Erin Banholzer shares her love of the oboe through instruction, performance

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Erin Banholzer

Even before she joined her school band in fifth grade, Erin Banholzer knew the instrument she wanted to play. “Normally, in fifth-grade band, you get to try all the instruments and they let you choose what you want to play.” She didn’t need to do all that. She knew what she’d pick — the oboe.  “They don’t always let you start on the oboe. They usually have you start on the clarinet and switch to oboe. I was stubborn and I put my foot down and said, ‘No, I want to play the oboe.’ ” Banholzer got her oboe because she had four years training on the piano.  “I love the way the oboe sounds.”

Her parents are not musicians, but they exposed her to the arts early, taking the family to orchestra concerts. That’s where she fell in love with the oboe. By fifth grade, Banholzer said, she had the sound in her ear. And by seventh grade, she had started making her own reeds – a task usually left to the instructor. But her teacher insisted reed-making be a part of her students’ nightly practice time. Now, she’s passing along her skills to her students. Banholzer considers it her responsibility as a performer to teach what she has learned. “I also wouldn’t want to be teacher without being a performer because it keeps you honest, practice what you preach,” said Banholzer, who is also a faculty member at Mason Gross School of Arts at Rutgers. “I love to perform, but I never would want to do just one thing.”


Banholzer is leading a three-day reed-making intensive June 23-25 for students ages 10-18. The intensive is designed to help students at any level of reed-making ability.



Here is the rest of our conversation with Banholzer.

What do you do when you’re not performing?

I’m probably making reeds!  A lot people don’t realize that oboists make their own reeds and reeds are affected by things as subtle as a change in temperature or altitude.  We are always adjusting our reeds to our environment, and it’s a daily activity.  Reed making is just as critical as practicing.

If you could play any other instrument, what would it be?  Why?

I’ve wanted to play the mandolin for a while now.  I’ve always loved bluegrass and folk music and it’s only a matter of time before I learn it myself.  It’s so different from oboe, so I think I would really enjoy it.

Where’s your favorite place to listen to music?

I love going to hear the great masterpieces at the Metropolitan Opera.  It’s one of the finest performing arts organizations in the country, and I really enjoy stepping back from the hustle of everyday life for a few hours.

Where’s your favorite place you’ve performed?

A few years ago, I performed at the Royal Opera House in Muscat, Oman under the baton of Lorin Maazel.  Being able to travel to the Middle East and play in such an exquisite space was unforgettable.  That’s the amazing thing about being a performing artist—music provides opportunities and experiences that are truly unique.

What inspires you?

Tenacity.  People who just don’t quit always inspire me.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Growing plants.  It’s a “guilty pleasure” because a lot them don’t survive past a few months—but I keep trying!

Why do you teach? What’s the most rewarding part of teaching?

I teach because I love it, and because I have a responsibility to pass on what I have learned from my mentors.  I also think it’s in my genes—my Grandpa was a middle school math teacher and my Mom is a nurse and educator.  I think the most rewarding part of teaching is when your student makes their own reed for the first time.  There is such a sense of pride and accomplishment!

 Have you ever considered a career outside the arts?

When I was very young I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, but I was fairly certain of my career path once I was in high school.

Who would you like to meet?  What would you ask that person?

I’d like to meet Elon Musk.  I think he genuinely wants to advance technology for societal good.  I’d like to ask him about “hyperloop” which is his vision for high speed transportation.

What’s your favorite movie?

I love Il Postino.  It’s an Italian movie from 1994 about an Italian postman who befriends Pablo Neruda because he wants to write poetry.

Do you remember the moment you feel in love with your art?

I don’t remember a specific moment; I think it was a series of small moments, and I keep falling in love with it.  If I pick up my oboe after a few days away, it always feels like I am coming home.

What was the first record or CD you bought?

I can’t remember the first CD I bought, but I can tell you one of my all-time favorite CDs is a recording of Nathan Millstein’s last recital.  He was 82 when he gave the recital, and while it’s not the most “polished” performance out there, it is one of the most profound, honest performances I have heard.



