Photos by Matt Owen and Emma Milledge
For the past three years, Whatzup has sought the best of the best, the top young musicians from Fort Wayne and surrounding areas. Once again, we’ve been overwhelmed with what we found.
Our 10 honorees, who are all under 20 years old and residents of northeast Indiana, impressed our panel of judges based on their musical skill, community and school music activities, and academic performance — and for also just being outstanding people.
Our 2023 list includes jazz, pop, rock, and classical musicians. They come from school bands, pep bands, concert bands, and church bands. They are great students, athletes, and leaders. This is truly a tribute to the best of up-and-coming artists. Take a few minutes and get to know our bright future.
And now, we proudly introduce you to the 2023 Whatzup Salute to Young Musicians.
18 · East Noble High School · Piano and Percussion
Rachel Becker has always had a passion for music.
The East Noble student says that while taking lessons early on, something just clicked.
“I knew I wanted to be in a band,” she said. “I’ve been involved ever since.”
She’s definitely “involved.” Those who know her say she’s all-in as an athlete, student, and leader. She plays in the marching, pep, jazz, and concert bands at East Noble, is all-state cross country qualifier, and a student leader. She’s also shares her talents and tries to influence others.
Along with school activities, she plays piano for two churches, which she began doing at 14.
She’s made her mark playing the piano, marimba, and other percussion instruments, winning Indiana State School Music Association gold awards.
Her musical world seems to revolve around impressionism or romanticism and anything composed by Claude DeBussy or Frédéric Chopin. If those components are in a piece, “then I am in my element,” she said. “It’s expressive and provides color to the listener. It gives you space to think outside the box and be creative.
Becker plans to attend Indiana Wesleyan University to study music education, dedicating herself to a future of instructing and inspiring others who share a love for music.
She was also selected to participate in the Indiana Music Education Association’s Future Music Educators’ Colloquium at Grand Wayne Center in January.
17 · Snider High School · Viola and Clarinet
Even though she is the principal violist in the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Youth Symphony Orchestra, a collection of the top 60 or so youth musicians in the region, Grace Buchanan sometimes has to remind herself that she belongs.
“Everyone is very talented,” she said. “It’s really inspiring to be around them.”
She also holds a similar role with her Snider High School orchestra, as she as netted top honors in its concerto competition.
Despite her talent for it, viola was not Buchanan’s first choice in elementary school.
“Everyone said they wanted to play violin, and I thought, ‘I don’t want to be like everyone else,’ I guess,” she said. “So I decided to play viola.”
It fits her well.
“The range is different,” she said. “It’s lower than the violin and it’s bigger. So it’s a deeper sound.
She also wows audiences when she plays clarinet in the concert band, marching band, and jazz band. The viola and clarinet complement each other well, she explains.
“The rhythms are the same. I think there’s a lot of things that you can apply to an orchestra and that you would learn from a band. I think music is music.”
She’s considering a degree in music education or performance at Ball State University, Purdue University Fort Wayne, or Indiana University.
15 · North Side High School · Bass
A bassist isn’t usually known for rocking out. A few licks aren’t typically mesmerizing to an audience.
Well, Colin Butler hopes to change that perception.
“I like to get the crowd somewhat involved, to hype up the energy in the room or building or wherever I’m playing it,” he said.
Despite not even being old enough to drive, the North Side student has been performing more than three years in jazz and funk bands. When there was an empty spot in the jazz band, he stepped up.
Butler also plays piano, which he says helps him. He says he learns a song on piano, then transfers it up and down the frets.
“I’ll try it on piano and then play the bass,” he said.
If there’s a jazz festival, he’s usually being recognized, dating back to his middle school days when he was part of Memorial Park’s top jazz ensemble, Big Noise! Jazz Band.
At Snider’s Nicholas Invitational Jazz Festival, he won best overall soloist. He’s a member of the North Side Wildsiders and jazz combo. He also is part of the Legends’ state finalist marching band.
