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Violist finds his home at Eastman School of Music

September 9, 2019
violist smiles while leaning against an auditorium wall.Living in a shelter during parts of his high school years, Jafrè Chase ’23E never stopped practicing the viola, and never stopped dreaming and working toward a better life. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

In his saddest moments, Jafrè Chase ’23E would leave his family’s living quarters at the Salvation Army in Baltimore and head to a dimly lit conference room in the basement. There, he would take out his viola, and play.

Bach. Bruch. Schubert.

“It was the only way I could cope with everything,” Chase says.

He stayed at the shelter on Calvert Street with his mother and three sisters for parts of his sophomore and junior years of high school after they were evicted from their home. Through this challenging period, he never stopped attending Baltimore’s School for the Arts, never stopped practicing the viola, and never stopped dreaming of a better life.

“I knew I had to work hard and stay on the right path if I wanted to change my life,” he says. “I had to keep playing.”

By his senior year, Chase had not only found a new home in Baltimore, he had found another at the University of Rochester’s prestigious Eastman School of Music. He is there as a Lois C. Rogers Scholar, a full-tuition scholarship offered each year to students with financial need. Chase chose Eastman over full-tuition offers from Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland-College Park, and the University of Michigan.

“I had the opportunity to leave Baltimore, leave Maryland, and I was good with that,” he says. “I auditioned at Eastman last February. I got out of the car in the parking lot across the street and looked at the building and was like, ‘Whoa, I’m at the Eastman School of Music.’ And when the teachers spoke of how they work with the students, it stuck with me. I really need that type of guidance.”

Chase started playing viola in fourth grade in an after-school program. “It’s funny, but I was placed in the viola program because all the violin spots were taken,” he says. “But I loved it right away. I remember the first piece we learned was Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” 

Chase eventually auditioned for the Baltimore’s School for the Arts, where he graduated this past spring.

Chase would like to become involved in the Rochester community during the next four years and hopes to stay active by joining club sports teams in track and basketball.

“I would like to go give back in some way,” he says. “I feel that if you’ve been given a lot, you should also give back a lot.”

No one in his family had ever attended college until his older sister graduated from Coppin State University in Baltimore. He’s excited to follow in her footsteps and plans to earn a master’s degree before hopefully embarking on a career as a performing artist.

“I can’t wait to see what my younger sisters do,” he says.

He has advice for younger students who share his goals—and the challenges he faced.

“Following your dreams may seem impossible,” he says. “But if you have the passion and willingness to work hard, you can definitely achieve it.”

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