have weathered the pandemic with online (and in-person this Spring) than Claire Allen and these kids. Kuddos to the entire Mason Community Arts Academy for this all-around amazing program!” 

Another wrote, “I have loved watching musical friendships form during Patriot Violins.  Claire has a great way of guiding positive interaction among the students.  She assigns projects that not only grow the kids musically but also provide purposeful interaction with others in the group.  Their project meetings outside of class often turn to other shared interests once the work is done and lasts for hours.  Great group for teens!” 



For the very last session of the year, we received permission to hold our class in-person at the Academy, masked and distanced. We played duets together, and each student had four minutes to share what had been the most meaningful to them throughout the year. As a group, we then affirmed each other – going around the room and sharing what we admired about each student, what inspired us, and how we’d seen them grow. There were several damp eyes in the room (my own included!) as students shared how much they loved each other’s sound, how much they enjoyed being around each other, and how much they meant to each other. These affirmations were a powerful experience for them and, I hope, gave them a boost as we continue into the next phase of pandemic music-making.



What will Patriot Violins look like for the 2021-2022 school year? That’s still being decided, but the core values that held us together through the pandemic will remain the same: commitment to high-level music-making, a willingness to self-reflect and share about personal growth, and dedication to sharing music within our community and outside of it.  


Audition information for the 2021-2022 Patriot Violins will be released in mid to late July and auditions will be due by August 16. 


Voice Alumna Named Miss Black USA Talented Teen

Ambitious. Talented. Cheerful. These are just a few words to describe Alexandria Hunter, named Miss Black USA Talented Teen 2021. Hunter works hard through authenticity, which leads her on a path to unapologetically chase her dream of empowering young girls.

An all-star student with active involvement in choir, theater, cheerleading, student government, and national honor societies, Hunter traced her love for music to writing music and starting voice lessons at age six.

“I fell in love with singing and continued,” said Hunter. After discovering that she could pursue classical singing as a career in 10th grade, Hunter began working at full speed to become an influential opera singer uplifting others’ spirits through music.

“When I had that revelation, I never stopped, and I have been working toward being a professional opera singer and performer ever since,” Hunter said.

Hunter received classical vocal training at the Brevard Music Center Summer Institute and opera training with Academy Voice Teaching Artist James Myers throughout her high school career. With total effort and dedication in her vocal training, Hunter captured lead roles in her high school theater productions and was selected for All-County, All-District, and All-Virginia Choir. In summer 2020, Hunter made her first international opera performance through the AAMS International Summer Music Institute in Tampere, Finland.

Hunter didn’t stop grasping her dream after becoming a vocal performance student at James Madison University. She continued pushing herself to be the best of the best and tested her strengths through the Miss Black USA Talented Teen competition.

“Watching all of these talented young women who looked like me left a lasting impression on me,” said Hunter, who first participated in a pageant program when she was eight. “I made it a goal of mine to compete as a teen when I was old enough.”

Hunter’s hard work paid off. She earned Miss Black Virginia Talented Teen title in 2019 and competed against 50 contestants for the national title, all while finishing up high school, applying for colleges, and juggling her involvement in the English and music honor societies, a school theater production, and the student government.

“Winning the national title still feels surreal,” said Hunter. “I was with my mom at the time [when I found out the result], and we were jumping with joy. It really was a great moment.”

Alongside fame and success from the competition, Hunter will share her incredible voice and launch her heartfelt campaign—providing encouragement and inspiration to communities desperately in need through stories and the sound of music.

As she has always been true to herself, Hunter is ready to serve as a voice for women of color to redefine the narratives around women of color and empower young girls to become compassionate and confident individuals.


Teaching Artist Composes Sonatinas for Beginners

Academy Piano Teaching Artist, Faith Zúñiga, published a collection of sonatinas, “Five Fun & Flashy Sonatinas for Ten Tiny Fingers: Easy Sonatinas for the First Years at Sonata Festival,” featuring five original solo compositions for beginning piano students.

Written for students ranging from 5-8 years old in the first one to two years of piano lessons, Ms. Zúñiga, Summer Piano Academy coach and private lesson instructor, composed five sonatinas inspired by nature and the enthusiastic stories her students shared at their private lessons. A sonatina is a simple or short composition performed by young pianists as a solo repertoire.



“There is a scarcity of accessible sonatinas for early beginning piano students,” said Ms. Zúñiga, whose students frequently participate in regional and national piano and music competitions. “Currently, there are only a couple of other sonatina books for this level and age range, which makes for minimal repertoire options for students who want to attend piano competitions such as the Sonata Festival by Northern Virginia Music Teacher Association.”

The collection starts with an easy piece, “Panda Sonatina,” dedicated to the newborn panda, Xiao Qi Ji, at the Smithsonian Zoo, and progresses with slightly more difficulties throughout the book, ending with a three-part repertoire, “Fancy Fingers Sonatina,” that includes a scale-based first movement, a steady-tempo second movement, and an orchestral soloist third movement.

Ms. Zúñiga hopes the new options will encourage young pianists to participate in music competitions or festivals as they can learn valuable playing and performance experiences throughout the process. For students who are preparing their first Sonata Festival, Ms. Zúñiga provided a few helpful tips:

  • Be careful to choose one fast and one slow movement, according to the sonata festival guidelines.
  • Have fun learning the music and play with flexible arm and wrist motions.
  • Pay extra attention to all the details like dynamics and articulation as judges love it when students show careful technique.



Ms. Zúñiga is an accomplished educator and performing artist who was semifinalist in both the Victor Elmaleh Concert Artists Guild Competition and the Byrd International Piano Competition. She is an active adjudicator and has judged competitions such as the Robert & Frances Allen Young Artist Competition, the Bland Competition, the NVMTA Spring Festival and Sonata Festival, the MCAA Music Competitions, the MCAA Juried Recitals, and the Mason Piano Academy (Advanced) competition.

The book is available to purchase on Amazon. If you are interested in receiving piano instruction from Ms. Zúñiga, join our Summer Piano Academy for ages 8-13 or Summer Piano Academy (Advanced) for ages 13-18.