Carroll County Times
Carroll County

Westminster twins perform at Kennedy Center for NSO summer program

Some mothers have to force their children to practice their musical instruments. Betsy Barnett, of Westminster, sometimes wishes her twin daughters practiced on their violas a little less so she could actually hear the TV on occasion.
All the practice does seem to be paying off as the twins, Rachel and Becca Barnett, 17, recently completed The National Symphony Orchestra National Trustees' Summer Music Institute. During the program, designed for students age 15 to 20 years old, they performed twice in free concerts on the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage in Washington, D.C.
They were among 60 students picked, representing 28 states and three countries. The camp ran from July 1-29.
"I think it was the best musical experience of my life," Becca said. "I think the whole month was the best month of my life."
The twins, who are about to start their senior year at Winters Mill High School, said they both started playing viola when they were in fourth grade at Cranberry Station Elementary School.
"The violin was too high and scratchy, and the cello was too big," Becca said, for their reason for selecting the viola.
While in elementary school, the twins practiced mostly during a designated orchestra class. In middle school, they decided they wanted to branch out and explore playing outside of school.
"They have a competitive streak in them and they just wanted to get better," Betsy Barnett said.
They saw fliers around school indicating that Peggy Ward, a musician and the founder of the nonprofit arts school The Carroll County String Project, was offering private group lessons at McDaniel College.
The twins immediately jumped at the opportunity and said it opened their eyes as to how as a musician, you can improve over time.
Ward said she was just as impressed. While there is some natural ability, Ward said the Barnett twins' skills can mostly be attributed to hard work.
"The twins are amazing young ladies. They work very hard, and they've made amazing progress," she said. "After maybe two or three lessons, they began to emerge as learning quickly."
The twins said practices at school and with Ward prepared them to make All-County performing ensembles all three years they were in middle school. They described this as an audition-only orchestra in which there are a few rehearsals leading up to one big concert.
"I think being in middle school and seeing all the high school orchestras was really motivating," Rachel said.
So motivating that after eighth grade, they decided to go the extra mile and enrolled in private music lessons at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Their time at Peabody initially consisted of private lessons once a week; however, last summer they auditioned for and were accepted into Peabody's Performance Academy for Strings.
"I think that was the biggest audition I ever had in my life, and I had to prepare a lot for it, and it was very scary," Rachel said.
In the program, designed for students in grades seven through 12, the participants practice all day on Saturdays in smaller groups and with guest artists. They end each Saturday playing with the Peabody Youth Orchestra.
Both said having a twin with the same talent has only helped their drive to succeed in every program and audition.
"I feel like if she's practicing, I have to start practicing, too," Rachel said.
The twins said they learned about the National Symphony Orchestra summer program through their teacher at Peabody, Louise Hildreth-Grasso.
They said they auditioned through sending tapes of them doing solo pieces and scales. They were not sure how many students auditioned.
"I think it gets more competitive as the program gets advertised," Rachel said.
During the program all participants stayed in The River Inn, which they said was two blocks from the Kennedy Center, where daily practices were held.
Rachel described the program as "very intense" since they had to manage their own time and make sure they didn't overdo it with practicing.
All participants randomly were put into small performance groups.
Rachel was in a quintet that performed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Quintet for French Horn and Strings" July 19 and Becca was put into an octet that performed Felix Mendelssohn's "Octet in E-flat major" July 20. These performances were considered chamber concerts.
The NSO program concluded with the students put into new groups that had a second performance July 26. Rachel and Becca were in the same group and performed "The Holberg Suite" by Edvard Grieg.
"It made me want to stay in music for the rest of my life," Rachel said of the experience.
Becca agreed and called music a part of her.
"I wouldn't be the same person if I wasn't a musician," she said.
Both girls named Johannes Brahms as their favorite composer.
"I feel like he's really dramatic in a subtle way, and I think it's really cool," Becca said.
The said they are planning to major in performance and are applying to the same five colleges - all of which are in cities. To assert their independence they said they are also determined not to go to the same college.
While they are both considering having "plan B" minors in college, Winters Mill High School Instrumental Music Director Kristen Gottleib said if anyone could make a performing career work, it would be the twins.
At Winters Mill, she said they play in the school's string orchestra, in the pit orchestra for the school's musical and in a string quartet that plays throughout the community.
"Their dedication and interest level for music is just much higher than the average student," Gottlieb said. "If this is what they choose to do, I could absolutely see this as their career."