Coming up: young performing artists on the rise in the Baltimore region

For Baltimore Sun Media Group
See the young performing artists on the rise in the Baltimore region.

Whether it's dancers, musicians or actors, these young up-and-coming artists in the Baltimore region are eager to make their mark in the world. Here's a look at five local talented young performers rising to the top.

Mateen Milan, musician

When the instructors at Peabody's Tuned In program asked students if they were interested in taking up a second instrument, Mateen Milan, who played clarinet at the time, looked down the list and picked out something he hadn't seen before just to try it.

"I saw something called a bassoon on the list and I said 'oh that looks cool,' and I asked to try it out," said Milan, 17, who was born and raised in Baltimore.

From then on, he was hooked.

The program bought Milan a bassoon and he began his intensive training. Just four months later he played the instrument for the admission committee at the Baltimore School for the Arts, hoping for a chance to improve his skills.

"By the grace of God and with the support of by parents and my mentors, I was granted admission to BSA not only on bassoon but on clarinet as well," Milan said.

In May, Milan graduated from the Baltimore School of the Arts music department and will be heading to the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins in the fall for college on full scholarship.

"I am super scared but I'm also really excited to say that I've made it through the Baltimore music programs and I'm ready for that next step," he said.

Milan is one of the rare students to attend three of the major music programs in Baltimore – Orchkids through the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Peabody Music Program and the Baltimore School for the Arts.

He is now a program assistant at the Orchkids program through the BSO, a year-round during and afterschool music program for youth in Baltimore City neighborhoods.

"He is the poster child for what's possible in Baltimore City," said Dan Trahey, artistic director at Orchkids and director at the Peabody Conservatory's Tuned In program where Milan has been studying for the past seven years. "Leadership, skill on the instrument, outgoing personality, and strong academics make him the ideal role model for kids growing up in the city."

And Milan says he wouldn't be the person he was today if it wasn't for the push of his role models in the city.

"You wouldn't have a reason to know my name if it wasn't for Dan taking me seriously when I said I wanted to play the bassoon and the pushing me to see what I could do," Milan said.

Trahey says Milan's hard work paid off. "He worked his way up by practicing," Trahey said. "He's very talented but he's showing the world how hard-working he is by not relying on his talent."

What does the future look like for Mateen Milan?

Giving back to the community while also working towards being the best he can be and possibly trying his hand at music producing.

"I want to be a strong participant in Orchkids, I want to play bassoon like a mad man and I want to get good...I want to be really good," Milan said.

Courtney Spears, dancer

It all started when she was just 3 years old. Courtney Spears' mother, D'Andrea Sweeting Spears, purchased her first leotard, tights and ballet slippers, and from then on Courtney never turned back.

"She bought them for me because she thought they were cute and that I would enjoy wearing them," says Spears, 20, who grew up in Columbia. "But she said when I saw the outfit, I absolutely lost my mind. I had to put it on that very moment and began twirling around the house."

Her love of dance has never stopped. Her passion for performing has taken Spears from home recitals for her family to the stages of New York City, where she is a junior in the Alvin Ailey Bachelor of Fine Arts program at Fordham University.

Prior to college, Spears attended Arabesque Dance Studio in Columbia before being accepted into the dance program at the Baltimore School for the Arts, where she underwent extensive training in ballet, modern dance and pointe.

"I never really thought about being a professional dancer, but my ballet teacher, Maureen Wheeler at Arabesque, believed in me," Spears says. "She saw something special and recommended that I audition for the Baltimore School for the Arts."

"It is always exciting when you come across a student who you know has the potential to dance professionally, and Courtney was one of those students," says Wheeler, ballet program director at Arabesque. "She really pushed herself in class and, when given corrections, tried to apply them right away, so she progressed fast."

Once at college, her passion and talent only grew. As a sophomore in 2014, she was invited to audition for elite dance company Ailey II and was offered an apprenticeship with the company. In April, she moved from apprentice to full-fledged member of the company and will join the company full time in the fall, traveling across the country and abroad. (She'll still graduate from Fordham in May 2016, thanks to a program that students to work dance jobs for academic credit.)

"Courtney is a talented and gifted young artist who is highly motivated and committed to dance," says Melanie Person, co-director of the Ailey School and director of the Ailey BFA program through Fordham University. "She has a love for the art form and the courage that it takes to make it in this profession."

Spears hopes to not only have a career performing as a professional dancer but also to use her passion to give back to those abroad.

"I would love to start a foundation or program that caters to helping young children pursue their dreams in the arts, here in the U.S. and also in the Caribbean. My mother is from the Bahamas, and I feel a deep connection to Caribbean culture and values," she says. "I was fortunate enough to be placed around people who guided me to where I am today, and one day, I dream of becoming that bridge for other kids to reach their dreams."

Brandon Woody, musician

When he was in third grade at Leif Walk Elementary School, Brandon Woody thought that playing the drums would be something fun to try but he quickly learned that it wasn't his passion.

The trumpet is a different story.

"I just love the sound of it and I fell in love with it," said Woody, 16, a student at the Baltimore School for the Arts and a native of East Baltimore.

While in elementary school he had the chance to try something new and took up playing the trumpet and never turned back.

Woody joined the Peabody Preparatory music program in Baltimore and started taking private lessons to hone his skills, including learning how to read music.

