Announcing the 2021 Express the Music Contest Winners

Thursday, Jun 17, 2021
by Lou Chen, TAP Program Manager
“What have the arts meant to you during the COVID-19 pandemic?”

Trenton Central High School students reflected on this question for the Neighborhood Music Project’s second annual Express the Music Contest. Participants were encouraged to use a specific artistic work as a point of reference.

Two students were named winners after being judged by Marna Seltzer, Director of Princeton University Concerts; Dasha Koltunyuk, Marketing & Outreach Manager for Princeton University Concerts; and Lou Chen, Program Manager for Trenton Arts at Princeton.

Learn more about the winners below, read their winning entries online, and listen to the music that inspired them on the Express the Music playlist.

Jairo Cabrera, 12th grade

Jairo Cabrera

Jairo Cabrera

“While my fellow bandmates and I were not together anymore making beautiful sounds, harmonies, and rhythms, it didn’t stop us from keeping the feeling of music alive. With the at-home safety rules, we had more time to practice, which gave me a chance to not just play the music but also feel the music on a deeper, more meaningful level.”

One of two first-place winners receiving an iPad, Jairo Cabrera is a senior in the Visual and Performing Arts small learning community at Trenton Central High School, and will attend Dartmouth College this fall. An avid musician, he plays clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, piano, and violin—and sings a little, too! Confronted with the challenges of the pandemic, he entered this year’s contest to spread positivity and hope, and to encourage others that it is possible to “create something good out of the bad.” One of Jairo’s favorite parts of writing his essay was listening to a variety of uplifting songs. He ended up choosing Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” as the inspiration for his essay because he wanted a song that “starts a groove while also having lyrics that could put a smile on anyone's face.” Jairo enjoys creative writing because it allows him to express himself on a deeper level. He also loves the martial arts, and has a second-degree black belt.

Evita Vasquez Reyes, 10th grade

Evita Vasquez Reyes

Evita Vasquez Reyes

“I love art, and I don’t ever plan to change that fact. The pandemic, in a way, showed me that sometimes, when I feel like something important to me is distancing itself, I should just wait and not force myself to chase after it. If it truly is important to me, it will come back.”

Also awarded first prize, Evita Vasquez Reyes is a sophomore in the STEM small learning community at Trenton Central High School. Enthusiastic about many art forms, she plays multiple instruments (clarinet, guitar, piano, and violin), draws, and writes short stories. She entered this year’s contest because she wanted to do something that wasn’t “just doing homework and chores everyday,” and because it gave her an excuse to write and draw. “The pandemic was and still is a pretty tough time for me,” she shares, “but if I hadn’t participated in the contest, I probably wouldn’t have realized how important art was to me. Realizing that, makes these tough times just a bit better.” For Evita, art serves as a source of both respite and inspiration. As long as she has her imagination, she feels like her world is infinite. Aside from art, Evita has an abiding passion for science, especially botany.