Milford cellist, 16, is a standout

NHR_L_1113 sara scanlon_ag
NHR_L_1113 sara scanlon_ag

MILFORD >> It was apparent even by age 5 that Sara Scanlon, 16, and her cello would really go places some day.

“There was always something very special about her,” said her former longtime cello teacher, Miriam Eckelhoefer,

Now a student the last four years at the Juilliard School pre-college program in New York, she has a solo performance there Feb. 11.

Eckelhoefer said even as a young student, Scanlon, a high school junior, would “pour her little soul into whatever piece she was playing in a way that would rival or challenge even professional musicians.”

One of Eckelhoefer’s favorite moments was when Scanlon was about 5 and the class was working on a piece called “Melancholy.” She spoke with students about what the word meant to try to get them to play with more emotion.

After Scanlon’s turn, Eckelhoefer thought, “I’d never heard a student play it so beautifully,” she said.

Scanlon continues to stand out for playing with that same soul and authenticity, while mastering the technicalities, those familiar with her work say.

At age 9, she won her first orchestra concerto competition. Her cello playing now takes her to national and international stages.

“The most rewarding thing about being a cellist is that it has opened so many doors and has created a truly exciting and rewarding lifestyle for me,” Scanlon said, noting her world travels and the close friends she’s made along the way.

Scanlon’s mother, Glynnis Scanlon, home-schooled her and her twin brother, Matthew, until high school, so Scanlon was free as a child to pick up her cello and play whenever she wanted. Glynnis Scanlon said her daughter picked up the instrument often and played in short 10-or-so-minute increments.

“I instantly fell in love,” Sara Scanlon said of the cello, noting she wanted to take the instrument to bed with her as a young child.

Glynnis Scanlon said the approach shows you don’t have to be a “tiger mom” for your child to achieve at the highest levels. It turned out both children have “perfect pitch,” Glynnis Scanlon said.

Scanlon and her brother, who had the opportunity as home schoolers to travel widely with their grandparents, now attend Keystone School, an online high school that gives Scanlon a flexible schedule for auditions and performing.

Glynnis Scanlon said her daughter had an immediate connection with the cello and could play by ear, quickly picking up classic pieces she heard.

Christopher Scanlon said his daughter is a “self-starter,” who at times through the years has shown more self-discipline than he and his wife, who met as art students at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Sara Scanlon made her solo debut in April performing the Elgar “Cello Concerto” with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra at the Gaillard Center as a grand finalist of the National Young Artist Competition.

She also has been a winner for the Greater New Haven Concert Orchestra’s concerto competition, the Hamden Symphony Orchestra concerto competition and the Young Artist Showcase Competition in Stamford.

Scanlon is also, according to her short biography, a sought-after chamber musician and plays in a piano trio, a string quartet and the Juilliard pre-college orchestra in New York.

Of what she loves about performing, Scanlon said, “The rush when I get on stage and after.”

“It’s such a good feeling to do a solo on a big stage,” she said.

Since age 12, Scanlon has studied at Juilliard with Clara Kim.

She also is a volunteer in the Back to BACH project, a national program to inspire youngsters to learn an instrument and to instill a love of music.

“It is a wonderful opportunity to be able to volunteer my time and give back to the community,” she has said. “It makes me happy to think that we may be able to encourage others to follow their dreams and to be inspired to work hard toward their goals.”

Although she’s had a lot of flexibility with schooling while growing up, Sara Scanlon said, “I use my time wisely.” Today, she practices about 20 hours per week.

Scanlon’s goal is to solo with orchestras all over the world and maybe even teach, as other musicians tell her already she’s a natural for that.

Scanlon has said she also loves ballroom dancing and her dream is to get enough fame as a cellist to be a contestant on “Dancing With the Stars.”

Her Norwegian Dwarf bunny,Popper, is named after cellist/composer David Popper.