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SCPA’s Moomaw Performs Cello on NPR’s “From the Top” with Peter Dugan

If you know School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) eighth grader Sonya Moomaw, you know she plays the cello.

Moomaw, inspired to learn the instrument at three years old, gets plenty of reps outside of SCPA’s Chamber Orchestra. She’s also an active member of the Seven Hills Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra, not to mention countless hours of practice for individual competitions.

Last month, the now-13-year-old Moomaw was one of several local students selected to appear and perform on National Public Radio’s “From the Top,” a program hosted by pianist Peter Dugan aimed at highlighting aspiring young musicians. 

“It’s just a thing I’ve done for a long time, it’s a thing I enjoy,” Moomaw said about the cello. “A lot of my life kind of revolves around how much I’ve practiced that day or what is going on with my music.”

While other students played violin, guitar and piano alongside Dugan, Moomaw was the only cellist. She was also the only artist to play two different pieces, Gaspar Cassadó’s “Requiebros” and Bill Monroe’s “Jerusalem Ridge,” reflecting her flexibility working with different styles of music.

Moomaw is mostly focused on classical works, but thanks to her parents, she listens to so much music it would be hard for her to pick just one favorite genre. Her dad, Peter Moomaw, is a fan of classical and jazz. Her mom, Tamara Brown’s preference for 80s pop and bluegrass exposes her to a whole new vein of cello she’s eager to explore.

Peter introduced Sonya to the Missy Werner Band at a bluegrass jam when she was six years old, and the rest is history. Moomaw continues attending those regular sessions and has been invited to perform alongside them at a few local shows, forming a wholesome and supportive relationship with the band.

“Everyone’s rooting for you, they don’t care if you mess up or not,” Moomaw said. “We all do the same thing, we’re like a big community.”

Moomaw is years ahead of your average pre-teen cellist because of experiences like those with the Missy Werner Band. Weekly jam sessions and occasional gigs around town have led to invites from other orchestras and many weekends traveling to and from individual competitions.

Moomaw already has a decorated reputation on the youth cello circuit at all levels. In 2019, she was awarded the opportunity to play at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Most recently, Moomaw placed third nationally in the junior division at The Sphinx Competition in Detroit, winning $3,000 in prize money.

“Performing in general is clearly something that brings her so much joy,” Brown said. “She’s playing this note, she’s smiling and her eyes are closed, and just all the passion and all the joy is so evident.”

Even if she was a little intimidated by the instrument at a young age, cello is Moomaw’s destiny. She is nervous on the stage and sometimes gets butterflies, too, but performing is a safe space for her to grow and ultimately a platform for connecting people.

“I want to bring people together when I perform,” Moomaw reemphasized. “I want to bridge gaps between different communities or people who might have never met but could be best friends.”

You can listen to Moomaw’s portion of the, “From the Top,” episode here:

Photo credit: Brian Hatton