Searching for Downtown Prodigies: The Juilliard Virtuoso, Lydia van der Swaagh

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By Beth Mellow

Music has always been an important part of 15-year-old Lydia van der Swaagh's family tree. "I have five older siblings who played musical instruments, which inspired me to start playing music," she explained. "My dad was also a professional singer. He performed with the Gilbert and Sullivan players."

Van der Swaagh is now a student in Julliard's pre-college division. Her instrument of choice: the viola, which she picked up five years ago, though she has played the violin since she was 3.

Her passion requires massive amounts of dedication. During a typical week, van der Swaagh studies viola at Juilliard for 10 hours, practices an additional 12 hours on her own and performs as part of the New York Youth Symphony. Oddly enough, she has no intention of becoming a professional musician.

"I don't want to pursue viola. Rather, I would want to pursue music therapy," she said. "For the past few years, I've really had a desire to reach out to others, particularly children. Music, I believe, is one of the best tools for outreach. So, when I heard about music therapy, I became really interested. I figured that I could do so many things to use music as therapy, since I've grown up playing a stringed instrument my whole life and I also love to sing."

When van der Swaagh isn't playing viola, she sings as part of the North Jersey Home Schooler Association chorus and is a practice coach for two young violin players. The musical phenom also enjoys watching her favorite baseball team. She exclaimed, "I am a huge Yankees fan, like the rest of my family. I have been addicted to baseball my whole life."

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