Stardom Young

Upper school students and alumni pursue interests that stemmed from their time at the school at a professional level.

Stardom+Young

Allegra Drago, Assistant Features Editor

Overwhelmed by the chatter of his childhood friend and the cacophony of cicadas, alumnus Nick Lee quietly sat at the  breakfast table. Jaw agape, he stared in disbelief at the Instagram notification that lit up his phone: “Industry Baby,” the song he produced alongside Take a Daytrip and Kanye West,  hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 List.

Lee began playing the trombone in seventh grade at the Middle School, where he said   Performing Arts Teacher Starr Wayne inspired him to pursue music. 

“I owe everything to [Wayne],” Lee said. “[She] was always so inspiring as a teacher. I remember she used to say,  ‘The  sky is the limit.’ From her staying after school with me and showing me all of these jazz videos and showing me all of these trombone players, she really instilled this inspiration in me.”

When asked about her memory of Lee, Wayne said he was a motivated and passionate student. 

“I can still remember [Lee] standing in my office after Beginning Band in the seventh  grade with his trombone in hand, saying that music is what he wanted to do for the rest of his life,” Wayne said in an email. “And here we are, with [Lee having produced] a double platinum song.”

Lee said he transferred to a performing arts high school at the end of his sophomore year because he knew he wanted to pursue a career in music after graduating. 

“[My junior year] in high school I transferred to the [Los Angeles] County High School for the Arts,” Lee said. “There, I focused on the trombone, studying jazz and classical trombone [and] playing in the orchestra and the jazz groups. My goal was to get [into The Juilliard School], so I was practicing everyday, just putting in all of these hours to reach 10,000 hours.”

The summer Lee graduated, he took a course in music production, moved to New York and enrolled in The Juilliard School.  However, Lee said shortly after, he realized pursuing a career as a professional trombonist would be difficult because the jazz industry is competitive and its avenues to success are limited. Instead, Lee said he refocused his energy toward music production.

“When I got there it was cool at first, but then I started seeing what it was like to be a jazz musician in the city, and at that time I had also started learning how to produce,” Lee said. “I was learning how to produce [music] more and more in school. I came to the decision that school wasn’t really worth my time anymore and I really just really wanted to focus solely on music production.”

Lee said he moved back to Los Angeles in August 2017 in hopes of  pursuing music production professionally and networking in the industry. 

“In 2019,  I met [media executive]  Scooter Braun,” Lee said.  “I played him some of my songs and he offered me a publishing deal. [I] signed with Scooter [Braun’s] publishing company called ‘Atlas Music Publishing’ back in 2019,  and that is when things started moving more.”

When Lee was presented with the opportunity to work with Lil Nas X and Take a Daytrip, Lee said he and his manager Max Cho ’15 saw it as an opportunity to grow his name in the producing industry.

“‘Industry Baby’ is definitely my biggest accomplishment so far,” Lee said. “I didn’t fully realize how full-circle this song was until I heard that marching bands were playing horn arrangements of ‘Industry Baby’ and horn players on TikTok were covering their own versions. I started getting a bunch of [direct messages] from band kids. One of them said ‘Thank you for making trombone cool.’”

Alumna reflects on how the school including equestrian in its athletics program helped her achieve her goals

Like  Lee, Lucy Davis ’11 said she has pursued a passion she explored throughout high school. Davis received the silver medal for showjumping at the 2016 Rio Olympics.  She said she is grateful the school includes equestrian in their athletics program.

“We are an emerging sport, and access is a barrier that our industry needs to work to break down,” Davis said. “Incorporating equestrian into high schools is a great way to include more people in competition and give them a chance to experience how exciting the sport can be.”

Davis said she has been riding horses since before she could walk. In high school, she said she competed in flat classes—trotting and cantering her horse around the arena—while representing the school in Interscholastic Equestrian League competitions. On weekends, she said she spent her time competing in high level horse shows across California.

“You can’t balance all the things you want to do in life—school, sports, friends (social life), family, etc.,” Davis said in an email. “It’s more of a juggle. Depending on your goals, you can focus the larger portion of your time and energy [on] certain parts of your life while still maintaining some time for the other things that fulfill you.”

Davis said she made it a personal goal at the end of her senior year of high school  to compete at the Olympics. Because only four riders get to compete for each country at the games, Davis said she knew reaching her goal would be difficult. 

“It was my dream for many years and became a more defined goal once I partnered with my horse, Barron, about five years out from Rio,” Davis said. “We competed in several U.S.  team competitions leading up to Rio, so by the time the trials came about we had proven ourselves.”

