How alumna, solo violinist, singer-songwriter, and actress Adrianna Mateo found her rhythm

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Townsend Harris High School Class of 2008 alumna Adrianna Mateo is a solo violinist, singer-songwriter, and actress in the entertainment industry. As of March 2020, Adrianna has recorded an original visual single, “Love Disconnect,”; acted in “Specially Processed American Me,” a female- and Asian-American-led production inspired by SPAM (the canned good first popularized during World War II); and performed new virtuosic solo violin works for the Juilliard School. The Classic interviewed Adrianna regarding her THHS experience and career. 

Adrianna fondly described her time at THHS. “Teachers like Richard Cappuccio and Robert Babstock were absolutely incredible for my education. They were English and creative writing teachers, not music or performing arts teachers, but Townsend taught me that your best education often comes through different doors than you’d expect,” she said. 

Japanese and Music teacher Dr. Mariko Sato significantly influenced Adrianna as well: during her sophomore year, Adrianna often led string instrument sectionals in the hallway outside chamber music class while Dr. Sato coordinated and directed all the students, inside and outside the classroom. “At seven in the morning, to people my age and older, I was like, ‘We’re going to learn the score, everyone!,’ trying to balance both conducting and playing violin while basically taking a crash-course in group dynamics,” Adrianna said. “Being in that situation made me quickly realize what works for a leader, what doesn’t, what people respond to, and how to hold myself in front of a group, all of which I apply to this day. I wouldn’t have learned that essential foundation without Dr. Sato.”

“I remember in 2006, we created a brand new Chamber Music Class during zero band. It was pretty exciting but chaotic. Adrianna was one of the most advanced musicians in this class and kindly helped me with working with sections,” Dr. Sato said. “She was already a very versatile musician at a young age.”

Initially for Adrianna, pursuing a career in songwriting was a dream she didn’t want to share. “I always wanted to write songs, but people knew me as a violinist. I was scared someone was going to [tell me] ‘You can’t do that,’ so I kept it a secret dream as I first focused on classical violin,” she said.

Despite this, while completing her undergraduate studies at Queens College’s Aaron Copland School of Music, she slowly started to songwrite, eventually composing a full program of songs for her first official documented performance at a Chelsea art gallery. “There was a lot of pressure for that…I’d never sung or presented my own experiences so vulnerable in front of an audience before. I was really scared. But every big step in my career has required me to set the hoop high and jump through it, even if my knees are shaking,” she said. Since then, Adrianna has sung, acted, and played solo violin on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, HBO, CNN, and MTV; onstage at Carnegie Hall, the Met Opera, the U.N. General Assembly, and Lincoln Center; opened for Alicia Keys, toured internationally, and more.

Adrianna emphasized the importance of practice to individuals hoping to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. “You won’t go anywhere if you’re lax about building and maintaining your instrument, whether that’s vocals, songwriting, acting, or learning the quirks of any instrument,” she said.

Over quarantine, Adrianna has found her artistic output to be especially meaningful. “It’s hard not to mourn all the changes this time has brought, but quarantine has also been a blessing because it’s required me to focus on what’s truly important. Besides the essential priorities – I mean, my dad is a doctor and my mom is a nurse, so that very much frames my life right now – I’ve been songwriting a lot, acting, playing violin, and teaching songwriting students online through the Face The Music at the Kaufman Music Center. All of these things came together in a beautiful, unexpected way when I wrote ‘Love Disconnect’ and filmed the music video for KMC’s online gala.” 

Recorded on a pair of iPhone earbuds, filmed completely on Zoom, and featured alongside artists such as Alan Menken, Erika Ender, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, and Joshua Bell, Adrianna’s original visual single incorporated singing, songwriting, acting, violin, and at its foundation, her ultimate goals as an artist. “We all came together to contribute [our] talents and make sure we can continue providing music education to those who need it in a time when nothing is certain,” she said. “You need music – you need music to heal people, to bring them out of pain and together through joy.”

As for the future? “I’d like to be really big,” she said. “I’d like to do it ethically, though.” After a long pause, she concluded with a smile. “Ultimately, I’d like to heal people in my own way.”

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