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Chava Appiah

Professional cellist and West Bloomfield Township native, Chava Appiah, was inspired to learn to play the cello as a young child by watching famed musician Yo-Yo Ma play the cello on “Sesame Street.” After watching one of her older brothers play and practice the violin, Appiah says the appeal of the cello was heightened for her as it was an instrument that could be played while sitting down.

After attending Cranbrook Schools, Appiah graduated from Oberlin College & Conservatory in Ohio, where she earned bachelor's degrees in neuroscience and cello performance. It was while working on a research project at Vanderbilt University during her junior year that she decided to pursue a career in music rather than pre-med.

“My performance drive really picked up in college. I was trying to be excited about research, but I couldn’t wait to practice cello during my time off work.”

Appiah adds, “I grew up in a home of musical enthusiasts. Both my parents are doctors and treasure academics – that’s why I went to Cranbrook – but they didn’t push me towards medicine. Growing up, we were busy with sports, music, and school. My parents regularly took us to the symphony and DIA.” She also played with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Youth Symphony Orchestra.

After Oberlin, Appiah furthered her musical education by earning a master’s degree in cello performance from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. She then moved to Miami, where she performed for four years with the New World Symphony, an orchestra academy which prepares gifted graduates of music programs for leadership roles in orchestras and ensembles. During this time, she also performed with Miami’s Flamenco Sephardit, a “very Miami” fusion program that celebrates the transcendent and historic musical connection of Flamenco blended with the Jewish Ladino traditions of Spain.

“I’ve done concerts around identity, music, and expression and finding a way to tie together different aspects of life. For me, my dad is from Ghana, so I’m the child of an immigrant and my mom is Jewish and White. It’s really an open-ended question,” she explained. “There aren’t many Black Jewish people and there aren’t many Black people in classical music, but there has been a stronger push to change representation in the classical music world since the murder of George Floyd in 2020.”

Most recently, Appiah left the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra where she spent a year as assistant principal cello in order to pursue a Doctor of Musical Arts at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music. While in Cincinnati, she will be playing with the Louisville Orchestra. “Ultimately, I want an orchestra job and need a structure to practice and prepare for auditions,” she said.

When she is not playing or studying music, Appiah enjoys time in nature, reading, listening to podcasts and history.

Over the years, she has taken her passion for orchestra and chamber music to performance halls and venues worldwide. She has even had the thrill of meeting and collaborating with her original cello inspiration, Yo-Yo Ma.

For aspiring professional musicians and enthusiasts, Appiah offers this advice: “Remember you are allowed to have more than one interest in life. If you don’t pursue music as a career, you can always have it as an interest by playing, attending concerts or being a donor. You are never too old to take lessons. Also, don’t ever be afraid to ask big people in the field for advice.”

Story: Tracy Donohue

Photo: Kelly Hicks


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