Student plays his way to Juilliard

May 13, 2008 6:31:55 AM PDT
From his home in Houston to the heart of New York City, Dobie High School senior John Potter is following his passion of music to The Juilliard School after his high school graduation in June.With only four years experience on the organ, Potter was recently accepted into Juilliard after a rigorous audition process where he had to perform a prelude and fugue for organ by Bach, an organ composition by a 19th century composer and an organ composition by a representative 20th century composer. Out of 14 auditioning, Potter was one of two individuals selected for the program. Potter will pursue a Bachelor of Music degree in Organ Performance under the direction of world-renowned organist Paul Jacobs.

Potter said he began showing interest in music when he was seven-years-old. After mastering the recorder at Burnett Elementary, Potter said Michael Schoen, his sixth grade orchestra instructor at Thompson Intermediate, introduced him to the violin. He has dreamed of attending Juilliard ever since.

"To have been accepted to Juilliard is a dream come true, and I owe much of my inspiration to music to Mr. Schoen," said Potter. "I have always known I wanted to become a student at Juilliard. I just didn't know I would be attending as an organist."

Potter said his Algebra instructor at Dobie Sarah Young has also served as a great inspiration to him.

"Ms. Young has always told me to never give up because she saw that I was persistent to get what I desired, and she proved to me that when you work hard enough, things will work out in your favor," he said.

Young said she couldn't be more proud of her student and that her first thought was that he had made his own dreams come true.

"This young man is extremely deserving of this honor," she said. "He loves his music, and he is a unique person who will be on top in his career field. Juilliard is lucky to have him and his talent, and Dobie is very proud to have him represent our music program."

Some of Potter's recent musical achievements include first place in the American Guild of Organists (AGO) Quimby Chapter Level competition in San Antonio, second place in the Oklahoma City International Organ Competition, and a tie for second place in the AGO/Quimby Regional Competition at the Dallas Regional Convention.

"My inspiration to pursue music as a profession is the wonderful feeling I get inside when I play the music," he said. "It is a joy to play and see how much other people appreciate it."

Currently, Potter also plays violin and piano as well as sings bass in his church choir. For the last two years, Potter has served as a student under St. Martin's Episcopal Church Organist and Director of Music Dr. George Mims. Mims said he was thrilled Potter was accepted into Juilliard.

"To learn John was going to Juilliard moved me personally, and I couldn't be more proud of him," Mims said. "He has a great sense of humor, and he really listens to what people say to him."

Because Juilliard seeks to educate individuals with exceptional talent, disciplined practice and a serious commitment to music training, Mims said he feels Juilliard is the perfect place for Potter to be.

"As I began working with John, I was fascinated at how fast he could absorb, learn and play the music," Mims said. "He's an excellent student. He is willing to learn, he concentrates, he follows instructions and he puts his time to good use. John is music?it's in his bones."

Holding a job as an organist while attending Juilliard is imperative, and Potter is well on his way to learning the ropes as a professional organist. As part of the cooperative program at Dobie, Potter is an organ scholar under Mims' direction at St. Martin's for 30 hours a week. He works with Mims in preparing concerts, practicing with the church choir and musicians and other duties assigned to him.

Potter's music abilities have also served him well in his academics at Dobie. He is the chief artistic and performance advisor in Dobie and Memorial High School's digital pipe organ project. The project recently received a grant from BP, and Potter has been invited to perform on the student-made organ at the regional award ceremony for the 2008 grant winners.

Project coordinator and Memorial AP physics instructor Scott Graham said Potter has provided invaluable insight and advice into the project and the organ's construction and that it wouldn't have been possible without him.

"John's input has been essential to the project as he has helped us set up sound parameters for the organ and given us much technical advice, especially in making the organ more performance friendly," said Graham. "He has shared his vision for excellent organ music as well as his passion for performing. He serves as inspiration to us all, and we are very proud of him."

Graham said he hopes to take Potter, as part of the project, to the Philippines next spring to perform at the annual bamboo organ festival.

"John is a visionary musician who is extremely dedicated to tradition while simultaneously having the creativity to express his own style," Graham said. "John will be an asset to Juilliard's commitment to excellence and its long legacy of producing truly great performing artists."

Upon his graduation from Juilliard, Potter said he wishes to pursue a graduate degree in Organ and Sacred Music from Yale University as well as his doctoral of musical arts degree from another university.

Potter said he plans to return to Pasadena ISD during his years at Juilliard to perform on the organ and to promote the project to raise interest in young people in organ music. For his younger peers, Potter has some last words of advice.

"I feel it is important for young people to find their special talent because it can lead to a possible career that they would enjoy," he said. "They should never let anyone tell them that they can't do something. If they put forth the effort and the knowledge, anything is possible."

** What's making the news in local schools? Find plenty of education news and student achievements in our 'In the Classroom' section


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