Student Spotlight – Vanessa Marsh, Danna Cai, Alexis and Jolie Jackson

string quartet winners

On the afternoon of Saturday, Jan. 26, the Wesley Center at Clear Lake United Methodist Church was filled with the sounds of all kinds of different instruments playing all kinds of different melodies. It was a hodgepodge of noise and music and chatter; however, the loudness in the room was drowned out by the beating of four young ladies’ hearts as they raced with nerves.

Bales Intermediate fifth-grader Vanessa Marsh and Friendswood Junior High sixth-graders Danna Cai, Alexis Jackson and Jolie Jackson had prepared thoroughly for this moment. As they were called to the stage, they each took a deep breath and walked out to perform in the Bay Area Youth Symphony’s Annual Concerto and Chamber Music Competition.

Marsh and Cai played their violins, J. Jackson played the viola and A. Jackson played the cello. The quartet delivered an outstanding performance that led to them winning the first-place title. Winning the competition was a peak moment for the girls, all rooting from humble beginnings.

“I started playing in pre-school,” Marsh said. “My pre-school was at this really nice lady’s basement and part of it was playing the violin. She told my mom that I had amazing talent and should keep doing lessons, so that’s how I started playing.”

Cai had a different experience; learning first to read and play music on another instrument.

“Neither of my parents played any instruments, but I wanted to do it so they signed me up for piano when I was five, then later I started playing the violin,” Cai said. “I’ve always had music in my life, so I really like it a lot.”

The Jackson sisters got started playing violin when their grandmother taught them and their triplet to play. Eventually, their triplet moved on to other things and Lexi changed her instrument to the cello.

“Lexi decided to change because she wanted to be different from me,” J. Jackson said as she giggled with her sister.

Though all four are very different, they came together to make beautiful music.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get everyone to do what you want them to do, but we talk about it and try to figure out whose idea is best,” Cai said. “The concerts are fun because you get to play with your friends. When you combine all of the instruments, it’s cool to hear how it sounds.”

Their hard work paid off. The weekly practices and hours of individual work proved to be the best in their division.

Each of their parents received an email that evening with the announcement of how each group placed. When the girls heard the news, they were ecstatic.

“It was really fun,” J. Jackson said. “We were all at dinner and started cheering.”

Marsh, who was home at the time, said she started dancing when her mom told her. She also received word that her solo performance had placed first as well, and she recalled just how far she had come from a year before when she forgot the end of her solo during a performance.

“I prepared for [this year’s competition] by picking a solo and then practicing it over and over and over,” Marsh said. “During the competition, I went third – which wasn’t as bad as going first – but hearing the people outside doing so good, I felt more nervous. When I got on stage, my heart was racing, but I did my solo the best I had ever done it. I came out with this grin plastered on my face.”

Those moments of pure joy served as a reminder to the girls of their love for music.

“I like it more than anything else. I like it more than P.E., I like it more than anything,” L. Jackson said with a smile.

Her sister agreed.

“When I play, I go into my own world where everything else goes ‘bye’, and I can just listen to what I make,” J. Jackson said.

Luckily, they have the opportunity to continue doing what they love. As winners of the competition, the quartet will open at the Clear Lake Chamber Ensemble concert on May 3. Additionally, the girls plan on continuing to compete at a high level to prepare them for later goals.

No matter how difficult it might be for the girls to achieve their dreams of performing professionally in the Houston Symphony, becoming “the next Lindsey Sterling,” and singing on Broadway, L. Jackson says they will “never give up” and “always be persistent.”


Watch their performance here: