Kristen Chen and Ryaken Nakamato take the stage in musician Q&A


Grace Zhao

Violinist Kristen Chen and alto saxophonist Ryaken Nakamoto are two musicians within Dougherty Valley High School’s vast music program.

Jennifer Sheng, Grace Zhao, and Kimberly Cui

As DVHS junior Ryaken Nakamoto says, “The volume of the music program is so huge that it’s like a little ecosystem.” Meet two of the musicians within this ecosystem: Nakamoto, who plays alto saxophone in Jazz Band, and junior Kristen Chen, a Chamber Orchestra violinist. Both have played their instruments for seven years and they now offer their takes on all things music (and more) through 11 rapid-fire questions. 

  1. Does music run in your family?

Chen: Yes. My mother and all her sisters play piano and my father played piano in the past, so considerably, my family has a large musical background. 

Nakamoto: Neither of my parents participate in music, however, my two younger sisters are both in choir.  

  1. What is something unique about your instrument?

Chen: With violin, you can be more expressive with different types of vibrato [slightly oscillating the pitch of a note] depending on if it’s slow, wide, narrow, or you’re vibrating with your wrist or arm. You can also add more musicality through bowing such as staccato [playing notes quick and detached], or bowing that is smooth or bouncing.

Nakamoto: Saxophones in general can do techniques like growling [humming into the saxophone after the note is played to create a gritty sound], double-tonguing [successively articulating a series of rapid notes] and altissimo [playing in the highest register of the saxophone]. For alto saxophone specifically, the timbre [distinct sound or tonal quality of an instrument] is quite unique. 

  1. What do you do in preparation before a concert?

Chen: I prepare for all the possibilities that could go wrong in the concert: I hold ice in my hands for about 20 seconds because your hands can get really cold on stage, I do a high intensity workout because your adrenaline caused by nerves makes you kind of shaky, and I have my brother shine a flashlight on eyes while I practice because the lights on stage can be very bright. 

Nakamato: I listen and establish recordings before the concert [and] run through any solos. [I usually take] just two to three days of preparation outside of class. To combat my nerves, I simply embrace it, because if you’re nervous it means you care. 

To combat my nerves, I simply embrace it, because if you’re nervous it means you care.

  1. What is your favorite moment throughout your musical career?

Chen: I most enjoyed traveling to New York with my orchestra Gradus ad Parnassum because I got to play at Carnegie Hall as well as spend time with friends. 

Nakamato: It was really cool when I saw my name on the All-State list last year.

  1. What do you like most about the DVHS music program?

Chen: My orchestra conductor Mr. Rhodes – he is definitely the best director I’ve met so far. 

Nakamato: Ms. Musiel is a great conductor – she knows how to efficiently isolate the parts of pieces we are not the best at and then make them better, all in five minutes or less. 

  1. What is your favorite piece of music? And why? 

Chen: “Czardas” by Vittorio Monti. It’s really technical, but it’s also super fun. It’s fast paced and upbeat; you can show off with the double stops, artificial harmonics, and sliding and shifting. 

Nakamoto: A recording of “After You’ve Gone.” It’s played by Patrick Bartley on the saxophone. It was live streamed during the lockdown so I can feel the energy of a lot of people having fun together behind it. It is a video I go back to if I need to brighten my day.

  1. If you could play any other instrument, what would it be?

Chen: Flute 

Nakamoto: Trumpet 

  1. Why is your class (band/orchestra) superior to the other class?

Chen: Orchestra is better because you don’t get neighbor complaints.

Nakamoto: Band has a lot more variety in timbre based on the volume of different instruments whereas orchestra has mostly string instruments. 

  1. What are some of your other hobbies besides playing your instrument?

Chen: I like to write and run. 

Nakamoto: I like running, going on walks, making origami and watching anime.

  1. What two items would you take with you if you were deserted on an island?

Chen: I would take smoked Gouda cheese and a gaming PC.

Nakamoto: I would bring a humongous LifeStraw that can somehow filter out all the saltwater or a solar-powered de-salinator. For food, I [would] bring a speargun. Though if survival did not matter, I’d definitely bring my saxophone.

  1. If you could have any superhero power, what would it be?

Chen: I’ve always wanted to fly.

Nakamoto: I’d time travel, so then I could buy Shiba Inu cryptocurrency from January 2020 and have $900 million today.