Federico Zuniga, Jr. | Photos courtesy of the Young Musicians Foundation

The Young Musicians Foundation and its new Artistic Advisor, Vijay Gupta, violinist and founding director of LA’s Street Symphony, have launched an innovative fellowship program to help shape the community arts leaders of the 21st Century. The three inaugural “Debut Fellows” receive a stipend, professional development, and hands-on teaching and community engagement experience.

The Fellows are James Sherry, who holds a Doctorate from the Peabody Conservatory and a Ph.D. in Music Education from the University of Iowa. He served as Director of Instrumental Music at the Johns Hopkins University. Federico Zuniga is active in the Latin alternative music community and teaches music in correction institutions. Nina Shekhar, a graduate student in composition at the USC Thornton School of Music, is a professional flutist with a background in chemical engineering, She told us more about the program on Arts Alive:

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Nina Shekhar

Nina Shekhar is an Indian-American composer whose music has been performed by Eighth Blackbird, the International Contemporary Ensemble, and ETHEL, among other groups. She has said her music explores the intersection of identity, vulnerability, love, and laughter, and is reflective of her identity as a woman of color. Shekhar has also spoken openly about how growing up with OCD caused her suffering and anxiety, but also made her more empathetic, and compassionate.

What led to Shekhar’s diagnosis was a 7th grade teacher noticing the unusual structure of her sentences. Getting help ultimately led to self-acceptance, “and even becoming proud of being a “Quirkhead”. She now believes it ultimately makes her a better human being. “Iit gave me immense patience and diligence.”

In 2017, Nina wrote the piece Quirkhead, which tells something of the story of her own journey as someone with OCD, “the little girl who tapped every wall she walked by and believed that vegetables had feelings. I made up thought rituals that I would perform every day to alleviate my fears of losing those I loved.”

Nina Shekhar looks forward to working directly with children, “our most vulnerable”, in spreading the joy of music as part of her work as a Young Musicians Foundation Debut Fellow.

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