He's now a member of the Tuned In program at the Peabody Institute, which offers scholarships to musically talented Baltimore City Youth. Mentors with the program give youth like Woody the opportunities to work with accompanists and to attend concerts and other cultural events around Baltimore.

"It made me love jazz even more," he said.

Woody is a member of Tuned In's wind orchestra and gets the opportunity to participate in ensembles, concerts and other performances.

"From a teacher's perspective, what I appreciate most about Brandon is his ability to handle constructive criticism," said Ian Sims, co-director of the Jazz Performance Academy at Peabody Performance Academy. "You many times encounter students who don't want to hear about the flaws in their performance that they need to work on. Brandon is also excited to be playing music and is there learning because he wants to be there."

But his interest in music goes beyond the performances. Woody uses the music reading skills he has gained through his education to compose his own music.

"A lot of people start with a title, but I just get on my trumpet and play different melodies when I start composing," Woody said. "When I hit whatever melody fits my emotion at the time and what I'm trying to play, I then get on the piano and play a progression and write chords to it.

"The final steps are arranging the piece and giving it a title to top it off," he said.

In the future, Woody would like to combine his passion for writing and his love of performing. His goal is to study at the Manhattan School of Music in New York and to try to make a living off of making jazz music.

But he doesn't want to stop there. He'd like to use his talent to give back to those who have given him the skills and push to reach his dreams.

"I'd like to come back to Baltimore and make a jazz program for youth," Woody said. "In Baltimore jazz is kind of overlooked a lot. We have a lot of great adults who play jazz but in terms of the youth it's hard for the youth to get into it. I love this city and I'd like to come back and make a jazz program accessible to all ages."

Sola Fadiran, vocalist and actor

When he took the stage to perform "Make Them Hear You" from the musical "Ragtime" at the 2015 Rising Stars Competition in March, Sola Fadiran's high school drama teacher was in awe.

"As soon as you hear his magnificent voice, it just draws you in," says Sue Miller, the theater director at Glenelg High School.

Fadiran, 18, topped the competition to take home the $5,000 scholarship prize at the Howard County Arts Council's annual event to recognize emerging performing artists in the area.

"Winning the Rising Star Competition was a great source of validation and encouragement for me," Fadiran says. "I don't think it means anything about my talent compared to my peers. ... I feel honored and blessed to have been part of that experience."

Fadiran, who is a 2014 graduate of Glenelg, performed in productions both at school and at Toby's Dinner Theatre in Columbia before starting college in August at the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music in the Bachelor of Music program in vocal performance.

He trained for more than two years with soprano Alina Kozinska of the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University, refining his vocal skills and expanding his repertoire.

"Working with Sola has been sheer pleasure because of his openness, hard work, humility and tremendous talent," Kozinska says. "Once he becomes a well-rounded musician with a command for the repertoire, his options will be unlimited."

Fadiran has big plans for his future, including a career in live theater, screen acting and film acting. "In five years, I hope to be working as an actor, perhaps in New York City," he says.

And those close to him don't doubt that if he keeps up the hard work and fuels his passion for the arts, his success with continue.

"He has a gift that is unusual," Miller says. "He's a very young man with the sound and look of a much older person."

Amanda Yuan, musical theatre actress

Amanda Yuan started as a shy young girl whose preschool teacher suggested that her parents sign her up for some extracurricular activities to help her come out of her shell.

Now 16, Yuan is far from shy. The River Hill High School junior, Clarksville resident and daughter of two engineers is storming into the performing arts scene. She grabbed the leading role of Peter Pan in the school's production of the classic when she was just a sophomore.

"I got to fly, which was extremely exciting," Yuan says. "I had never really played such an integral character like that before, so it was definitely hard but so rewarding."

This year, Yuan was cast in the role of Gabriella in River Hill's production of "High School Musical."

She started her training at the Drama Learning Center and the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts to gain experience performing in shows, recitals and competitions. As she got older, she started taking voice lessons and attending workshops in New York City to enhance her skills as a musical theater performer.

"We realized Amanda liked the stage ever since preschool," says her mother, Lucy Liu. "I remember at her brother Morgan's middle school graduation ceremony, when students were called to stage to receive their diplomas, Amanda kept asking when it is her turn, and kept trying to get onto the stage," she says. "When finally the ceremony was over, she dashed and climbed onto the stage, dancing and singing all by herself."

But it's not just the stage where Yuan shows off her talents; she's also been on national television, appearing on "Sesame Street" at age 9 and during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade finale at 11 with the students of Stagedoor Manor, a performing arts training center.

But it's her "Sesame Street" appearance that people are still talking about. It was a tough audition, Yuan says.

"They asked me to define vocabulary words, and I was on a roll," she says. "The shoot was probably one of the best filming experience I've ever had, though. I got to run around the Bronx Zoo and eat all this amazing food. It didn't even feel like a job."

When she got home, her teacher showed the clips to her class, and the snippets on YouTube still come up among her friends. "Sometimes kids bring them up again just to mess with me," she says.

Jen Rudin, a New York City casting director and author, says she's had her eye on Yuan for several years.

"I've auditioned thousands of children, and she's that kind of stand-out performer that's extremely hard to find," Rudin says.

Yuan credits her ability to reach for her dreams to her parents, who immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1980s.

"They've worked hard and built a beautiful life here from nothing, so when I think something's tough for me, I remind myself of my parents," Yuan says. "Because my parents were able to sacrifice everything and work so hard to pursue their dream, I am inspired every day to work just as hard to pursue mine."

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