Hopkins School instrumental groups harbor many talented musicians who have reached some of the highest levels of music in New England. One such musician is Paul Stelben ’17, who plays both bassoon and piano.
“Paul recently played a solo with Orchestra New England, and he was chosen from other soloists from around the area,” said Robert Smith, Director of Instrumental Music at Hopkins. “He won a competition to do this. It was a really big deal because Orchestra New England has professional musicians, and they charge money for their concerts. It was a fantastic opportunity.”
Stelben said, “My biggest accomplishment was winning the Neighborhood Music School Concerto Competition and performing with the Youth Orchestra.”
Stelben has been an All-State bassoon player for all three years that he’s spent at Hopkins. To qualify for All-States, Stelben had to first qualify for regionals after preparing a solo piece and scales for judges. Then, winners from each of the four regions in Connecticut had the opportunity to do the same thing again with harder music to be recognized on the State Level. Smith said, “So it’s the best of the best who compete to be in the All-State Festival, where music teachers from all over the state come to take courses and learn about music in the classroom. The students practice with world-renowned conductors over the course of a weekend, and they put on a concert at the end. It’s a really huge deal.”
Stelben is a member of many instrumental groups, both at Hopkins and in the nearby areas. Smith said, “He’s a member of the Neighborhood Music School Wind Ensemble, and they take their top wind players and put them in a small quintet.” Stelben is also involved in the Neighborhood Music School Youth Orchestra. Stelben said, “I have played for a couple of years in a chamber group at the Neighborhood Music School, and I really have enjoyed the experience. When Mr. Smith created chamber groups at Hopkins, it was another great opportunity. It has been a very successful program to go along with orchestra.” Stelben is conducting the orchestra in one of their pieces for the spring concert.
In addition to performing, Stelben also composes music. Smith said, “He [Stelben] is part of the New Haven young composers project, and they only accept a handful of students from the greater New Haven area, and they study with a professional composer, and can have their pieces played by members of the New Haven symphony.”
Stelben’s musical knowledge is vast. Smith said, “He can tell you about composers, he has a whole list of favorite pieces and he can tell you why. He’s the kind of student that any director would like to have in his group because he embodies what it means to be a musician at the highest level but to also be an academic students. He’s got that dual role.”This success comes from talent and a great deal of practice. “He has perfect pitch. He’s always down here practicing in the practice rooms. Probably every single free period he has been down here practicing,” said Smith.
Through all of this hard work, Stelben demonstrates a passion for music. Despite achieving most of his success through the bassoon, Stelben said, “The piano is something I really enjoy, and I’ll never stop.” To aspiring musicians Stelben recommends, “If music is what you love to do, then don’t be afraid to do it.”