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Name That Tune: Nina Pitts

Pooja Salhotra
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Nina Pitts

Nina Pitts, 22, comes from a musical family and has been playing the cello for more than 10 years.   

This week’s Name That Tune is brought to you by cellist Nina Pitts. Nina graduated from West University Elementary, Annunciation Orthodox School and Kinder HSPVA before going on to study music at Rice University. Nina comes from a musical family and aspires to play at the professional level. Read for excerpts from our interview with Nina. 

Age: 22 
Profession: Undergraduate at Rice University studying music  
Instrument: Cello 

Tell me a little bit about your background in music and how you started playing cello. 
I come from a family of musicians. As you saw in the video, my dad plays the double bass. He was in the Houston Symphony and now he teaches at Rice. And my mom plays the violin and she also teaches [violin] at Rice. My sister plays cello, so we are an entirely musical family.

When did you start playing the cello?
I must’ve been about 6 or 7. But I started on violin first and that didn’t go as well as we hoped.

What do you mean by that?
I was a really antsy kid. My mom always made me stand up to play the violin and I was like, ‘Can I play an instrument where I can sit down?’ I was like ‘Oh cello looks good. You can sit down and play that.’ So that’s how that happened. And I just kind of stuck with it. 

How have you developed your skills and gotten to the level you’re at now? 
Rice has this preparatory program where you get lessons and you do music on the weekends. It’s from young kids to high school age, so I did that for a number of years. And then in high school I switched teachers and stopped that program since I was going to HSPVA, which already had those things. I studied with Brinton Smith [Principal of the Houston Symphony]. 

That’s great. I also want to hear more about what it was like to grow up in such a musical family. Did you play together as a family, and did you often have conversations about music?
It was a lot of fun. In the summers, we’d go to these music festivals that [my parents] got invited to teach at. It was fun going and hanging around all the musicians and hearing them play these awesome concerts. Looking back, I appreciate it so much and really cherish those memories. We do talk about a lot of music. We kind of talk shop at home. Instrumentation wise, there’s not much for two cellos, a bass and a violin, so we haven’t really all played together, but I do play duets with my dad and I’ve done lot of things with my mom like piano trios and string quartets. 

Did you always know you’d study and pursue music in college? 
Well, I think when I started pretty young it was a hobby. My parents wanted to instill in me an appreciation for what they did. They always said, ‘you don’t have to do this. You can study whatever you want.’ But along the way I went to a music festival called Music Academy of the West. I went because one of the cello students I was studying with that summer said, ‘You should come see me play!’ So I said sure, and it turned out to be the best experience of my life. I realized then I have to play an opera orchestra. That’s how I became hooked on the classical music track.

So when you say you wanted to plan an opera orchestra – have you gotten to do that?
I’ve gotten to do it at least five times. I want to do it more. It’s been a lot of fun each time. I’ve learned so much from everyone. It’s fun to be part of a big group making art together. 

Do you know what you want to do after graduating from Rice University?
I’d like to go to a Master’s program for music somewhere. Maybe USC or somewhere in New York. I’m also interested in arts administration, but I want to try to playing first and if that doesn’t work out I’d be happy to go into administration. I don’t want to have regrets for not trying.

Editor's note: See more Name That Tune Q&As and videos here. Play an instrument and interested in submitting a video? Contact us at [email protected].   

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