Skip to main content

Murray Journal

Murray teen violin virtuoso Ellen Hayashi talks surviving music and high school

Jun 28, 2018 11:52AM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Ellen Hayashi, right, and her quartet have taken first at several national competitions. (Photo courtesy Kristen Keefe)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

It’s not unusual for teenagers to get a group of schoolmates together to form a band, and with a little luck, they might find success with their music.

Murray teen Ellen Hayashi and her group are just coming off a successful national tour, earning recognition at some top musical festivals. But before you think of ear-splitting amps and guitar smashing, you should know that Ellen plays the violin for the BEAR Quartet, and the classical music world is taking note.

The BEAR Quartet’s name does not originate with the group’s affinity for grizzlies or pandas; it is an acronym created by using the first name of each of member:  Benson Marshall, 16, cello; Ellen, 15, violin; Abby Smith, 16, viola; and Rachel Aina Call, 16, violin. They formed their quartet as students at the Gifted Music School in 2017.

Locally, the quartet was named 2018 Best of Utah Youth Small Ensemble. Nationally, the quartet placed first at two competitions: The Pasadena Conservatory of Music Chamber Music competition and the WDAV Young Chamber Musicians’ Competition in North Carolina. They also took the bronze prize at the St. Paul String Quartet Competition.

 Ellen’s mom, Kristen Keefe, noted her daughter’s first interest in the violin.

“Ellen asked Santa for a violin for Christmas when she was in first grade and started taking lessons the week after Christmas,” Keefe said. Now 15, and a freshman at Murray’s American International School of Utah, Ellen participates in the school's orchestra and also attends the Gifted Music School in Salt Lake City part time.

Practice is a musician’s closest friend, and Ellen typically rehearses with her quartet for two and a half hours three times a week, sandwiched between three coaching sessions. As the teens get closer to competition time, they often practice together daily for up to three hours.

These teens are so determined that they will not only schedule their practice time but also plot the finest details into their calendar.

“That schedule always includes wake-up time, breakfast, personal practice time, group rehearsal and, of course, we have to set aside time for one of the most important parts of competition day: hair and makeup for the girls,” Ellen said.

Such diligence to the quartet begs the question: Is Ellen is missing out on other experiences?

“It’s true that we don’t have a lot of time to chill with friends on a daily basis or live through what my grandmother likes to call, ‘the full high school experience’—dating, high school drama, school dances and all,” Ellen said. “But to me, when I do have time to hang out with friends, it just makes that time all the more special. course, I choose to hang out with my friends from the music world, even though we see each other all the time. We just can’t get enough. I also don’t feel like I am sacrificing much because I would never trade the experiences, the memories and the bonding that I have with the people that I get to make music with every day.”

Ellen has her goals set high and hopes to apply to the New England Conservatory of Music, the Juilliard School of Music or the Cleveland Institute of Music. In the meantime, Ellen notes, “First I hope to survive the scariest place on earth—high school.”

When asked if she ever second guesses her current path, the teenager replies, “There have definitely been times where I personally have reached a breaking point. I have spent several nights wondering if I should continue with music or switch to a different path. When I get to those situations, I remind myself of all of the rewards that have come with working hard at this craft. Because of music, I have wonderful friendships, I get performance opportunities that I will remember forever and I have memories that are irreplaceable.”