Meet Jade Cintron, Associate Director of Rutgers Summer Acting Conservatory

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Jade Cintron

When Jade Cintron was 17,  just before the start of her senior year in high school, she enrolled in the Rutgers Summer Acting Conservatory (RSAC), a rigorous training program for would-be actors. Now, she is the associate director of the program, designed for teens 14-18. Jade Cintron moved to Barcelona, Spain, in 2009 shortly after graduating from then-Rutgers College. She has been returning to Rutgers every summer since 2013 to teach at the conservatory.  This year, she is taking a more active role in the program, which runs from July 2-30. Jade Cintron, who teaches English and theater to children and adults in Barcelona, has seen the Rutgers Summer Acting Conservatory develop and grow. Students from all across the country come to Rutgers to work on their craft.  There are also classes in theater history, appreciation and stage craft. She said the program has a motto: Living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.  “We don’t want kids to come here thinking they will be rich and famous.  We are not performance-focused. It’s not about that final curtain call as much as the process and what you learn about yourself as a person. That’s what makes you a good actor…It’s not about playing a character. It’s about finding your inner connection to that character.”

Here’s more of our conservation with Jade Cintron, who is leading the conservatory auditions Saturday, April 1, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Auditions, which are required, also will be held May 13 and May 27.

What do you do when you’re not performing?

If I’m not singing or doing something related to musical theatre, I’m running or rollerblading. I love running in 5ks, 10ks and have also completed two triathlons.

If you could play any other instrument, what would it be? Why?

Currently, I’m a singer and don’t play an instrument but when I was a teen, I played drums for 4 years. I would definitely go back to that!

Where’s your favorite place to listen to music?

In the car.

Where’s your favorite place you’ve performed?  

Definitely Barcelona. I lived there for 8 years and had the pleasure of doing some musicals as well as several cabarets.

What inspires you? Traveling inspires me to the max. If I’ve got a plane ticket somewhere, I feel better!

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Watching The Golden Girls or Murder, She Wrote — nothing more Jade Cintron than that!

Why do you teach? What’s the most rewarding part of teaching?

It makes me feel whole and I get excited when students and I can exchange learning and teaching moments.

 Have you ever considered a career outside the arts?

My other direction would have been in museum/cultural management or cultural tour guide.

 What’s your favorite movie? The Wizard of Oz.

Do you remember the moment you fell in love with your art?

Not the exact moment but it definitely came from singing.

What was the first record or CD you bought?

Cassette Tape – Toni Braxton and CD – Celine Dion


Music at Museum offered community chance to experience broad repertoire


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From left, Enriqueta Somarriba, Yen Lee, and Emily Gibson

Music and art converged every month as the faculty of Mason Gross Extension Division performed at Zimmerli Art Museum in a series of free weekend concerts.  The Music at the Museum series included works from Russia, the Far East and Latin America, among others.  Before each concert, the performers discussed the works and the concert’s theme. The series – in its third year – offered the community a way to experience a broad repertoire. The season began in October and ended Sunday, March 19. Our partnership with the museum is expected to continue in the fall with a new season of performances.

The final concert, Alma Latina: Music from Spain and Latin America on March 19, featured our faculty members vocalist Emily Gibson, Yen Lee on guitar and pianist Enriqueta Somarriba.  The concert also featured the world premiere of Love by Chilean composer Patricio Molina.

We spoke with Somarriba about her musical journey and working with Molina to feature the piece for Music at the Museum.  A native of Spain, Somarriba has been working with Spanish and Latin American music at a very young age. She has performed throughout the world from Carnegie Hall in New York City to the National Auditorium of Madrid.


Tell me a little about this music and this performance:

This program is a combination of both traditional Spanish Latin American music and modern pieces.I love having the other two performers, guitar and soprano. That’s a very non-traditional ensemble. There are many pieces for piano and soprano and guitar and soprano, but not that many for all three.