Though she said she no longer strives to compete in the Olympics, Davis said she continues to work in the equestrian world by internationally competing and being involved digitally. She has done this by creating two digital programs, Pony App and Prixview, both designed to help equestrians while competing. 

“[Pony App] was focused on creating a digital community or, more specifically, a place where young equestrians can connect and share their training,” Davis said. “At present, I have been working on a new venture called Prixview, which is focused on aggregating and augmenting showjumping sports data in order to be able to serve our sport to modern media and gaming companies.”

Former student and teacher discusses her journey to starting her brand

Working digital artist Claire Farin ’06, née Cochran, participated in the school’s  performing and visual arts programs during the entirety of her time as a student.  Farin said her  experiences in the arts as a student reinforced her desire to pursue the arts professionally in her adult life.

“I figured it out pretty young that [art]  is what I wanted to do, so to be in the classes at [school]  all just reaffirmed what I already knew about myself,” Farin said.

In Katherine  Holmes-Chuba’s Advanced Placement Art History class, Farin said Barbra Kruger’s feminist artwork inspired her. She said she wanted her own work to be discussed and studied by others just how Kruger’s was. 

“I want to be in conversation with and a part of art while I’m still [alive],” Farin said. “I became aware that these conversations aren’t just a bunch of old dead guys, these are people and women who are still active right now who are getting taught to high schoolers. I remember thinking that I want my work to be taught to high schoolers while I’m still alive.”

Farin attended the Maryland Institute College of Art, where she studied visual arts. After graduating, she taught in the school’s visual arts department, including courses like Visual Arts 7   and Drawing and Painting for seven years. 

“My time teaching [at the school]has been almost more instrumental [in my art development than my artwork itself],” Farin said. “Teaching has given me a new perspective on communication in the workspace and helped me with my brand.”  

As a part of the digital arts collective, Actual Objects, Farin works on art  projects including advertising, film, computer graphics, graphic design and creative direction for music videos and fashion campaigns. Her art work has been featured at museums and exhibits such as the Museum of Modern Art and The Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater. She said her work in the digital art space aims to expand the possibilities of what artists can create and work with.

“What’s really cool about [Actual Objects] is that it doesn’t feel like anybody’s necessarily copying us, but more that we’re starting this conversation that a lot of people are engaging in,” Farin said. “We’re seeing the ripple effect of our work across lots of disciplines because our clients range from really independent, kind of cool underground artists to Nike and Mercedes. We’re all over the map between really massive brands and then also very [new and unknown brands].”

When asked about their experience at the school, students, teachers, and alumni consider how the school has played a role in shaping them

Zane Danton ’22 said he enrolled in acting classes in sophomore year and plans to continue performing in college. Danton said he has enjoyed the communal and creative aspects of theater and appreciated being cast as the lead in the school’s 2021 fall production of “J.B.”

“Having never been in a school play, I was unsure if it would come together, but after going through it all with everything, [our performance] made me very  happy,” Danton said.

While Danton said he began acting in sixth grade, Beanie Feldstein ’11 said she dedicated much of her time to acting, starting in elementary school. In fourth grade,  Performing Arts Teacher Ted Walch cast Feldstein in a musical production at the Upper School.

“The Upper School was doing ‘The Sound of Music’ and needed an elementary school-aged girl to play the youngest Von Trapp child, Gretl,” Feldstein said in an email to the Chronicle.   “[Walch] cast me at just nine years old! So, when I started [the school]  in seventh grade, it was always clear to me that I would spend all my time doing every show that I was lucky enough to get cast in!”

Walch and Feldstein have known each other for over twenty years, working together in an array of different theater productions.

“We did a production in [2010] of ‘Our Town,’” Walch said. “The lovely work that she brought [theatrically] when she didn’t have the crutch of music showed me that she’s a very, very gifted performer.”

Feldstein said the school community heavily impacted the trajectory of her life. The mentality she formed in high school set her up for her success throughout her acting career. She said she feels her high school experience guided her to earn roles such as Molly Davidson in “Booksmart” and Julie Steffans in “Lady Bird,”  in which she portrayed high school teenagers.

“I am always striving to learn more, be better [and] never settle, and I think that was something I definitely learned from [the school],” Feldstein said. “I’ve been so beyond lucky to get to be a part of so many remarkable opportunities, that it would be impossible to choose one of them as the biggest. At the end of the day, being a loyal and loving friend, sister, aunt, daughter and [significant other] is hopefully my greatest accomplishment.”

Feldstein said she was able to connect to her experience at the school through roles she was cast in her early career.

“I was lucky enough to do a lot of high school movies way into my twenties,” Feldstein said. “I was aching to be back in my high school experience!”