Leah Stevens


Hometown: Chicago, IL

Alma maters: Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville; University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Photo by Matt Dine


Awards/Competitions: First Place, 2017 National Flute Association Flute Orchestral Audition; Second Place, 2017 National Flute Association Piccolo Orchestral Audition

What do you think orchestra concerts should look like in the 21st Century? Orchestras have an opportunity now more than ever to program more music by female composers and composers of color. Music from these two groups is underrepresented, but there’s an abundance of it that would help diversify programming. The works of Beethoven, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky are still near and dear to my heart, but the 21st century is producing new pioneers in the classical music world, and they should be recognized for their achievements.

What has been your favorite experience as a musician? While attending my undergraduate university, I had the opportunity to sit principal flute with the Saint Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra for one season. Rehearsing every week on the stage of Powell Hall and tackling some of the most challenging orchestral repertoire with other like-minded individuals was not only my favorite musical experience so far, but the one that has shaped me the most as a professional musician. That experience proved to me that I wanted nothing more than to be an orchestral musician.

What is some advice you would give to your younger self? It does not matter what background you’ve come from, or what opportunities your peers have had that you haven’t. Success comes with a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck; the paths of your peers will not define yours.

Favorite non-classical musician or band: There are so many, but if I had to pick a few: Florence and the Machine, JoJo, and The Civil Wars.

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing? I would have gone through culinary school by now and be working in a restaurant—maybe working towards owning my own restaurant. I have enjoyed cooking for most of my adult life and my favorite thing is to share my cooking with the people I love.

Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to have dinner with and why? Florence Welch, because her poetry is inspirational on the highest level. Her work is beautifully transparent and vulnerable. Alex Guarnaschelli, because her “take no prisoners” attitude in the culinary world makes her a stellar role model. In fact, I’d love to cook dinner with her, however intimidating that might be! Jesus Christ, because He embodies the standard by which we should all live. His love is the love we should all show one another.

Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us: I spent a couple of years in Chicago substituting and on staff of The People’s Music School, teaching flute lessons and sectionals to children on the South Side who would otherwise not have access to music education. Those years really opened my eyes to the realities of communities rife with violence and poverty. Because of my experiences with this program, using my abilities to give back to these communities has become very important to me. Music is for everyone, not just those who can afford it.

Piece of advice for a young classical musician: Don’t forget to live your life while pursuing your passion. If you live inside the practice room and your rehearsals, you will not live a fulfilling life. Go to concerts, and not necessarily classical ones! Go to farmers’ markets, pick up hobbies that interest you, and engage in the world around you. You cannot create anything worth listening to if you live in a vacuum. Your life experiences will shape your art.