After earning her bachelor’s degree from Peabody last May, cellist Najette Abouelhadi has returned to Peabody to continue her studies with Alan Stepansky as a GPD candidate. As an undergraduate, she was very active outside the practice room — taking courses at Homewood, and serving as an officer with the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, marketing coordinator with the TEDxJHU conference, and as a Panhellenic Judicial Board Member. She also is a student representative for both the Johns Hopkins Alumni Association and Society of Peabody Alumni.
We checked in with her over the summer, in Santa Barbara, California, where she was a fellow at the Music Academy of the West.
Why did you choose Peabody?
I really wanted to study music, science, and psychology during college. Music made me happy, but I didn’t yet see it as my career. I got into Peabody; my mom was ecstatic, and after meeting Alan Stepansky, I was, too. Johns Hopkins was (and still is) one of the top five schools for neuroscience, and even though I didn’t choose to do the double degree program, I’m so grateful that I was able to be at a world-class conservatory associated with a premier university. It gave me the ability to have a more traditional college experience and choose the amount of non-musical learning I could also experience.
At Peabody, I also received a minor in Business of Music, which required that I take Intro to Business and Principles of Marketing at the Homewood campus and prepared me for a career in such valuable ways. I took advantage of other opportunities there, enrolling in several neuro-sciences and Italian classes.
What made you decide, as a senior, to get involved in the TEDxJHU conference, which challenges thought leaders to deliver the “talk of their lives” in 18 minutes or less?
I knew I could choose to be a senior who sits back and participates from a distance. But I decided I wanted to be as involved as possible. In addition to handling much of the event’s social media, I also engaged a Peabody alumnus to speak about how his training prepared him for his career as a diplomat, and I recruited students to play, as well. The musicians offered music that made people question their expectations of the kinds of music that Peabody students play, which fit in beautifully with the TEDx philosophy of exposing people to new ideas.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
In middle school we were required to do a large scale history project on a significant figure, and for no obvious reason I chose Leonard Bernstein. Little did I know he would become my biggest inspiration in the years to come. I started off watching his Young People’s Concerts, as I became a little older I started watching his Harvard Norton Lectures, and before long I was totally enraptured by his speaking, his knowledge, and the obvious love that he had for teaching and music making. In 1963, he penned the following line commemorating the death of President John F. Kennedy:
“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”
I share this quote because of all of the things going on in our world right now and this feeling is my response to so much of what we see. I think people often get so worked up talking about it all, and as musicians we have the ability (and quite frankly, the obligation) to communicate in different ways, through a medium the whole world understands. For me this quote is twofold, also applying to the personal violences we experience everyday, whether it’s seen by others or not. In the past, whenever I was having a bad day, or feeling anxious about something coming up, I would skip out on my practice for that day because I wanted to relax or not make myself more stressed: Now I know that those are the times I need my cello and music most of all.