Breaking News
More () »

Jumping to Juilliard: 2 St. Louis students taking skills to prestigious school

"I’m very excited to go into New York City, because New York City is just…a place filled with art"
Credit: St. Louis American
COCA graduate Miles Ashe and St. Louis Public Schools student Ruth Christopher are taking their skills to The Juilliard School in New York in the fall.

ST. LOUIS — While most seniors spent their final year of high school adapting to COVID restrictions, quarantines and a senior year landscape that was nothing like they imagined, certain students’ challenges were unique.

Ruth Christopher and Miles Ashe, two St. Louis Public Schools seniors and artists — a double bassist and a dancer, respectively — navigated the challenges of performing their group-based arts from isolation. And they grew through the experience. Both are headed to The Juilliard School in New York City this fall to continue their professional journeys in the arts.

Ashe explained that he was “kind of grateful” for the ways that the COVID-19 quarantine allowed him the space and isolation to focus on his art. Though he began to study dance at the age of eight, this moment allowed him to pause from his meteoric trajectory and “think of who I am, as an artist, as a dancer.”

“I got to…find more ways to use my body more, [and learn] how to utilize it so it can stay healthy and strong,” Ashe said.

He has been learning virtually since the 10th grade, after he began to study as part of the pre-professional program at COCA, so adaptation to virtual school came relatively easily.  “I learned…I need more patience with myself, because I tend to rush myself.”

Ruth Christopher, a bassist at McKinley High School, found the transition to practicing her art in isolation difficult, due to the energy and inspiration she gets from playing music in a group setting.

“A lot of my inspiration and what I enjoy about playing music comes from other people, and the connections you make with other people when you play with a chamber group. It’s like, a very intimate—you connect with their eyes, you connect with their soul in a way,” he said.

“And that was gone, so I had to learn how to find motivation for myself to keep going and keep practicing.”

Both Christopher and Ashe auditioned for Juilliard during quarantine: Ashe sending in videos he filmed with his pre-professional dance company at COCA, and Christopher with recordings of pieces she played alone, without the groups she was used to performing with.

“I made a recording in November, I sent it, then I didn’t hear back for like, 4 months,” Christopher recalled.

“I wasn’t expecting to get in, I didn’t know what to think. This time, they didn’t have any live auditions for double bass. So I just kind of waited.”

Ashe credits several of his instructors at COCA with the inspiration and instruction that led to his admission to Juilliard, while Christopher mentions her private instructors at the Community Music School of Webster University—and, crucially, the SLPS middle school teacher who put the double bass in her hands in the first place. Though she’d been studying violin since the age of three, she never thought about playing bass until her band director, Bob Dorries, realized the jazz ensemble needed a bassist and put the instrument in her hands for the first time.  

“He was like ‘okay, you’re going to play bass now, here it is!’ and he made sure I was tall enough to hold it,” she remembered.

Now, the two are moving on to New York to continue their pre-professional music and dance education. Ashe’s last performance as a student at COCA, his senior solo during the Triumphant show, was “very emotional,” he said. “It was my last time dancing on the COCA stage as a COCA student, but I will always be with COCA, because COCA is my family.”

Both are excited to see what New York City—and Juilliard, in particular—has to offer.

“I’m very excited to go into New York City, because New York City is just…a place filled with art. People go there to just look at art, see dance, listen to music,” Ashe said.

Christopher agreed. “I’m excited to meet everybody, be in the city, and be around people who love what they do.”

Before You Leave, Check This Out