G’day to Play the Clarinet


As one of Australia’s most well-known and most recognizable pieces of architecture, the Sydney Opera House has welcomed over 8.2 million guests every year since its opening in 1973. This July, a familiar face will grace the hallowed stage: one of Hockaday’s own talented musicians.

Freshman Jennifer Xiong will perform the clarinet with the High School Honors Performance Series from July 18 to 23 at the iconic Sydney Opera House.

“After performing for the Middle School Honors Performance Series, I decided to apply for the same program for high school. I just had to do it again,” Xiong said.

The honor of performing at the Sydney Opera House is certainly not handed to any young clarinetist who dreams of a wide open stage. Xiong has been playing the clarinet since the sixth grade at Fowler Middle School in Frisco, after the art department thought she would have a certain nack for the instrument.

On its website, the Honors Performance Series states that “Performing at Sydney Opera House is an honor reserved for elite student performers. Selected Finalists experience music in new ways during their international performance adventure.”

Xiong’s teacher of one and a half years, Katie Combest, noticed her skill right away.

“The first time I heard her play, she responded well to feedback, and she has a fantastic ear,” Combest said. “Jennifer is very self aware and aware of others, so I believe these traits set her apart from more teenagers.”

But Xiong is not new to the big leagues, as she has already performed at Carnegie Hall during the summer going into her eighth grade year. She played with the Honors Performance Series for Middle School, which is the same program she will be performing with in the upcoming months. At the time, she had only played the clarinet for a mere two years, but nonetheless was accepted into the prestigious group.

“I didn’t really know what I got myself when I applied, but I really loved it because I got to meet really cool people from all over the world and got to work together for a week and play a really awesome concert at Carnegie Hall,” Xiong said.

The High School Honors Performance Series at Sydney Opera House is a stepping stone from the Carnegie Hall Series and is targeted towards highly-accomplished ninth to 12th grade musicians.

“You go through a tough audition process where you send in a recording, they evaluate it, and if they like you, you get to go,” Xiong said. “They accept around 250 students and people apply from all around the world.”

To prepare for the program in July, the students are given the music in May. They have a couple of days to perform the pieces together for rehearsal and then by the end of the camp, they perform all together.

The few who are chosen spend a total of six days in Sydney, studying and learning with like-minded students under “master conductors” and experiencing one of the country’s “most cultured cities.”

Combest also recalls Xiong’s audition for her first Honors Performance Series at Carnegie Hall for middle schoolers.

“I have had several students audition for various opportunities to perform at Carnegie Hall, etc., and her Mom was aware of this. I believe her mother sought out this specific opportunity for her, and then we prepared,” Combest said.

Combest knows a thing or two about the clarinet, as she has founded her own Combest Clarinet Academy where Xiong studies, and her own website, which divulges Combest’s musical past and how her love for the clarinet evolved over her lifetime.Katie “began teaching clarinet lessons in 2000. She has a passion for teaching and for empowering students to achieve their own personal bests. No one person is the same,” her website says.

Although the clarinet is a huge part of Xiong’s life, she leaves time for other activities such as dancing with Hockadance and playing the piano, which she played long before her time as a clarinetist.

“I love the clarinet, but I like the group experience of being in an orchestra as well,” Xiong said. “You go through so much together and all your hard work pays off in the end, when you perform.”

Xiong practices 30 to 45 minutes after school five days a week. And she practices twice a week with the Hockaday orchestra as well.

“It is not hard to balance school and clarinet,” Xiong said. “As long as you figure out what is the best way to practice for you, it is easily managed.”

Lynn Jung, a fellow Hockaday orchestra clarinetist and friend of Jennifer knows how hard she works for her goals.

“I would like to say that Jennifer is very diligent. She pays great attention to Mr. Long during Orchestra, and whenever she encounters a hard passage, instead of giving up, she tries her best to study it and practice it during our rehearsals,” Jung said. “I am sure that her talent and practicing enabled her to perform at the Sydney Opera House.”

But as Xiong counts down the days until her upcoming performance in front of a large crowd, she knows she will have the support of her family and friends, who always “attend her concerts and support her whenever she performs”.

“My biggest supporters would be my parents. They tell me to do whatever makes me happy,” Xiong said. “They’ve endured my practicing at home since 6th grade, and they have always cheered me on. When I feel like I can’t do it, they’re my biggest supporters and encourage me to continue. Their support inspires me to work harder.

Story by Paige Halverson, Castoff Editor

Photo by Arushi Mukherjee