Kaila Potts | AspenTimes.com
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Kaila Potts

Aspen Times writer

Most auditions for major orchestras across America are “blind” until the final stage – competing instrumentalists perform for judges behind a screen until two contestants remain, who then perform revealed onstage. Kaila Potts, who is entering her fifth summer studying in Aspen, wishes this weren’t so. Potts is an African-American violist who recently won the Sphinx competition for students of African American or Latino ethnicity. She received a $10,000 prize and performance dates with major orchestras across America. All this for being a good, black, string player. Surprisingly for someone who has received so much attention in part because of her ethnicity, Potts wishes auditions were completely blind. “If I get my first position in an orchestra, I want to know that I’m sitting there because I’ve met the standard, not for any other reason,” says the 24-year-old.Potts has always been a bit of a rarity. Only 1.5 percent of professional classical musicians across America are African-American, and Potts is well on her way to joining that minority. In a profession where it is quite normal for 9-year-olds to perform concertos, Potts didn’t pick up a viola until she was 12 years old. At the time, she was a student in a public school in Las Vegas, her hometown. Unlike many of her colleagues here in Aspen, who have studied privately at elite “pre-collegiate” programs since childhood, Potts is a product of the Las Vegas public school system. Potts says her late start and unorthodox training has had its benefits, allowing her a more intellectual approach to music. Too often, she believes, young students are technically flawless before they have the intellect or soul to be true musicians. “I came into music very late and on my own,” she says. “But there are advantages. I was a little more prepared to learn things intellectually and emotionally, not just mechanically.” For Potts, the transition from public school training to an elite music conservatory in Cincinnati was not easy, but transitions to college rarely are. College has given her the chance to dive into some of the areas she didn’t cover extensively growing up – such as repertoire and music theory. “It wasn’t easy, but I’m catching up,” she says. Never one to conform to expectations, Potts recently converted to Judaism after months of what she calls “spiritual exploration.” She is currently dating an Israeli musician and proudly calls herself a Jew, making her at once a minority traditionally absent and minority traditionally dominant in the classical music world.After five summers in Aspen, Potts has made friends with many of the musicians in town. She speaks with the ease of someone comfortable with her position, her surroundings and her future. Close your eyes or put her behind a screen and listen to her play – that’s all she wants.- By Eben Harrell


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