CCM alumna Francesca Boerio took guitar lessons at the California Conservatory of Music for nine years before heading off to pursue her Bachelors degree at the University of Southern California on a full-tuition scholarship. Now entering her second year at USC, Francesca is a double major studying guitar and cognitive science. We talked to Francesca about her time at the California Conservatory where she took lessons at our Santa Clara location, asked her about the numerous festivals and competitions she attended, and she gives advice to younger students as well. In June, Francesca will make her Carnegie Hall debut with the US Guitar Orchestra conducted by William Kanengiser. Also, don’t forget to check out the video below of Francesca performing Jorge Morel’s Sonatina.
Q: How old were you when you started playing the guitar?
A: I started playing the guitar when I was 5.
Q: Why do you think you parents wanted you to get a musical education?
A: My mom really wanted me to learn to play piano when I turned 5, but I really wanted to play guitar. I think my parents wanted me to get a musical education so that I could develop a passion for music and possibly find something that I truly loved. Being engaged in a musical education allowed me to learn how to balance between music and academics. Understanding piano as a college music student now is very helpful because it is easier to visualize and interpret music theory concepts.
Q: Have you played any other instruments?
A: I started playing piano at the same time I started playing guitar, but ended up stopping once I finished the eighth grade. I also began to play flute in the third grade but then stopped studying it around the seventh grade.
Q: When did you finish all nine Suzuki guitar books?
A: I finished all nine Suzuki guitar books during my freshman year of high school.
Q: How old were you when you started trying music competitions?
A: I started competing at the beginning of high school, so when I was around 14.
Q: What are some of the festivals and competitions you have attended?
A: I initially started learning Suzuki guitar in Hartford, Connecticut, so when I moved to California, I would go back and attend the Hartt Suzuki Institute during the summers. In 2015, I participated in the Sierra Nevada Classical Guitar Youth Competition in Reno, the SF Bay Area Guitar Festival Competition in Walnut Creek, and the SF Bay Area Guitar Festival Competition in Palo Alto. I attended Ben Verdery’s Maui Masterclass and I also participated in the South Bay Guitar Society Festival for an adjudication. During high school I participated in the Junior Bach Festival as a soloist for three years and in an ensemble for another year. I have attended the Guitar Foundation of America Festival multiple times, I went in 2014 to play with the advanced ensemble in Fullerton, I competed in 2015 in Oklahoma for the junior division youth competition, and then I competed again in 2018 in Kentucky for the senior division youth competition. I attended the Boston Guitar Festival during the summer of 2017 and also competed in the competition, and was then invited back for the festival to play in a concert in 2018. I participated in the Domaine Forget Festival and Competition in 2017 and by winning the Youth Division, I was given a scholarship to go back the following summer to attend the festival and play in a concert; when I went back to Domaine in 2018 I also competed in the Adult competition.
Q: What advice would you give other students who are interested in competing?
A: To other students who are interested in competing I would recommend that they participate in the competitions for themselves, not for anyone else. It’s really easy to be caught up in the expectations others have of you, especially during competitions, but if you focus on doing the best of your abilities and only worrying about yourself, not only do you push yourself harder but you are able to play at a different level. During the competitions I’ve participated in, I constantly need to remind myself of why I’m doing them, and that reason is for me to get better as an individual player not to meet the standards of how you think the judges want you to sound. Competitions are just another performance and they are good opportunities as goals in preparing new repertoire, but while participating in them it is crucial to remember that you only have to play for yourself and meet your own standards. The prize of the competition whether it be winning the entire thing or placing in the finals should matter less than how you felt about your performance itself. Competitions are also a time to create unique bonds with other musicians from differing backgrounds, therefore allowing you to be introduced to a new community of friends.
Q: What accomplishments are you most proud of?
A: I am most proud of my performances during the college audition process and also my performance during the GFA in Kentucky in 2018. I worked very hard to prepare my audition set and it not only helped me in visiting all of the schools I was applying for guitar to, but it also helped me during the competitions over the summer.
Q: Do you feel playing in the ensembles at CCM helped form you as a musician?
A: Yes, definitely. Learning to play and work with other people is one of the most valuable skills as a musician. Collaborating with other students in ensembles not only helped me with sight reading in learning my music, but also taught me about how to play in a group.
Q: What is your most memorable experience at CCM?
