When Annika Ariel returned to begin her junior year at Maria Carrillo last week, her classmates in the symphonic band likely detected a marked improvement in her already remarkable skills as a clarinet player.
While other kids were getting jobs or goofing off, the 16-year-old Ariel spent much of her summer at a prestigious performing arts camp in rural Michigan called Interlochen.
This is no ordinary band camp. Ariel needed to audition to get into the program, and once there, she spent six weeks honing her craft with some of the finest instructors in the nation.
"We played 8 to 10 hours a day," Ariel said. "I really loved it."
A member of the Santa Rosa Youth Orchestra since she was in fourth grade, Ariel said one of her local instructors recommended the camp to her. It was a combination of classroom study, private lessons and three performances in the World Youth Wind Symphony.
"We were playing really hard, collegiate level stuff," Ariel said.
One of her instructors was Daniel Silver, associate professor of clarinet at the University of Colorado in Boulder, who attended Interlochen himself in 1972 and has taught there in the summers for 20 years.
He called Ariel "a pleasure to work with" because of her passion to improve.
"Annika made some big strides this summer, and the immersion in lessons, chamber music and ensembles, surrounded by like-minded musicians combined with her own determination and love of music all helped that happen," Silver said.
The program was expensive, however, and her family was only able to afford to send her with the help of a scholarship and a generous donation from a local philanthropist, she said.
Ariel's pursuit of classical music is completely self-motivated, said her mother, Stacey Ariel, an English as a second language instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College.
"I've never told her to practice, never told her to enter a competition," her mom said. "It all just comes from her."
Ariel sure didn't get her musical taste from her mother. Whenever Stacey Ariel would turn on the radio to listen to her favorite rock 'n' roll tunes, her daughter couldn't stand it, she said.
Her father, Chris, a retired economist, sometimes played his daughter opera when the family was living in Hong Kong, but he never pushed his musical tastes on her, either.
While a big part of her life, music isn't Ariel's sole interest. She's a stellar student, holding down a 4.57 GPA and tackling several Advanced Placement courses this year.
She hopes to one day be a doctor specializing in neurology, she said. A family member of hers has multiple sclerosis, and she hopes that one day she can help others with such conditions, she said.
"I'd like to eventually be a doctor, but I want to keep music in my life," she said.