For an entire year, 13-year-old Naina Ray practiced the same composition on the clarinet every day for at least an hour.
While admittedly tedious, her dedication paid off, as Naina clinched first place in the 2018 American Protégé International Woodwinds and Brasswinds Competition.
Her prize? The chance to perform as a soloist at Carnegie Hall on Dec. 15.
Naina, an eighth-grader at Edgemont Junior/Senior High School, has been studying the clarinet since she was in fourth grade. Even then, she favored classical music. “It’s really exciting,” she said. “There [are] lots of different moods, lots of different themes.”
As a child, she was particularly inspired by her grandmother, Chitra Ray, who was a trained Indian classical singer. Before she died in 2016, Chitra performed on television in India and at various cultural events in New York. She also taught Naina to sing in Bengali, a language in which she performed several times at her grandmother’s gigs.
Determined to study an instrument, Naina settled on the clarinet — and she never veered. In western classical orchestras, “clarinet is one of the more prominent sounds you hear,” she said, “and many of the soloists are clarinetists. I just love the thought of me being ... able to stand out from the band.”
Still, Naina relishes the clarinet’s “very, very sweet sound” and wide range.
She currently plays both with the Edgemont jazz and classical bands under music teacher John Catoliato, and studies privately with clarinetist Claire Grellier. She has achieved five of six levels under the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA), and is preparing to tackle the highest level of difficulty next year.
“After you practice over and over and over again, you start realizing maybe you can do it,” she said.
Naina caught wind of the American Protégé competition last year and considered applying, but she and her family decided she wasn’t ready just yet. The contest is open to solo performers and ensembles of all ages, nationalities and countries; flutes, clarinets, saxophones, oboes, bassoons, piccolos, trumpets, trombones, French horns, flugels, tubas and all other woodwinds and brass instruments are welcome.
While there is no age limit for adult submissions, minors are split into several categories — ages 5 to 9, 10 to 13, 14 to 17, and two 18 and older brackets. The plethora of audio and video submissions pours in every year from around the world.
Naina submitted her video audition in September with moderate hopes.
“I wasn’t sure where it was going, but I definitely wanted to try it,” she said. “I knew Carnegie Hall [is] a very sacred place for classical musicians. I wanted to be able to achieve [that].”
Now she has her chance.
The young prodigy will play the same song she rehearsed for her audition, Vittorio Monti’s “Csárdás.” The tune is based on a Hungarian folk dance and was originally written in 1904 for violin, mandolin or piano.
“Within those four-and-a-half minutes, there are so many themes and moods that are introduced,” Naina said. “It starts off in a very slow and mellow way, and it ends up being very exciting … It almost becomes dance music.”
That element of storytelling is what the young clarinetist said she treasures most. “As a musician, I feel like I’m taking the listener on a musical journey.”
With her Carnegie Hall recital date fast approaching, Naina said she’s glad she doesn’t suffer from stage fright. “When I perform, I perform. I don’t really have nerves,” she said. “I’m very excited ... I’ve heard that the acoustics are unbelievable.”