A: Playing the Morel Sonatina for David Russell was my most memorable experience at CCM. Jorge Morel wrote the piece for him, so being able to play the second and third movements for him was incredible. Also being able to have the opportunity to have a class with David Russell in itself was fantastic.
Q: What did you do to prepare for your college auditions?
A: The months prior to my college auditions were months when I most intensely practiced guitar. I played my audition set which was about 15-20 minutes at least twice a day; sometimes I would come home from school and play it cold right before I started my homework, other times I would play it at the beginning and end of my practice session. Over Christmas break of my senior year I practiced almost every day for at least two hours in preparation for my auditions. I played each of my pieces very slowly and was very particular about how I was sounding and the standard I was setting for myself. Sometimes I would set timers for dedicated time to each piece so that I would stay focused during that chunk of time on the given piece. Practicing the performance of the entire set helped with gaining better endurance with my hands and not getting as mentally or physically tired.
Q: You were accepted into several schools, why did you decide to go to USC?
A: I chose USC because I couldn’t find a reason not to go; people recommend making pro and con lists when trying to decide about something like college, and in attempting to make the list I could not think of any cons. I visited the campus about a month before my audition, met with the Thornton School of Music administration, sat in on Pepe Romero’s biannual masterclass, had a lesson with Bill Kanengiser, and watched the Guitar Departmental Recital. During my visit the sense of community within the guitar department was so obvious and it was something that I wanted to be a part of. I also really enjoyed my lesson with Bill and saw myself being able to work with him long term. I also knew that I would be able to have the opportunity to study other fields and subjects as a student at a larger university. I knew I wanted to double major and being able to do work towards the other major at a high level at USC was also very appealing. After I got accepted I was very happy to find out that I had been given a scholarship, which also made attending USC a hard offer to pass up.
Q: Can you talk about your experience so far as a double major pursuing computer science and guitar performance?
A: Being that I have only completed one semester at USC, I am still working towards declaring my double major in computer science. During this first semester, in order to fulfill prerequisite courses I took a math and computer science class, along with the rest of my music classes, and in addition I took writing course for my general requirements. In working towards a computer science major, I am either going to continue pursuing it, or I might switch to minoring in computer science and then double majoring in business or economics instead. Balancing my time between my music and non music classes this semester was definitely a challenge while also adjusting to the college lifestyle away from home. Finding time to practice was harder than I expected in comparison to high school, but I have learned to make my practice time as productive as possible.
Q: Have you done any teaching yourself yet?
A: The Thornton School of Music has a Community Engagement Program, which music students apply to and interview for so that they can participate. I was fortunate to be accepted into the program and within it, I am a short term mentor. I get the opportunity to teach short term classes, whether they be a single day or over a couple months. Earlier in the semester, I taught a six week Jazz in the Classroom class to Kindergarteners every Friday. Later on I also went to a school for one day and gave mini-lectures on classical guitar and what it is so that elementary school students could be exposed to it.
Q: How has playing music made a positive impact on your life?
A: Music has not only given me many opportunities in my life, but also helped me develop as an individual. Being able to meet other musicians and guitarists that live in other places through going to festivals has definitely been something that I have enjoyed. This summer I have been given the opportunity to perform with the US Guitar orchestra in Carnegie Hall; the orchestra will continue the tour in the south of France and playing concerts throughout the area to finish in Paris. Learning to practice and focus on guitar for given sets of time has allowed me to develop as a musician, but also to use those skills in other aspects of my life; being motivated to spend time to practice something to the best of my ability has taught me to work hard, set goals for myself, and enjoy music.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
A: Because I am pursuing a double major, I am planning on staying at USC for 5 years to give myself enough time to finish my course requirements. I see myself continuing to play guitar, likely teaching private lessons. I also see myself wanting to pursue my other major whether it be in computer science, economics, or business, I know that I want to have a balance in my life between the more academic field and music.
Q: What do you think you will do with music in the future?
A: I think I will play music in the future for my own enjoyment, but continue to push myself as an artist and perform for others. I would like to have an “office job” in a field probably outside of music, but be able to finish my days with teaching young pre-college students on the side. I would also like to perform and inspire others with music as I also teach.
Q: Any last words or advice you could give to aspiring musicians who are looking to develop their skills?
A: Although it can be discouraging at times, working towards mastering a piece or a performance set can teach you a lot of things about yourself. There have been times when I get frustrated, but moving past that has helped me learn how to better handle myself in those situations. Also, the most important thing to remember is why you play your instrument, for me it's because I love it and couldn’t see my life without it.