JoshFor Upper School student Josh R., music is the lens through which he experiences life and navigates the world.

“I’ve been doing it for my whole life,” Josh said. “Music gives me a sense of connection with myself. I think it’s a really connective tissue between social movements and personal feelings.”

His music career began at the age of three, when he would sing around the house. When he turned five, his parents — who play violin and clarinet — signed him up for chorus.

Today, he studies piano, guitar, and vocals. He also played trumpet for a couple of years, and has dabbled with the harmonica, ukulele, and mandolin.

In addition to performing, Josh has developed a passion for songwriting.

On April 3, Josh will release his first EP. He spent six months writing all of the songs on the album, and he also sang lead and backup vocals and played piano and guitar on the recordings.

“I think it shows his varied interests,” said Cory Combs, Director of Outreach, Music & Enrichment. “I think it’s sophisticated. His concept of songwriting is really unique and he still pays tribute to the artists he admires. It’s a great launching place.”

To fund the album, Josh created a Kickstarter page and raised more than $12,000. His songs range from a single about the fears of falling in love to a ballad about embracing the present, according to his page.

“I look at music like poetry with a sound component to it because it’s a way to capture feelings and emotions and communicate them,” Josh said. “I like to use my songs to look at the challenges and the experiences of becoming an adult.”

He also uses music for activism: he tries to address injustices in the world and issues such as climate change.

When he was in sixth grade, Josh began writing his own songs.

“It was kind of a coping mechanism just to get my feelings out,” he said. “It was a natural extension of my creativity. I was always very into drawing; I would make paper sculptures. Songwriting was just a natural continuation of that.”

To continue to grow as a musician, Josh studies with professionals in various subjects such as theory and composition and performs with as many ensembles as he can.

He sang at President Barack Obama’s inauguration and in six San Francisco Opera productions when he was younger. He also studied with Michael Zilber’s Advanced High School Jazz Workshop at the Jazzschool in Berkeley and is being mentored by jazz singer Laurie Antonioli for his Quest project.

His numerous accolades include singing with the GRAMMY Camp Jazz Session Jazz Choir and performing at the GRAMMY’s after party last year, being accepted to the prestigious National Young Arts Foundation’s YoungArts Week, and winning the high school vocal soloist category of the PDX Jazz Forward Competition.

“He’s certainly very ambitious and a talented musician,” Combs said. “I would call out his self-driven nature. Most of the opportunities he’s seeking out to get better he’s doing on his own. He’s branching out beyond what’s expected of a junior and their development.”

At Nueva, he sings and plays drums and xylophone with the jazz band, is a member of Sound Waves — an audition-only choir — and is involved in music production.

“It’s really fun; it’s a cool way to stretch out,” he said.

Upper School choral teacher Allison Renn said Josh is an anomaly.

“He is one of those rare people who seems to be able to sing or play anything and not only make it look easy, but do a good job at it,” Renn said. “I’ve watched him play piano, bass, drums, sing. I just feel like he’s going to go places. He’s just insanely talented.”

Renn added Josh has the ability to randomly harmonize or make up a part. He’s also advanced at capturing the mood in a piece, especially for his age.

“On top of that, he’s just a good human being,” she said. “He’s kind and sweet and supportive of his peers. He doesn’t walk around with a big head or an air of arrogance. He’s always very humble and very interested in making music and just continuing to play and sing.

“I can’t wait for 20 years from now to tell my kids and my students ‘I taught that kid; this famous jazz musician,” she said. “He’s Stevie Wonder. He’s Ray Charles. He’s somebody whose name is going to mean something in the music business.”

While nothing is finalized, Josh hopes to pursue music in college. He is looking at schools that will give him the ability to both write and perform in the context of jazz music with contemporary influences.

“I have a lot of interests — which I continue to pursue — but music is something that I’ve cultivated for a really long time. I feel like it’s the path that I’m on,” he said.

“I practice every moment I get, honestly,” he added. “I come home and I’m in my studio until I go to bed.”

Josh’s CD will be available on his website,, as well as on iTunes, Spotify, and various other music sites. He will have a show on April 3 at the California Jazz Conservatory to celebrate the release.

March 25, 2016




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