Along with school activities, he is the lead bass for jazz-funk fusion band Intrepid Cat and has played with Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra.
18 · North Side High School · Trumpet
Isabelle Miller knows what music can do for one’s spirit.
Dealing with the pandemic and personal health concerns, the North Side student says music was therapeutic.
“It was a chaotic time in my life,” she said. “At the end of the day, I always had a jazz band. If I was having a bad day, I always knew that I would get to play music after school and everything would be a little bit better.”
As a fifth-grader, she was the only girl to pick a trumpet, saying she was instantly drawn in.
Miller notes the trumpet is a powerful instrument because of its versatility and range.
A featured soloist for North Side’s Wildsiders Jazz Ensemble, Miller was also part of the school’s all-state jazz band.
Her future plans are attending Indiana University in Bloomington to study criminal justice.
While she pursues academic success, she is already scouting campus opportunities, including the all-campus jazz ensemble.
18 · Concordia Lutheran High School · Piano, Drums, and Clarinet
It’s the story that pulls us into movies. Characters and directors play a role, but the tale hooks us.
That’s true for Concordia Lutheran’s Maxwell Park, who plays piano, drums, and clarinet.
While others in the theater are on the edge of their seats, he’s listening to the expressive or emotional music. He says the moment is magical.
“It pushes my creative limits,” he said. “It really hones what I’ve learned and teaches me new things, especially with the visual representations of musicality.”
That plays out in his unmistakable passion for musical scores. Finding the right sound for his visual productions have led to gold medals from the Indiana State School Music Association. Before he entered school he already was versed in master movie composers like Danny Elfman and John Williams. Williams’ theme for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, “Harry’s Wondrous World” is one that really sticks out to him.
“It’s one of the most magical pieces I’ve ever heard,” Park said. “The first time I heard it, I thought, ‘This is telling an incredible story.’ ”
Park admits he loved it so much that he didn’t pay much attention to the on-screen action.
“I really want to go into directing films,” he said. “Ultimate aspiration is directing movies, but then even further than that, like, deep-rooted in my heart, would be to direct a movie and then compose a score. I can only imagine.”
18 · North Side High School · Bass Trombone
If there was ever an instrument that was just right for a person, it’s the bass trombone for Jackson Prescott. Strong, steady, and skilled is how you could describe both.
Don’t forget, big, brassy, and bold when needed.
The North Side student is a drum major with the Marching Legends and the school’s jazz band. He’s played with the Indiana All-State Jazz Band and is a frequent solo award winner, especially for his jazz performances. He’s been a part of three marching band state finalists and three jazz state finalists. He’s in the concert band, pep band, and the Wildsiders jazz band.
“I heard a judge say, ‘A band needs to have a good bass trombone to keep the band together,’ ” he said. “It brings a lot of attention, and it’s always fun to get comments about how great it sounds.”
It’s an instrument in a class of its own. “There’s nothing like it and that’s why it’s so fun to play,” he said.
Like the trombone, Prescott is not passive, he’s supportive.
“I am not gonna overplay the whole band, but I’ll provide the coverage that’s required by the part I play,” he said.
He plans to attend Purdue University Fort Wayne, joining the jazz and pep bands.
“I enjoy it too much to just give it up; I can’t imagine not playing,” he said.
For now, he’s focused on general education with an eye on biology, biomedical, or engineering. Then again, music might creep back into the picture.
17 · North Side High School · Tenor Saxophone
Trevor Robinson has to stop and take it all in sometimes. Being considered one of the top musicians makes the tenor saxophone player pause.
“It gives me more confidence knowing I’m one of the good musicians in the area,” the North Side student says. “It makes me happy that people want to hear me play.”
It’s the expressiveness of jazz that attracts Robinson, saying its active, emotional, and captivating, although he does get into funk and blues.
“Jazz is just a super fun genre to play,” he said. “There’s just so much you can do it with it.”
His attraction to the sax came after watching his cousin play.
“I would go to his concerts and think, ‘That’s what I want to do,’ ” he said. “I just picked it up and it was awesome.”