What was it like working with Patricio Molina, composer of Love? 

He’s from Chile, so culturally we are close. We share the same musical interests in that regard. It was a very easy collaboration. When I called him, I gave him a blank page. I said the only thing I need is inspiration from Spain or Latin America. He did marvelous job and called me the next day saying it’s done. That really shows how clear his idea was even before writing the piece.

Have you ever done something like this that combines the more traditional and modern?

Absolutely, in all of my recitals! I think it’s very important to understand tradition, but including new works helps understand tradition. Without the perspective of what’s happening in today’s musical world, it’s very difficult to really dig into the older works. It’s also difficult to understand the new works without understanding what happened before.

What is the most rewarding thing from concerts like this?

With concerts like this I always try to include some audience interaction. In this concert, the pre-concert talk is a way to explain to the audience a little bit about what they are going to listen to.This repertoire is very close to my heart so it is really an exciting opportunity and an honor to share the passion I have and enthusiasm.

Do you incorporate this repertoire in your students’ lessons?

Right now, I have several of my students playing Spanish or Latin American works. I think it’s an opportunity for them to experience something new. I am very thankful to be able to share my experience of this repertoire with my students.

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Chilean composer Patricio Molina with the performers following the concert.


Music at the Museum Concert Series to Feature World Premiere Composition

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Emily Gibson, Enriqueta Somarriba and Yen Lee

The world premiere of a newly composed work, Love, by Chilean composer Patricio Molina will be featured at Music at Museum concert March 19.   Mason Gross Extension Division faculty members — soprano Emily Gibson on vocals, Yen Lee on guitar and Enriqueta Somarriba on piano — will perform the piece.

Music at the Museum is a free monthly weekend concert series featuring classical and jazz musicians from the faculty of the Mason Gross School of the Arts Extension Division. The  series is performed at the Zimmerli  Art Museum, allowing concert-goers to enjoy art and music side by side. The program, which begins at 1:30 p.m. with a discussion about the musical works, is open to the public.

March 19 performance, Alma Latina, , will  feature other Spanish and Latin American compositions for piano, guitar, and voice.  It is the final concert for the season.



A conversation with Maeve Dougal

Maeve Dougal is the director of our ballet program, an American Ballet Theatre (ABT®) certified school. She also teaches in the BFA program at Mason Gross School of Performing Arts at Rutgers University. She loves contemporary and modern dance, but her passion is classical ballet.  Since she was a little girl in kindergarten, she has been in the studio dancing. She was drawn to ballet because of the music and stories; she stayed with ballet because it gives her strength and stamina. Additionally, Dougal is the assistant director of Rutgers Summer Dance Conservatories for new and experienced dancers ages 11 to 18 held in July. The conservatory is holding live auditions March 4 and again April 22, 6:45 p.m.  

How long have you been dancing?

When I was really little, I did the Royal Academy of Dance Training Program, which is similar to the ABT® national training curriculum but it’s the British system. I took a break and picked it up again when I was in sixth grade. I danced through college and grad school.

What is it about ballet that draws you to it?

I love the tradition and the ritual of classical ballet; it’s incredibly beautiful. I love the music. I was drawn to it because it was the first time I was able to organize my mind and my physicality. I was able to find my focus – in dance and other areas of my life. I think that’s why I’ve stuck with it so for long.

Did you love it right away?

I eventually fell in love with it. When I was little, I loved to improvise dances. They would give us a piece of music and say ‘This is a dance about flying your kite,’ or we would pretend to sew or pick berries and put them in our baskets. I remember the play part of ballet, which is actually what I love about the ABT® program: Pre-primary through second grade is all based in play. It’s still very structured, but the kids are performing. Developmentally, it’s very engaging.


Why do you teach?

