Seeing (and hearing) stars

Catch A Rising Star Gala showcases young talent

By Erin Callahan

Photo: Alpin Hong will perform in the Education Center of the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery as part of Discover Classical WDPR’s Catch A Rising Star program

The three performers of Catch A Rising Star, hosted by Discover Classical WDPR, can boast professional music study, performances at Carnegie Hall and over 15 combined years of experience – and none of them are over 20 years old.

They’ve also received recognition from the Dayton community in the past as winners of the Discover Classical WDPR’s Young Talent Search. When the radio station put a call out to local area schools and music organizations, young performers were encouraged to send a recording of five to ten minutes of a performance. Winners were chosen, and the event on May 1 at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery will serve as a follow up to see where they are today.

Rosemary Bradley, development director for Discover Classical WDPR, says the event provides the opportunity to showcase the performers’ accomplishments and connect them with the Dayton community.

“These kids put in a lot of time and effort, they give up a lot of extra-curricular activities in order to be the performers and musicians that they are,” she says. “Sometimes they can get so caught up in performances, recitals and practices that it can get kind of isolating for them. This gala shows them the Dayton community is behind them, they have people on their side and we want to show them the love.”

The event will feature performances by the musicians, including a recital from world-renowned pianist Alpin Hong. Heavy hors d’oeuvres and complimentary beer, wine and confections will be served alongside a cash bar.

Benjamin Gittens, 19, of Mason will perform in the planetarium with a coordinated light show. He began playing the piano at just 4 years old. Now, he is a first-year piano performance major at the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. He said he hopes to obtain a doctoral piano performance degree and an artist diploma, to perform nationally and internationally and teach music in higher education.

Oakwood’s Maya Vansuch, 19, will perform after Gittens in the Science on a Sphere room. Though she has sung her whole life, she started formal voice lessons at age 12, and is currently pursuing a degree in vocal performance from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. During high school, she was a part of the Kettering Children’s Choir. She says one of her biggest challenges as a vocalist is adapting to her ever-changing and maturing voice, but she hopes to eventually sing in performing operas.

Spencer Sharp, 17, of Morrow, Ohio will also perform in the Science on a Sphere room. With a musician for a mother, Spencer began playing the violin when he was 4 years old. He’s currently homeschooled, practices four hours per day and participates in about 25 to 30 performances and competitions per year. He’s performed solo at Carnegie Hall twice and has traveled to perform internationally in China, Austria, South Korea, France and Spain. He hopes to attend Julliard when he completes his homeschooling.

The night will conclude with Alpin Hong’s performance in the Education Center. Hong says he’s referred to as “a modern day Pied Piper,” and he has performed professionally for 14 years. While he has played instruments like the piano and violin since he was young, he attended University of California, Los Angeles to study pre-med and pursue a career as a doctor. He was compelled to return to music and attended Juilliard in their Master of Music program. He has since performed all over the world, from Walt Disney Hall to the White House and beyond.

Hong is also very involved in music education and inspirational speaking, which is why Discover Classical WDPR advocated for his participation in this event, Bradley says.

“These young musicians remind me of myself,” Hong says. “It took other people’s belief in me to get to where I am today, so I try to take advantage of any opportunity to give back and pay it forward.”

The messages Hong communicates to students and young performers are blunt and honest. With the rise of Netflix and televised entertainment, the market of live entertainment is difficult and competitive. However, his goal as an educator “is not only to guide the next generation of musicians, actors, dancers or painters, but emphasize that performing arts imbue young people with positive qualities no matter what field they pursue.”

For young performers, he advises them to find their own voice, have a sense of self-confidence, be willing to take risks – and learn a proper bow.

“I always say a great bow ends with a smile,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how well you perform if the audience doesn’t feel like you had appreciated them. It’s that personal human connection – on stage and off – that enriches life.”

The event will offer plenty of opportunities for connections as the audience and performers mingle throughout the night.

The Catch A Rising Star Gala will take place Friday, May 1 at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, 2600 Deweese Pkwy in Dayton. Doors open at 7 p.m. Single tickets cost $88.10 and attendance packages and sponsorships are available. The event attire is semi-formal, black tie optional. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit or call 937.496.3850.

­­Reach DCP freelance writer Erin Callahan at

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Reach DCP freelance writer Erin Callahan at

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