Barnard students have been receiving accolades for their achievements since the College’s founding, and recently, three more were recognized when they became Grammy Award winners.
Emma Braunberger ’25, Kelsey Chin ’22, and Deborah Ro ’21 were members of the New York Youth Symphony (NYYS), whose 2022 debut album, Works by Florence Price, Jessie Montgomery, Valerie Coleman, won a Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance at this year’s February 5 ceremony. It is the first youth symphony to receive a Grammy, the music industry’s most recognized award. The NYYS won the award over more established orchestras led by such distinguished conductors as John Williams and Gustavo Dudamel.
“It felt surreal. Winning a Grammy was not on our minds at the time of recording,” said Braunberger, a sophomore planning to major in sociology who joined NYYS in 2019 playing oboe and English horn. “The recording project was designed to provide an opportunity to play and highlight the music of Florence Price, Valerie Coleman, and Jessie Montgomery, as well as provide a unique educational experience for young, developing musicians.”
The New York Youth Symphony is an orchestra dedicated to showcasing the talents of musicians who are 12 to 22 years old. Since forming in 1993, it has covered a range of genres, from chamber music to jazz and musical theatre. Each concert cycle, the youth musicians play alongside musicians from the New York Philharmonic, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, or the Met Opera to hone their skills.
“I was a member of NYYS from 2016 until 2022, my first three years as a regular member and my last three as the principal cellist,” said Ro, who joined as a high school senior, stayed through her undergraduate years as a biology major at Barnard, and is now a first-year student at the NYU College of Dentistry. “When I auditioned, it seemed like such a fun community to be a part of, but at the same time, it was an amazing opportunity to play with an orchestra that performs at a very high level. I wanted to challenge myself and improve on my ensemble skills.”
Since joining the youth symphony, Ro has played at venues including Carnegie Hall — a total of 15 times! — went on a European tour, and performed with Billy Ray Cyrus on CNN’s “The Fourth in America” in 2021. She also met fellow Barnard students Braunberger and Chin. Together, they weathered the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic brought to the orchestra.
“During the height of the pandemic, we did most of the practicing at home,” said Braunberger. “We came in person to briefly rehearse and then moved straight into recording. It was a true pandemic recording in that we had to separate into smaller groups, and the parts were later spliced together.”
Listen to the award-winning album below.
When NYYS was announced as the winner, it was pure joy — the whole room burst with energy.
The NYSS found a way not only to survive the pandemic but to thrive, releasing its critically acclaimed album last April. Within months, the orchestra was nominated for a Grammy. And although they had recorded much of the album separately, it was important to the symphony’s members to be together to watch the award show.
“On the day of the Grammys, most of [us] gathered at the DiMenna Center, our usual rehearsal space, for a watch party. When the category of Best Orchestral Performance was being announced, I was starting to get a little nervous,” remembered Ro. “When NYYS was announced as the winner, it was pure joy — the whole room burst with energy. Everyone was screaming and jumping around, and when we saw our conductor Mike [Repper] walk up to receive the award, we were blown away.”
The Barnard students were not the only ones from the Barnard-Columbia community who won that night. Yael Cohen CC’21, Matthew Sidler CC’22, and Joshua Wang CC’26 were also a part of the Grammy-winning orchestra. It’s safe to assume that they all agree with Ro, who said, “It’s been incredible, and I look back on my time with NYYS with only fond memories.”