Deeper Tones Yield Deeper Connections
Writer Joseph J. Airdo
Photography by Loralei Lazurek
From a very early age, Alexander Drace surrounded himself with a wide array of musical genres. His mother instilled within him an appreciation for pop music while his father encouraged him to value heavy metal rock. He even developed a profound admiration for orchestral music, including solo pieces and concertos featuring violins and violas.
It is perhaps that well-roundedness — along with a lot of dedication and discipline — that propelled the Paradise Valley High School junior to excel as a musician and to become the very first violist to win North Valley Symphony Orchestra’s Summerford Concerto Competition.
While attending elementary school in Kentucky, Drace was placed in a music theory class that jump-started his connection to music.
“It was just a basic class with a recorder and a piano but I really enjoyed it and I decided to talk to my music teacher about getting more involved with music,” Drace says. “She talked to me about the different possibilities of what I could do in middle school.”
One of those possibilities was joining orchestra — a sound that Drace believes conveys deeper emotions than other band ensembles. He initially considered making the violin his instrument but eventually decided that the viola was a more appropriate fit.
“I just like the deeper tones of it,” Drace says. “That is a small detail but it makes it more melodious than the violin.”
Drace’s family moved to Arizona when he was starting eighth grade. After middle school, his interest in the instrument began to wane so he left orchestra off of his schedule during his first semester as a high school freshman. But, as it turns out, absence really does make the heart grow fonder and he rejoined orchestra at the start of his second semester.
“It takes a lot of dedication and persistence,” Drace says. “No matter how hard it gets and no matter how tired you feel, you just have to push through. Even if it is only for 30 or 45 minutes a day, just picking up the instrument and playing a couple of scales is key.”
The reintroduction solidified Drace’s dedication to the viola.
In June 2019, Drace successfully auditioned into North Valley Symphony Orchestra’s intermediate ensemble — North Valley Youth Strings. The ensemble’s director Orlando Moss says the talented musician was a very valuable member of the group, leading its viola section.
“I found Alex to be conscientious, and a hard-working student who consistently demonstrated his leadership by communicating with his peers that helped improve the section for rehearsal and concert purposes,” Moss says.
Youth directors quickly recognized Drace as a strong violist and, upon the second semester, invited him to audition for the nonprofit performing arts organization’s advanced ensemble — North Valley Youth Orchestra. He easily aced the audition and joined the group at the start of this year.
Drace decided to double down on his dedication and take part in North Valley Symphony Orchestra’s Summerford Concerto Competition. The annual competition consists of composing answers to six essay questions, obtaining a letter of recommendation and auditioning in front of a panel of judges.
“I tried my absolute hardest and practiced more than I have ever practiced on anything else,” Drace says. “I worked very hard on perfecting [my skill].”
Drace ended up winning the competition, earning not only notoriety but also a handmade viola — valued at more than $5,000 — from local luthier Jody Summerford.
“Earning this viola is a dream come true,” Drace says. “I am excited about this opportunity to prove myself as a serious violist. Winning this new viola will help me delve deeper in my musicianship.”
North Valley Symphony Orchestra’s musical director Joshua Lynch is incredibly proud of Drace.
“In the time that I have known Alex, I have seen the beginnings of a true artist,” Lynch says. “Confident, yet humble, Alex brings a remarkable work ethic with him wherever he goes and displays a character integrity like I have never seen. Winning this viola has opened a crucial door for him. I — as well as the rest of the community — eagerly await Alex’s next move.”
Drace, of course, has a couple more years of high school ahead of him during which time he intends to continue expanding his musical horizons. However, upon graduation, he is currently considering majoring in physics, astrophysics or mathematics in college and minoring in music performance.
Ultimately, the young musician believes that playing the viola has gifted him with a connection to music that extends into other areas of his life.
“The more I can increase my skill level as a musician, the deeper I can connect emotionally,” says Drace, adding that competitions like North Valley Symphony Orchestra’s Summerford Concerto Competition have been his primary motivation. “I have deeper emotions and can experience them in a different way. And becoming better at that helps me connect with other people.”