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A Passion for Classical Piano

Sister duo’s creative musical endeavors inspire young musicians and community partnerships

May 28, 2021

Pianists and composers Kaitlin (left) and Emily Webster-Zuber in the Doheny mansion's Pompeian room, where one of their performances was recorded.
Pianists and composers Kaitlin (left) and Emily Webster-Zuber in the Doheny mansion's Pompeian room, where one of their performances was recorded.

When Kaitlin ’22 and Emily Webster-Zuber ’24 recount their childhood, talk of sibling rivalry is conspicuously absent from the conversation. The sisters, who are three years apart, say they have always had a collaborative relationship—a bond that serves them well in their musical pursuits.

Kaitlin and Emily’s parents introduced them to the piano at a young age. Accustomed to sharing everything, they soon started playing four-handed piano duets.

“We were homeschooled together, making us close from the get-go,” says Kaitlin, the elder sister. “The fact that we know each other so well is a blessing when playing piano duets together. Being duo partners is really about working with our differences and enhancing our music by highlighting what the other has to offer.”

The key advantage this duo has is their unique sister relationship, which they continue to strengthen as they grow musically, as they’re now both studying at Mount Saint Mary’s.

Not only do they live and play together, but they have made a commitment to pursue their performance education together.

While at the Colburn School of Performing Arts in downtown Los Angeles, they studied piano as well as voice, tap dancing, choir and music theory. Over the years, Kaitlin and Emily performed in piano festivals at local, regional and international levels.

The sisters became avid chamber music players through Junior Chamber Music and the Colburn’s Ed and Mari Edelman Chamber Music Institute. They started organizing student outreach concerts with the Los Angeles Public Library, the West LA Veterans Administration and the Los Angeles Blind Children’s Center.

“At the libraries, local patrons and the housing insecure come in and enjoy a free concert. For an hour or two they can listen to classical music and not have to focus on the difficulties we all face on a daily basis,” says Kaitlin. “It’s a humbling experience for student musicians to see how their music directly impacts people who are not musicians or haven’t experienced a live performance.”

Moved by the reciprocal, positive imprint of these community programs, Kaitlin and Emily co-founded Musical Traces, a student outreach program. Through community partnerships, the program provides venues for classical music concerts and interdisciplinary programming combining classical music with other artistic forms. 

No sibling rivalry here. Kaitlin (left) and Emily Webster-Zuber are each other's biggest supporters and work together to bring music to myriad audiences.
No sibling rivalry here. Kaitlin (left) and Emily Webster-Zuber are each other's biggest supporters and work together to bring music to myriad audiences.

When COVID hit, the sisters transitioned to Zoom for Musical Traces’ programs, featuring live performances and conversations with professional composers and musicians. The online platform has allowed them to perform in Salastina's weekly Zoom concerts for UCLA ICU patients and to create their own weekly “Physician Wellness Series” for Kaiser Permanente doctors.

Expanding on their classical piano foundation, the sisters have also pursued musical composition (see the note following the article on Emily’s recent success as a composer). They have performed and recorded their pieces with professional musicians and participated in local composition programs as well as international film scoring opportunities.

The Salastina organization is comprised of resident and guest musicians who provide experiences and mentoring to young musicians and composers. Through Salastina, the sisters were mentored by Derrick Spiva Jr., an instructor in the music department at the Mount.

“Mr. Spiva introduced us to the Mount, and we looked further into the music department,” says Emily. ”I had a trial piano lesson and realized it would be the perfect place to continue working closely as a sister duo and strengthen our relationship so we could pursue our careers together.”

Last fall, the sisters enrolled in the piano performance program at MSMU, Emily as a first-year and Kaitlin as a transfer from UC Santa Barbara. The sisters study with instructor Hak-Soon Swiatkowski '75Despite the challenges of all-virtual classes, they enjoy the intimacy of the department, allowing them to connect with their teachers on a personal level. 

“After just two semesters, we are so appreciative of the support and opportunities provided to us,” says Emily. “We recorded another Mount student’s composition for two pianos, set up concerts for the Mount’s Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and recorded a piece we co-commissioned—Mariachitlán by Juan Pablo Contreras—in the Doheny Mansion.”  

While at the Mount, Kaitlin and Emily plan to continue supporting the music departments on both campuses and create interdisciplinary collaborations that strengthen the Mount community.

 


 

NOTE: For more information about the music department, visit its webpage.

Emily and Kaitlin invite you to visit their Musical Traces website and to subscribe to their newsletter and YouTube Channel.

CONGRATULATIONS!  In the May 14th Musical Traces newsletter, Kaitlin announced: “I am now the sister of an AWARD-WINNING COMPOSER. Emily Webster-Zuber is a winner of the prestigious ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award for 2021!”