As a pre-teen, Gabrielle Hooper rebelled against her parents…by getting really into playing the cello.
Yes, the University of Michigan sophomore used a string instrument to rebel against going to a Catholic school. What can she say? She figured having them drive her around to orchestra practices and concerts on the weekends was good punishment.
“It’s kind of dumb to take an extracurricular very seriously, but it is very time consuming,” she said. “It was really random and spiteful.“
That teenage rebellion ended up working in Hooper’s favor. She’s now working towards a duel degree in cello performance and Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience (BCN) at U of M, and studying under noted cellist Anthony Elliott, one of Hooper’s biggest musical influences. And she was recently part of the Young Artists Performance through the Bowdoin International Music Festival.
“I spent all of high school trying to study with him, and it’s a huge blessing that I get to study with him now,” she said. “He’s incredible.”
Before getting to U of M, Hooper was part of multiple youth orchestras, including Detroit Metropolitan Youth Symphony, Detroit Symphony Orchestra Civic, and the Michigan Youth Symphony Orchestra at U of M. She also spent multiple summers with the Sphinx Performance Academy, a Detroit-based chamber music and solo performance program designed for black and latinx string players between 11-17.
Sphinx played a large role in Hooper’s desire to continue playing.
“If you look at the demographic of (most) orchestras…there are never any African American or Latino musicians. It’s a lot of white kids, a lot of Asian kids,” Hooper said. “It really took a lot of summers at Sphinx to remember that there are other talented African American and Latino musicians who are putting in their own efforts and talents to grow and thrive in this field, just like me.
“Just seeing the growing network of minorities in the classical field really encouraged me as a small child,” she continued.
Hooper began playing the cello long before she joined Sphinx. It all started in second grade when she was at Detroit Country Day School, where she finished elementary school.
The cello was selected for a few reasons, one being that her mom used to play.
“I also noticed there were no other girls playing the cello. I thought that was kind of lame,” Hooper laughed.
Once Hooper got more invested in playing she noticed she really liked the music and that playing came pretty naturally to her. This led to an increased self-confidence in her ability to play.
Hooper said when was younger she was blissfully ignorant about playing. She wasn’t focused on who could be watching – she just played. Now though, she said the knowledge of knowing what you’re doing led to some performance anxiety, which got crippling during her freshman year.
“You only focus on the reality of 'if I fail it will be so awful,' and then you do,” she laughed.
Hooper has since pushed through her performance anxiety, with a combination of finding her music niche, recognizing the people who support her, and knowing she was good enough to be there.
Speaking of her music niche, Hooper has no desire to end up in a professional orchestra. She hopes to be a music therapist by day and chamber musician at night, ideally in a smaller ensemble performing new, cutting edge pieces.
“There’s a lot of different ways you can use music…just really harnessing every inch of creativity you have, you can do that through music,” Hooper said. “I hope I still like it 20 years for now. I think I will.”
Photo: Steve Kaufman