I thought I wanted to perform, but then in my junior year in college, I realized what I really loved about ballet is the process in the studio. I struggled to find good training. I had a couple of teachers who were inspiring, but I had to take a lot of it on myself and teach myself. Even though I wasn’t a brilliant technician, I felt I understood the process of building technique.

So you want to pass that along.

Right, I teach because I love ballet and I love to see my students have breakthroughs. I love to see them gain control of their bodies and develop. My highest level (of students) here are teenagers, which can be a really rough time developmentally, but they have this beautiful community. They’re supportive of each other. I love to be able to foster that experience for them. It has made a huge impact on my life.

img_7581What kind of impact has ballet had on you personally?

I have no idea who I would be without ballet.

Does it define you?

It maybe shouldn’t.

But it does?

Yeah, I think it does parts of me. I’m not who I am professionally.

How do you feel when you’re dancing?

I don’t dance a lot for myself anymore but when I do, it’s an emotional experience. I get caught up in perfection but I’m not perfect. I have to battle that.

Do you think you’ll ever achieve perfection?

No. I know I won’t. If I were able to, I would have already. I have physical limitations I have to work within.

Does that make you work harder?

Oh yea. Ballet has made me really resilient, which I think it’s one of the more important lessons it has taught me. When you love something so much and it doesn’t work out the way you would love or had imagined, you come back to it. You don’t give up, you don’t let it define you or defeat you. You learn to take criticism and rejection, but the victories are huge.

Do you come from a family of artists?

I do and a long line of teachers. My grandmother is 96 and she grew up in 1920s and 30s North Dakota. She put herself through college and was a teacher forever. My mom taught for 40 years. My dad was a (public school) teacher. My mother loved ballet but never took any lessons. She just started taking a dance class, in her 70s. I’m really proud of her.

Do you think it comes from her, this love of ballet you have?

I think the love of movement is my genes. My father enjoys dancing socially. People would stop and make circles around him and watch him dance. My grandparents went dancing into their late 80s, every night. I think I come from a family of movers.


Getting to Know Peter Saleh

Peter Saleh is the founder and director of Rutgers Youth Percussion Ensemble, which aims to help drummers and mallet players ages 13 to 18 develop into well-rounded, confident and dynamic musicians. The ensemble is in its 13th season and classes are scheduled to resume later this spring.  In November, Saleh performed with ensemble alumni as part of our monthly concert series at the Zimmerli Museum. He is also the founding member of Exit 9 Percussion Group and has performed nearly 500 times with the group. Saleh holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Mason Gross School of Performing Arts at Rutgers University and a master’s degree in percussion performance from the University of North Texas. He is the author of “A Percussionist’s Handbook”, about which Joseph Tompkins, Rutgers University Percussion Department head and NYC freelancer said, “You can spend twenty years learning this material through trial and error, or simply read A Percussionist’s Handbook book cover to cover.”


Peter Saleh, second from left, performed at the Zimmerli Museum in November with alumni of Rutgers Youth Percussion Ensemble. The alumni are, from left Angelica Cruz, Ben Cornavaca, and Devon Cupo.

What do you do when you’re not performing?

I enjoy spending as much time as possible outside with my dog – Batman, a French bulldog. I also like building and working with my hands and writing – I am working on the second edition of my book, A Percussionist’s Handbook.

If you could play any other instrument, what would it be? Why?

Cello! Sound produced by percussion instruments die away quickly. The cello is capable of producing a sustained sound. The range and repertoire of the instrument speak strongly to me and I think I would really enjoy being in a string quartet. Plus, the instrument crosses over to popular music in interesting ways.

Where’s your favorite place to listen to music?

I like to see small groups in small venues – a place where the audience and musicians are breathing the same air; the genre doesn’t matter.

Where’s your favorite place you’ve performed?

In South Korea, on an island called Jeju – it’s like their Hawaii. The first time my group performed there was in an amphitheater overlooking the sea. We performed around sunset. It was an amazing view from the stage and the audience was incredibly receptive.

What inspires you?

