THE FIRST TIME I saw — and heard — musician Emma Weller, she was among the youngsters giving me reasons to hope for the future.
She’d just finished playing in the 2017 Nico Snel Young Artist Competition in Port Angeles. The girl with the wavy, waist-length hair leaned forward as the four judges delivered their comments on her performance.
I remember her open-hearted expression, and I recall marveling at her lack of self-consciousness. Weller was 14.
Now she’s a Port Angeles High School alumna, artist and physicist.
On a recent afternoon, we got to talk about life after high school.
After she participated in summer physics programs at Stanford University, Weller applied to several elite schools. This spring, shortly before her 18th birthday, she and her parents, Drs. Jeff and Katrina Weller, started hearing from them.
Stanford: No. California Institute of Technology: No. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Deferred. University of Washington: Yes.
Then there was the other one, in Cambridge, Mass.
“I wasn’t nervous about Harvard,” Weller said, “because I didn’t think I had a chance of getting in.”
Weller doesn’t have to declare a major yet, but she has chosen a double concentration: physics and astrophysics. These have been her fields for a long time; Weller’s grandfather was a physicist.
Harvard has informed students that most or all classes will be online. What Weller doesn’t know is whether she’ll be able to go on campus at all.
“It would be nice,” she said, “to form study groups and stuff,” and audition for the school’s musical ensembles.
In addition to her piano prowess, Weller sings. She served as co-president of Port Angeles High’s Bella Voce ensemble, was named choir student of the year for 2019-20, and, two spring breaks ago, she traveled to New York City to perform at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Statue of Liberty with Jolene Dalton Gailey’s choirs.
Gailey is a great fan of Weller, having been her piano teacher since middle school. She’s watched the teen balance music with academics, and show grit in the process.
“She works at things until she conquers them,” said Gailey, who retired this summer after 26 years at Port Angeles High. “I have watched her tackle music that is quite difficult. She keeps at it until she can play it.”
Weller began studying piano in Gailey’s private studio just before she started high school. Gailey encouraged her not only to sing in the choirs but also to accompany them as a pianist, a challenge she relished.
As for leaving Port Angeles and moving to Massachusetts, Weller awaits Harvard’s announcement this week.
The prospect of an entire freshman year online “is pretty disappointing,” she acknowledged.
“But, on the other hand, I feel like they’re going to do their best” to make the experience as good as it can be for students.
“We’ll see,” she said, adding there are benefits to both possibilities.
Living in Port Angeles, she’ll be able to keep riding her beloved horses, Mikey and Smokey. She’ll continue to be part of the music community, which includes her brother, Adam.
At 16, he plays violin in the Port Angeles Symphony. He also placed first in this year’s Nico Snel Young Artist Competition.
“I’ll support him in his music,” as always, she said.
Weller herself has been taking socially distanced piano lessons with Gailey this summer, playing classical music. But along with the Mozart, she’s having fun with “Fly Me to the Moon” and The Piano Guys’ “All of Me.”
“I just really enjoy it,” she said.
And that says it. Music gives us balance, relief and joy.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend. Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be July 15. Reach her at [email protected]