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Name That Tune: Courtenay Vandiver Pereira

Jenna Mazzoccoli
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Courtenay Vandiver Pereira

Courtenay Vandiver Pereira, professional cellist and founder of House of Cello, attended university in New England but found her way back to Houston where she grew up. (Photo: Shannon Langman Photography)

This week’s Name That Tune is brought to you by Courtenay Vandiver Pereira, professional cellist and member of ROCO. She attended high school at HSPVA and college in New England. Now she finds herself back in Houston, making music and training up the next generation of cellists. Read on for excerpts from our interview and watch her video to see if you can name this tune. 

Profession: Professional cellist
Instrument: Cello

How did you get started in music?
I started when I was 5, and I was inspired by a Houston Symphony concert I went to during the Halloween season. You were invited to dress up! So my parents took us and I dressed up as a little black kitty-cat.

At the Symphony, they were playing a piece called Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns. Basically, the piece features the different instruments as different animals. Each instrument sounds like the different characteristics and qualities of an animal. It’s a really cool piece. The cello is the swan at the end. And when I heard it, I turned to me parents and I said “I want that one!” It sounds cheesy, but that is totally what happened! And so I grew up in Houston. I went to the High School of the Performing and Visual Arts and then went to Boston for my undergrad.

What was your experience like as an undergraduate cello student?
I have a twin who plays violin. We were always together. So, the summer after our junior year, we went to a camp in New Mexico and then drove across the country with my father to check out schools. You can imagine us in a minivan driving from New Mexico all the way up to the east coast! But we did it. There was something about Boston and the New England Conservatory, we just knew we wanted to be there. It was great! It was super competitive, but both my sister and I were fortunate enough to get in. Everyone was kind and lovely, but still competitive. So it was the best of both worlds, really.

What was your journey like after graduation?
After I graduated with my bachelor's and master's degrees, I started a chamber orchestra in Boston called A Far Cry with some of my friends. And I did that for a long time. It’s a string chamber orchestra. And then I had been away from my family for so long, I ended up taking a sabbatical. But during that sabbatical, I was a public school teacher in Fort Bend ISD. I taught almost 300 string students. I had a great rookie year. And I ended up staying in town, and slowly but surely, getting reconnecting in Houston. I connected with Alecia and began playing with ROCO.

What motivated you to start A Far Cry in Boston?
I was dreaming. At the time, I was on an Amtrak between tour stops. We were headed to another city to play another concert. And we started dreaming about starting our own orchestra and starting our own jobs. We began brainstorming people. It was important to us to find good musicians with good hearts. Every single person we put on the list ended up joining. We were doing both artistic and administration, so we really needed to work well together.

What did you learn from starting A Far Cry and what did you learn from being a teacher?
It’s funny you ask that because I’ve actually started a new project here in Houston called House of Cello. It’s to train and raise up the future generation, but we are family oriented. For the cellists who are in House of Cello, we meet on Mondays to train and then talk about professional development too. All my experiences have come together to help me develop House of Cello.

For me, you must think in terms of legacy and multiplication. I want to share my experiences, so maybe the hard lessons you went through without mentorship, you can save someone from walking through that alone.

The way most programs work is you don’t get much professional development. You are in this cocooned bubble. You can excel and do well in your lessons and recitals, but you have no professional development skills. No one has taught you how to build a resume or how to book gigs. With the cellists I work with in House of Cello, we work on these things. Even the younger ones have a resume and have played gigs around town. I care about the legacy I’m leaving and bring up the next generation to be successful.

Editor’s note: Play a musical instrument and interested in contributing to Name That Tune? Email [email protected]

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