Young musicians off to big-name U.S. music schools

West Shore violists land highly prized scholarship deals

In the courtyard of the Victoria Conservatory of Music, with the sounds of various instruments echoing through the space, Jacob Van der Sloot calmly holds his instrument to his chin and his bow at the ready for a photo.

It’s a position the 17-year-old Langford resident is very familiar with, having studied strings since he was five – he switched from violin to the slightly larger, deeper-toned viola several years back.

Van der Sloot, who will graduate from St. Andrew’s Regional High School this month and spends many an hour in the classroom and performance halls at the Conservatory, takes his talents to the Juilliard School of Music in New York City this fall, having accepted a four-year scholarship to the prestigious institution.

“This has kind of been my dream school since I decided to pursue strings seriously,” says Van der Sloot, who was offered scholarships by three schools. “Juilliard is in the heart of New York. It’s a big city. But I feel ready – I think I’m too excited to be nervous.”

Van der Sloot, who began the application process in February of 2014, travelled to New York last fall to work with teachers. He’ll be working personally with Steven Tenenbom, a highly-decorated violist and chamber musician on the Juilliard staff since 2006.

The oldest of six children born to professional musician parents, Van der Sloot isn’t the only highly talented violist heading to the U.S. on a full scholarship to study the instrument in September.

Highlands native Rae Gallimore, a 2012 Belmont secondary grad who received her diploma in music from Camosun College and has also been studying at the Victoria Conservatory, is off to the renowned New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, one of four schools to offer her a full scholarship.

“I think the main two things are the teacher connections and the scholarship,” she says, noting that attending school in the U.S. can get rather expensive. Like Van der Sloot, she’ll live in the dormatory on campus. “The incredible environment of Boston will be great, (as well as) the school itself.”

Galloway admits to being a little nervous about the move, but looks forward to the change of pace. Making that easier, Gallimore says, is the fact she met her teacher, Martha Strongin Katz, at a summer music school last year in Virginia, as well as some students who will also be attending the New England Conservatory.

Achieving a full-ride scholarship to a highly reputable school is a sign that “hard work does pay off,” she says.

Gallimore, 20, switched from violin to viola shortly after graduation from Belmont, and put in long hours working on her technique and tone. “It was kind of hard for me, the whole switch to viola. I had to bring up my playing to the level of my violin, but everything seems to all be working with it now; it’s rewarding.”

Not only does the larger instrument feel more physically comfortable to her, she says, she has “found more of my voice as performer playing viola.”

Michael Van der Sloot, Jacob’s father and the head of strings at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, said the past year of putting together application submissions for various schools has been rather stressful. The process included submitting recordings of their playing last year, passing a pre-screening earlier this year then performing in a live audition at the beginning of March.

“They’re going to shoot for really high goals,” said Michael, who oversaw the pair in the VCM’s Collegium Program for gifted young musicians. “When they go to these schools, I estimate that they’ll be in the upper-middle to upper (level of achievement).”

The Conservatory has churned out some extremely talented musicians in recent years, he points out.

“The acceptance rate at these schools is so low, like six per cent, and (the number) getting the (full) scholarships they received is even smaller,” Van der Sloot says. “But to me what’s kind of astonishing is not that we have two kids doing this right now, but over the past five years we’ve had seven or eight kids going to these schools, including six at Juilliard itself.”

Both Jacob and Rae plan to cut back on their usual busy out-of-town summer music schedules this year to spend time with family before leaving for their respective schools.

For more information on the Victoria Conservatory of Music strings program, visit