He’s performed with two ISSMA state finalist jazz ensembles and won solo jazz awards. He’s a member of the North Side Marching Legends, where he participated in three state final competitions. He’s also in the pep, the Wildsiders Jazz Ensemble, and the advanced concert band, while being up for North Side’s Louis Armstrong award for his jazz work.
He’s an excellent student and was homecoming king.
16 · Canterbury High School · Cello and Voice
Canterbury student Maria Tan was recommended for our list because of her character and the example she sets.
She’s been involved with music since first grade, specifically classical.
“Classical music allows you to develop the techniques and skills you need to be successful,” she said. “Classical is the foundation for everything.”
While she’s rooted, she’s not afraid to explore, as she finds herself experimenting with tunes, composing on the fly. There’s a song to be played, even it has not been discovered.
“Sometimes I just play without music and make up melodies,” Tan said. “But I don’t really ever write it down. It’s more like improv.”
She’s been playing with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Youth Orchestra five years as assistant principal cellist. She is a member of the All-National Honors and All-State Orchestras and an award-winning Indiana State School Music Association vocalist.
Outside of music, she is a cross country and track athlete who excels academically and is actively involved with school activities and volunteering. Still deciding what’s next, she admits music is clearly in the picture, but she’s also interested in STEM activities.
“Music is a universal language,” she said. “I know that’s really cliché to say, but it helps me better understand people and it helps me better understand myself.”
16 · Carroll High School · Bass Guitar and Voice
It’s little surprise that Autumn Toth makes the list. She’s been surrounded by music since birth. The Carroll student’s musical journey began as a 4-year-old at the family piano, before moving on to the clarinet and violin, then bass guitar.
After being offered a chance to play bass, she took it: “I loved it.”
That hard work and passion landed her on Carroll’s jazz band as a sophomore. That opened up spots with three bands through Sweetwater’s Build-A-Band program. You can also spot her with playing with her parents, Gary and Eliza Toth, in their band L80’s Night, which debuted last summer on the Three Rivers Festival stage.
Toth’s recently started fancying Stevie Wonder’s funky style.
“You can really feel it,” she said. “It’s a very unique style. You can’t help but get into it. It was automatic. Even if you can’t dance, you are going to be snapping or bouncing your feet.
Another recent focus is Hank Levy’s “Hank’s Opener,” performed by Stan Kenton Orchestra.
“I play it every single day,” she said. “It’s got strange time signatures. That way, I can do so many more things with it. I can show my skills.”
It’s that touch that draws attention to her playing.
“I can’t really imagine what else I would want to do, that’s why I work so hard at it,” she said. “I’ve only been playing bass for like a year and a half. So I definitely have a long way to go.”
18 · Bishop Luers High School · Drums and Percussion
Fredrick VanFossen garners attention for his fierce devotion to perfecting his already excellent musical skills in a variety of genres.
He plays drums, but also the timpani and snare drum. Ever the student, he is also working on the xylophone.
However, his passion for drums is clear.
“It gives me an adrenaline rush when I play,” he said. “It’s an experience I can’t get from anything else.”
Especially in classic rock. While other styles are geared around the vocals, he says that genre has more emphasis on the instruments, even to the point of solos.
“Much of the time the drums aren’t the main focus,” he said of said of other genres. “They aren’t as prominent as they are in classic rock.”
He also enjoys jazz and funk.
The Bishop Luers senior is involved with jazz, concert, and pep bands, and don’t be surprised if you find him in the orchestra pit for school musicals.
He won the school’s John Phillips Sousa award that is presented to top senior musicians and he is in the running for the Semper Fidelis award offered by the Marines.
“It’s fun learning new things and new instruments, it’s always a challenge,” he said.
He’s heading to Purdue University to study music and eventually start a band.
“I would be happy making anything, period,” he said. “But it’s hard to find people who wants to make classic rock music. So just rock music in general would also be great.”
© 2023 Whatzup