A Small Pierson Ensemble Takes on Big Names in Classical Music

From left, Olivia Aupperlee, Dylan Hewett, Lucy Beeton and Ivy Basseches are the four members of the Pierson Chamber Group. Will Fujita photo

Pierson High School’s smallest musical ensemble has taken on big challenges in the form of some of classical music’s toughest works, one of which will be heard next week at the school’s spring orchestra concert, planned for May 22 at 7 p.m.

“They’re all level-six musicians,” said Will Fujita, Pierson’s orchestra teacher and chamber group advisor. “New York State is tiered in certain levels, level six being eventually where you want to be at. That’s the highest level you can get to in New York.”

The Pierson Chamber Group is preparing “Piano Trio, Op. 8, Mvt. 4” by Claude Debussy for the concert, but has works by Frederic Chopin, Clara Schumann, Franz Schubert and Ludwig van Beethoven in its repertoire. The group consists of four students who arrived at music on different paths.

Senior Ivy Basseches, who attends the Manhattan School of Music for piano lessons, started playing when she was around seven years old. Her mother, who also played piano, had won the lottery and bought a new piano with some of the money.

Sophomore Lucy Beeton plays a violin handmade by her grandfather, a harpsichord maker, which was handed down to her from her mother. She says she feels it connects her to her ancestors.

Junior Dylan Hewett, the group’s cellist, says he felt inspired to pick up music in the fourth grade and began learning cello five years ago. He says he hopes to pursue music in college and even teach someday.

And senior Olivia Aupperlee — who also acts in the school’s drama productions and plays sports — has been playing violin for eight years, saying it gives her a way to express herself musically. She chose it after falling in love with the “beautiful and elegant” instrument.

Ivy had the idea to establish the group in 2016 along with Dylan and Catheliya Reed, who played the violin and graduated from Pierson in 2018.

“Our group dynamic is really great, and it’s a lot of fun,” Ivy said. “I have a bunch of extracurricular activities, but this is probably my favorite one. I just really enjoy playing here. It’s one of the best things.”

Dylan says the musical selections they play are a lot more challenging than what they play in the school’s larger orchestra group, but that it’s really satisfying. Olivia agreed.

“This gives me that extra little push,” she said. “It gives me something extra that I can do, since violin is such a big part of my life.”

For a long time, Lucy said, she never thought of herself as a musical person because her brother has received much attention for his many musical talents. She tried to instead apply herself in math and other subjects, but still felt drawn to music.

“Joining the chamber group has been very valuable to me,” Lucy said.

Mr. Fujita said his own role is more of a facilitator than an instructor, because the four students are so motivated that they guide each other.

“It’s not hard work getting these guys together. They want to be here,” he said. “This is a lot of fun, and they make it a lot of fun. There are no egos and they work really well together.”

The younger students at Pierson have seen what the chamber group has accomplished, Mr. Fujita said, and often inquire when they can have a turn to play in the group. In that way, he said, the chamber group is helping boost the school’s orchestra program.

“It’s kind of an incentive for the younger kids, who see them at the concerts,” he said.

Recalling the first few pieces they played together, Ivy said they have come a long way.

“We’re getting stronger and stronger, and it’s really great to see,” she said.

Sometimes, the students said, the last thing they want to do is practice such difficult music after a busy day at school.

“We work so hard at what we do,” Olivia said. “Sometimes rehearsals are tiring. But it really pays off in the end, and I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished.”