WALNUT CREEK, CA — Northgate High School music students Noa Zebley and Ingrid Nordberg have been selected as members of the prestigious Carnegie Hall National Youth Ensembles program this summer in New York.
About 200 outstanding young musicians from 41 stares were selected for the National Youth Orchestra of the USA, NYO2 and NYO Jazz. Baritone saxophone player Zebley will be part in the jazz ensemble while Nordberg will play viola in the National Youth Orchestra USA.
The members of the 2021 ensembles have been recognized by Carnegie Hall as being among the finest players in the country following a comprehensive and highly selective audition process. All program activities this summer are expected to take place in-person in the New York area with strict health protocols in place.
Zebley family immersed in jazz
Zebley is a 16-year-old junior enrolled in the Horizons Center for Independent Study of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, participates in the Northgate High music program and also takes courses at Diablo Valley College, where her dad Matt is director of jazz studies.
“I grew up in a household where music was everywhere, all of the time. With both my parents being musicians, there were instruments everywhere. As a kid, if I wanted to play the piano or drums, I just walked over played. It was a free and explorative environment, and that positive feeling of free exploration is what keeps me going today,” Noa Zebley explains.
The first instrument she played was the ukulele at age seven. She began playing the alto saxophone in fifth grade. “I continue to play alto sax, but my one true love is the baritone saxophone. In eighth grade, my band director needed a baritone sax for the symphonic band, and I volunteered. That was one of the best decisions I ever made.
“The bari sax is the instrument I feel most connected to in mind, body, and soul. The other instruments I play include the flute, bass clarinet, alto sax, piano and ukulele. My dad was the one who inspired me to play the saxophone. When I was a toddler, I would go up to him whenever he was practicing and start pressing the keys. I was hearing that saxophone sound since I was in the womb, it was a constant throughout my childhood, so I feel a deep connection to it now.”
She adds, “My first private music teacher was my dad, but that didn’t last too long, so I moved on to the amazing Mary Fettig, a local legend. After Mary, I took a break from private lessons, until I found Dann Zinn, who I am currently taking lessons. Dann is phenomenal and has helped guide me on an exponential path of growth.
“The other people that inspire me are the amazing young musicians I am surrounded by in the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars. I am grateful to live in an area where jazz is celebrated, nurtured and supported, and in the All-Stars, there are so many talented people who are there to serve the music and inspire more young musicians to play jazz.”
Zebley started at Concord’s Highlands Elementary in fourth grade. She went to Foothill Middle School where her band director was Kirk Wetterholm. “He was a fantastic educator and mentor and helped introduce me to the wonders of jazz.” Outside of school, she played in the California Jazz Conservatory’s Studio Band, under the direction of Dave Eshelman, during freshman year.
“I go to Northgate for music, my main school for academics is Horizons Center for Independent Study. My favorite subjects are English and photography. Horizons is a way for me to spend more time on my music. It allows me to have a flexible schedule in an environment that I have control over, unlike a comprehensive high school.”
At Northgate, Zebley has played in the Concert Band, Wind Ensemble, Marching Band, Jazz Combo II, Jazz Band II and Jazz Band I. For the past two years she has been playing in the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars. She says the SFJAZZ All-Stars under director Paul Contos “has provided me with so many opportunities, like going to New York to play at the Charles Mingus Jazz Festival or being able to play with Bonnie Raitt.”
She also has been a member of the Kyle Athayde Dance Party, a professional big band. She adds, “Jazz is the main genre I play, but I do spend a lot of time writing pop songs.”
Nordberg excels as musician, scholar
Enjoy Ingrid Nordberg performances:
Nordberg’s senior year has seen her recognized for her academic achievements as a National Merit Scholarship winner and now as a member of the NYO-USA.
The 17-year-old says, “I can’t remember what specifically drew me to music. It feels like music has always been part of my life. I began with violin when I was five, but later switched to viola. I started playing viola because I loved the deep tone of the instrument. My violin teacher at the time also taught viola, so it was an uncomplicated switch.”
She adds, “My favorite viola performer is [German violinist] Tabea Zimmerman. I love how full of emotion her playing is, and I think she really captures the essence of each piece she performs. Her interpretation of the Brahms Sonata in E-flat Major is definitely my favorite.
“My first private viola teacher showed me how fulfilling it is to play with others. He would often give me opportunities as a young violist to play in quartets and chamber groups with his other students, which I really enjoyed.”
Since last March, when the pandemic hit, her current music teacher Hyelim Shin has been giving Nordberg lessons via Zoom.
Nordberg joined the orchestra program at Northgate, where she is principal viola, for the first time this year. This is her third year as a member of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra.
Away from music she is co-president of the Northgate Math Club, helping lead their weekly meetings. Her favorite subjects are math and history, so it is no surprise her college plans are “to study something mathematics-related along with a humanities discipline such as history or philosophy.”
Nordberg is “really looking forward to our month-long residency in New York state. I heard about NYO from my [SF Symphony] youth orchestra. We have a couple people get in every year and everyone I talked to told me they loved their NYO experience, which made me excited to apply. We’ll arrive at Purchase College on June 26. I have attended classical music festivals in the summer before, but I’ve never participated in a summer orchestra program before. NYO will definitely be a one-of-a-kind experience.”
Jay Bedecarré is a long-time resident and writer in Concord and Clayton. He began his newspaper writing career while still a senior at Mt. Diablo High School and he has been part of The Pioneer since its inception in 2003. Jay also operates Bay Area Festivals, presenting events around the San Francisco Bay Area including Bay Area KidFest annually in Downtown Concord.