By Robin Shum
Senior Rena Slavin sits at the piano, playing soft music as rehearsal begins. Mr. Michael Schwartz, South’s music department head, leads the pit orchestra through the opening number of Chicago, this year’s musical at South. The pit orchestra is rehearsing in the large music room but soon will be playing alongside the cast—literally. Instead of being at its usual place at the foot of the stage, the small orchestra will sit on an elevated platform on stage amid the props and actors. Slavin, who has participated in pit orchestra every year since she was a freshman, from Cabaret to The Magic Flute, is both excited and nervous about playing on stage for the musical. For her, being on stage for the show offers an interesting perspective that pit orchestra members do not normally get, since they usually sit in the dark at bottom of the stage, facing away from the action. “Being on stage for pit orchestra, we are much more visible than usual,” Slavin said.
Slavin, who is familiar with performing on a stage as a soloist, says that, with both an orchestra and cast around her, performing in the pit orchestra is very different from playing on stage for recitals. “There’s so much going on around you [in Chicago] as opposed to a recital where it’s just you [performing],” she said. Slavin has performed solos in at the Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall since 2010. “My first time, I played a piece by Grieg, and I was so scared,” she said.“But I was really excited and so honored because everyone was so talented and I got to observe them. It was pretty cool.”
Slavin’s musical career began when her mother bought the three-year-old Slavin a piano and signed her up for lessons. Since then, over the last thirteen years, Slavin has performed in numerous recitals, from the stages of Carnegie Hall to Lincoln Center to South High. This year will be her fourth year of participation in South’s orchestra and her tenth year attending the Manhattan School of Music (MSM). Since she was seven years old, Slavin has gone to the MSM every Saturday to attend music classes. Her day starts with a private lesson followed by music theory class, ear training, and choir rehearsal. “I don’t really sing,” she said modestly. “I just started in the little kids’ choir, and then I was in Dr. Levy’s chorus for around seven years.”
But it doesn’t stop there. In addition to a talent for music, Slavin also has an affinity for reading and for languages. “I enjoy teaching myself new languages,” she said. Fluent in Russian, she is also currently learning French, Italian, and Spanish. She takes French and Italian classes in school, but learned mostly by reading literature outside of school. To figure out grammar, such as a particular tense or structure and its usage, she reads and studies it frequently in texts to commit it to memory. One summer, she used this method to teach herself Spanish but soon got tired of it. “[As a result], I can read and understand it pretty well, but I can barely speak,” she said. “I’ve been learning French since sixth grade, Italian since ninth, and Spanish since this summer.”
As a senior, Slavin just wants to be finished with college applications and enjoy the rest of this year. She’s also taking “a lot of really interesting classes” and preparing for her senior recital at MSM, which will happen at the end of the year. “And after college stuff is done I want to learn German,” she said. “I don’t see this whole second-semester senioritis hitting me too hard.”