My students, especially when they reach the point of self-motivation.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

I like some pop artists that other trained musicians might look down their nose at, but a good song is a good song!


I like a group called Postmodern Jukebox – they do fun, cross-style arrangements of pop songs. I also really like a group called Lake Street Dive – just saw them at Radio City recently. It’s kind of a soul-pop band with some killer musicians and a great approach to song writing. I’m not admitting to anything more than that, and a little Beyonce.

What’s your favorite movie?

Rounders with Matt Damon, Ed Norton, and John Malkovich

Do you remember the moment you fell in love with your art?

The first day of band class in 5th grade. I had so much fun that I couldn’t wait to play again!

What was the first record or CD you bought?

Metallica’s Ride the Lightning – I bought it when CDs were still sold in long boxes!

Why do you teach? What’s the most rewarding part of teaching?

There’s an expression, “water every seed.” Every student has the potential to go far in his own way if he receives the right direction and encouragement. Maybe not every seed will develop, but I teach because I like to help — and be a witness to — a child discovering his talent. A few years ago, a parent gave me an old picture of her son – 5 years old in the picture playing with a toy xylophone. That 5 year-old eventually got into Julliard.  I look at the picture occasionally as a reminder that you don’t know where people are headed. The most rewarding part is that, although I know the work I do with all my students is going to stay with them, in many cases, for a long time, you also get to help create your colleagues!

Have you ever considered a career outside of the arts?

I majored in chemistry in college, but I was spending more time on my music theory elective than all my other course work. I took that as a sign and switched majors. I had an office job right after college. I had arranged a schedule time off so that I could keep accompanying dance classes each week. It was the playing time I was getting. At one point, my boss said either I had to work full time or I was going to be let go. The job had already helped me buy my marimba so I decided to leave. I haven’t worked outside of music since.

Getting to know Rebekah Sterlacci

Rebekah Sterlacci is the artistic director of Rutgers Children’s Choir & Scarlet Singers. When she’s not directing the Rutgers Children’s Choir, she’s directing the choirs at T. Schor Middle School, Piscataway, where she is music and vocal teacher. Rebekah holds a master’s degree in music education from Mason Gross School of the Arts and is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in educational leadership from Rowan University. When she is not singing, directing or doing school work, she spends time with her family, including her 2-year-son. Come and see Rebekah and her students perform during Rutgers Children’s Choir winter concert Saturday, Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. at the Nicholas Music Center.  

What drebekah-sterlacci-headshoto you do when you’re not singing, conducting or directing?   

When I have a rare moment to myself, I really enjoy running and cooking vegan meals.

If you could play any other instrument, what would it be? 

I play enough piano to get by, but I really wish that I could play the piano at a higher level. I love the versatility and the exciting, diverse uses of piano music.

Where’s your favorite place to listen to music?

My favorite place to listen to music is in my car – volume turned all the way up – singing (or rapping because it is probably Hamilton or the Mixtape) FULL volume. It is how I relax!

Where’s your favorite place you’ve performed?

While I was at Rutgers for my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I had exciting opportunities to perform at Carnegie Hall and at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. Both experiences were amazingly awesome, but my favorite place I have performed was at my church growing up – preferably singing a duet with my Dad.

What inspires you?

Creativity, passion, and collaboration inspire me, especially when the choir brings out all these characteristics in the students I teach, or colleagues and musicians I work with. These skills help us to become better people and therefore give us an opportunity to make the world a better place.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Harvest Moon Brewery in New Brunswick. My husband and I go on a date there once a week while my in-laws watch our son. My standard order is the pad thai with tofu and a double IPA!

Why do you teach? What’s the most rewarding part of teaching?

I teach because I believe that every child deserves an opportunity to be heard and valued. I teach because of the impact my own teachers had on my development. I teach because I believe education and knowledge have the ability to open doors, engage people in dialogue, and help us know more about one another. The most rewarding part of teaching is stepping back and acknowledging the process. I love to see how my students have grown and become independent. My greatest reward is seeing my students become adults and stay in touch. It makes me feel so proud!

