Syed Mirza Alkhairid: From SNYO to Juilliard

Syed Mirza Alkhairid: From SNYO to Juilliard

By Anderlin Yeo & Yani Saaban

Jul 2021

Syed Mirza Alkhairid has been a member of Singapore National Youth Orchestra (SNYO) since 2018 when he was in his second year of junior college (JC). His love for music began at a young age of three when he started playing the piano. Growing up, Mirza was exposed to many aspects of music, such as through the symphonic band in JC where he was the student conductor for two years. This sparked his passion for the trombone.

Now at 21, Mirza is on this way to pursue the next step of his musical journey at the prestigious The Juilliard School in New York City (NYC). We sat down to get in tune with Mirza before his departure to the Big Apple.

Congratulations on being accepted to Juilliard. You must be very excited! Share with us your most memorable experience in your three years with SNYO.

One of my most memorable experience was the opportunity to travel with the Orchestra on the Guangzhou/Hong Kong tour in 2018. We played Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations as the encore for our final concert at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall. It was a genuinely special and unforgettable moment, knowing that every member has put in their heart and soul for the performance.

Mirza (second from left), together with SNYO members in the lower brass section on the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall stage in 2018.

Who inspired you to pursue music and what drew you to the trombone?

I met countless teachers who have inspired me and believed in my potential. They encouraged me to do my best in my musical endeavours. I am thankful to my first trombone teacher, Mr David Wong, who challenged me to try new things, such as auditioning for SNYO and various music schools in the US. Without him, I would not have gone as far as I have.

Mirza by the Charles River in Boston 2019, playing his new trombone straight out of S.E. Shires Factory.

I find the sound of the trombone similar to the human voice. It is an extremely versatile instrument with a diverse colour palette – you can play anything from soft and sweet, to loud and boisterous. As a trombonist, I strive for the warmth from Martin Schippers, the size from Charlie Vernon, and the clarity and brilliance from James Markey.

I was 17 when I joined the symphonic band in my JC and was fortunate to have been surrounded by people who constantly cheered me on and motivated me to improve. I learnt to love the nitty-gritty of trombone playing, from grinding out fundamentals on my own to making wonderful music with my friends.

My favourite piece to play is Lebedev’s Concerto in One Movement. It gives me freedom to form my own phrases with the beautiful melodies and to display my technical facility in the faster running passages.

Let’s talk about your upcoming journey to New York. Why Juilliard, and what do you aim to achieve in your time there?

The world-class faculty attracted me and I am excited for this journey to grow as a musician. The location in New York also brings me closer to top-tier orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and NYC Ballet. I look forward to immersing myself in year-round live performances from these orchestras.

A funny Mirza (right) with his mum in NYC for the Juilliard campus tour.

I also think the playing level of the students in the school is astronomically high, and anticipate being around talented peers and to improve my skillsets. Like all other aspiring orchestral musicians, I hope to get a job as a professional bass trombonist in a respectable orchestra.

I also wish to teach at a collegiate level in a conservatory and start my own private brass studio in the future. My wish is for my students to find their own voice with their instruments, and enjoy playing as much as I do.

Who is your favourite composer?

I love both orchestral composers Tchaikovsky and Mahler – they write very well for the trombones. For solo composers, my favourite is Daniel Schnyder. His work through subZERO and Bass Trombone Sonata pushes the limits of the instrument.

How do you spend your free time?

I enjoy competitive video games such as Valorant and Overwatch. I also like to watch anime in my free time. Currently, Clannad, Steins;Gate and Your Lie in April are my favourites.

Other than my love for classical music genre, I also like jazz, J-pop, and even vocaloid, particularly Chet Baker, YOASOBI, Junko Ohashi and MIMI.

I do, however, want to learn how to cook, because I am absolutely terrible at it. Currently, I can only make passable scrambled eggs and fried rice. I would love to be able to cook more on my own since I will be overseas for my further studies.

What is something you learnt in your time with SNYO? Any advice for someone who is thinking of joining?

In SNYO, I learnt the importance of ensemble skills. Blending not only with the people next to me, but also with the rest of the orchestra is a balancing act that is extremely challenging. I learnt to be sensitive to the music, to effectively support the orchestra with my sound.

Mirza (middle) in a SNYO rehearsal at the Esplanade Concert Hall in June 2019

I also learned to prepare for rehearsals in SNYO. I have to be familiar with my parts and that of everyone else’s so that I know where I fit into the big picture. This makes it easier for everyone to have a productive rehearsal.

Mirza (second from left), at a Christmas party with SNYO members in Hong Kong.

My advice for anyone out there who is looking to join SNYO is to believe in yourself! Always be prepared, practice consistently and seek feedback from your peers. I personally find it helpful to record practice sessions and document the progress in a journal.

All in all, I am grateful for the opportunity and exposure that SNYO has given me in my musical journey.

We wish you all the best at Juilliard, Mirza!


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