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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Keller cellist hits all the right notes

Alex+Hoben%2FThe+Collegian+High+school+student+Riley+Hylkema+started+playing+the+cello+in+first+grade.+He+performed+a+cello+solo+during+the+concerto.
Alex Hoben/The Collegian High school student Riley Hylkema started playing the cello in first grade. He performed a cello solo during the concerto.

NINA BANKS
managing editor
nina.banks@tccd.edu

Riley Hylkema’s celebration of choice is grabbing a cookies and cream milkshake — the only good flavor, he says — with some friends. Lately, he has had a lot of celebrating to do.  

The Keller High School senior won the Tarrant County Orchestra Young Musicians Concerto Competition back in December. 

 “It was exhilarating,” Hylkema said. “It was an awesome feeling. But at the same time, I was really, really excited. My heart rate was through the roof.” 

Alex Hoben/The Collegian The Tarrant County Orchestra, conducted by TCC music adjunct instructor Bryan English, performed “Music for the New World” which included three pieces.
Alex Hoben/The Collegian
The Tarrant County Orchestra, conducted by TCC music adjunct instructor Bryan English, performed “Music for the New World” which included three pieces.

Hylkema began playing the violin in kindergarten. In the sixth grade, he met Adam Pratt, head director of the Keller Orchestra program. Pratt gave him two choices: Stick with violin or try a new instrument.  

He chose the latter and picked up the cello. There were several factors behind the change. For one, he wanted the chance to try something new. But most importantly, it sounded nicer than violin, he said. 

He’s been stuck with the cello since then and has excelled at it. Hylkema, the principal cellist of the Keller High School varsity orchestra, made history in Keller ISD by becoming the first cellist to make the TMEA Region 2 All-Region Orchestra. Outside of school, he has been a member of the TCO for three years. 

“He has continually gotten better — especially since he got into high school,” Pratt said. “He’s just really, really taken off. And the only thing I can equate is just striving to get better.” 

Hylkema was at a routine cello lesson with NE music professor Hsinyi Wang when she mentioned the concerto competition. Entrants were required to perform a 10-minute solo from memory. The prize: playing a concerto with the full ensemble at their next concert. 

 Luckily, Hylkema had been working on Edward Elgar’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Opus 85 for the past year. The piece consists of four movements and is 30 minutes long when played in its entirety. For the competition, he settled on the fourth movement.  

“Somehow, the piece was very natural for him,” Wang said. “He was very natural picking up the emotional changes, the colors and the chords from music and transforming that into playing — which was very delightful to find out. 

 Five students signed up. TCO director and NE adjunct music professor Bryan English adjudicated the competition.  

“He knew the piece. He played great,” English said. “He’s got great chops for this kind of repertoire.” 

The next week was TCO’s holiday concert. Right before their final piece, English announced Hylkema won the competition.  

The weeks following required heavy practice in preparation for the next concert, where he would perform his concerto. Hylkema decided to perform the piece he auditioned with. One of the challenging parts was learning to play like a soloist, he said.  

Alex Hoben/The Collegian Keller High School student Riley Hylkema got his cello, Autumn, in March of 2021. He performed his solo using Autumn in the Tarrant County Orchestra concerto.
Alex Hoben/The Collegian
Keller High School student Riley Hylkema got his cello, Autumn, in March of 2021. He performed his solo using Autumn in the Tarrant County Orchestra concerto.

“I’m technically playing at an orchestra,” he said. “I’m not playing with an orchestra. I need to be able to project my sound and learn how to do that. And that took honestly the longest amount of time to figure out how to play at that level.” 

In the days leading up to his big solo, he received some advice from Pratt, drawing from a similar situation he experienced in college. 

“He’s like ‘You’ve already put in the work — you’ve put in the work for the last year,’” Hylkema said. “He’s like, ‘This is your time to shine. Go have fun, enjoy yourself.’” 

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