Have you ever considered a career outside of the arts?

I have wanted to be a music teacher since I was 13 years old. Mainly because my middle school music teacher was amazing! (We still keep in touch and she played the organ at my wedding!) I have never considered a career outside of the arts. The arts — music, singing, acting, dancing, theater, writing — have impacted my life so strongly that this was my only option. The arts have become the only thing that would make me happy, and they have! I am working now in the research arena with the goal of improving educational equity – the hope is to become a professor in the future. My research interests center around advocacy for the transgender community with an arts integration focus. Essentially, using the arts and the acts of creation and performance to increase awareness and knowledge for the transgender community. So even now as I look to the future, I am still focused on the arts!

Who would you like to meet? What would you ask that person?

I would like to meet Lin-Manuel Miranda. I am obsessed with Hamilton, but I am more obsessed with finding out about Miranda’s process. He has had so much success, but even more, he has changed theater and culture. As a researcher, it would be cool to research the impact of Hamilton and the hip-hop culture on our education system.

What’s your favorite movie?

My favorite movie of all time is Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. Seriously! Also a contributing factor in my career choice. If you haven’t seen it, you need to. I make all my students watch it at some point in the year.

Do you remember the moment you fell in love with your art?

I can remember two times in my life when I fell in love with my art. The first was when I participated in regional choir for the first time in 8th grade. The feeling of my voice locking in with hundreds of others in harmony was exhilarating! The second time was conducting the Rutgers Children’s Choir as a graduate assistant while getting my Masters. That was when I fell in love with conducting!

What was the first record or CD you bought?

The first CD I ever bought was The Wallflowers’ Bringing Down the Horse. I used my own money and went to the store all by myself! The first CD I ever owned (bought by my parents) was New Kids on the Block, Hangin’ Tough.

Mason Gross Extension Division at Rutgers has forged a partnership with neighboring Highland Park, moving its children’s choir to rehearse off-campus at Bartle Elementary School.

MGSA Childrens Concert 12-18-11


The Rutgers Children’s Choir & Scarlet Singers, which provides vocal training for pre-college students, began rehearsing weekly in September at Bartle Elementary, 435 Mansfield Ave., Highland Park.

End-of-semester performances and special events will continue to be held on campus at the Nicholas Music Center, New Brunswick.

The partnership will make the Rutgers program more accessible to the community. In turn, Highland Park is providing a much-needed space for the Extension Division to run the program.

“We wanted to have a tangible connection to the community and this partnership provides that for us,” Extension Division Director Christopher Kenniff said. “It also gives us a quality space that we badly needed.”

For Highland Park, a municipality that embraces the arts, it was another opportunity to encourage creativity.

“We’re trying to strengthen our partnership with Rutgers and because Highland Park is an art-centric community, we thought what better way to strengthen that relationship than to connect with Mason Gross,” said Scott Taylor, Highland Park superintendent of schools. “The arts give kids the freedom to express themselves in ways they may not able to do through traditional means.”

As part of the new relationship, Highland Park Public School students will receive discounts from the Mason Gross Extension Division to participate in any Extension Division offering, including the children’s choir. The district has 1,550 students in four schools. Nearly 40 percent of the students are on reduced or free lunch program.

For Rebekah Sterlacci, the artistic director of the program, the new space now allows parents to sit in on rehearsals and watch the work their children are doing.

“This program is popular because we are a family,” Sterlacci said. “Kids grow up in the program.”

The youngest of the choir singers are the Little Knights for kindergartners through second grade; followed by Choristers, third to fifth grade; Chorale and Chamber Singers, fifth through eighth grade; and Scarlet Singers, high school.  Register for an audition here.

View video of the Rutgers Children’s Choir & Scarlet Singers in concert.

For more information or to register for Rutgers Children’s Choir & Scarlet Singers, call the Extension Division at 848-932-8616.  Or, contact us by email at

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