MIHS students tell stories, make connections through music

Lill and Yeh shine in the oboe and harp realms.

Mercer Island High School juniors Elena Lill and Ava Yeh have got the music in them.

Lill, who plays the oboe, and harpist Yeh have made their mark on the local and national scene over the last few months. Lill triumphed in the oboe/English horn room division at the Eastshore Music Region Solo & Ensemble competition at Mount Si High School on Jan. 28, and Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute recently chose Yeh to put her harp skills into play with the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America this summer.

At the end of April, Lill will compete in the Washington Solo & Ensemble Contest at Central Washington University. Throughout July, Yeh will first engage in a two-week residency with the orchestra at State University of New York’s Purchase College before performing at Carnegie Hall and then touring with her fellow musicians to play a string of concerts across North America.


When Lill switched from clarinet to oboe in the sixth grade, she found her new favorite instrument. Private teacher Darlene Franz brought the oboe into Lill’s life during a school visit and the double reed woodwind instrument has been her trusty companion for the last five years.

“It takes a lot of practice,” Lill said about winning the Eastshore event with her nearly eight-minute performance of Johann Wenzel Kalliwoda’s “Le Morceau de salon” while accompanied by professional pianist Allyson Kramer.

Piano entered Lill’s life at age 5, and then she leaned toward the clarinet in fifth grade.

“I think music is a great way to express my passion. Often, it’s hard to express feelings in words. By playing my instrument, I’m able to express sadness and tragedy and happiness, and all of that in ways that other people can actually understand,” Lill said.

Kalliwoda’s piece resonated with Lill, who noted that it felt cinematic and romantic and was an ideal composition to place her in storytelling mode. The opening mournful theme soon moves into waltz territory and the musical journey concludes at a glorious and rapid pace, she said.


Yeh, who has been an ardent fan of classical music since she was a youngster, joins one other harpist in the prestigious national orchestra.

“I’m just so grateful to be accepted,” said Yeh, who added that the program and audition process is ultra-competitive. “I’m just super excited. It will be great to play with all these incredible musicians.”

For the last five to six years, Yeh’s fingers have become one with the harp strings as she brings compositions to life. Her goal when performing is to get the audience wrapped up in the pieces just as much as they move her.

In the audition tape Yeh sent to the music institute, she performed excerpts of Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” Variation I and Fugue, and Hector Berlioz’s “Symphonie fantastique” along with a solo piece, video and written essays and a pair of recommendation letters. In the essays, she discussed her love of classical music and art (she was one of the winners in the Toyota Dream Car Art Contest).

When July rolls around, Yeh will surely be thriving amongst her musical peers on the east coast and beyond.

“I just love playing with other musicians, especially in an orchestra setting,” she said. “I think it’s really good to be able to connect with everyone through music and just share a common interest and passion.”