Special to The Swellesley Report courtesy of the Wellesley High School Bradford and Parents of Performing Students (POPS). This is one in a series of POPS senior profiles we’ll be publishing.
From playing the clarinet with the school’s wind ensemble to starting a jazz trio outside of school and learning the accordion in his free time, Wellesley High School senior Sebastian Papa is a diverse musician with both the work ethic and positive energy to fuel his ambition.
He was first introduced to the world of music in third grade when he picked up both the piano and clarinet. When faced with deciding what instrument to play, with piano not being an elementary school ensemble instrument, he made the obvious choice. “I chose the clarinet because it was the only one that I could make a sound out of,” Papa said, “but I stuck with it.”
He soon took agency over his musical career, devoting himself to longer practices and bigger projects as he made the conscious decision to improve.
“I think the biggest lesson I have learned is that hard work pays off… it is gratifying when I put the work in,” he said. “It is slow and it can be arduous but after a while, you look back, and you see vast improvement—and others see it too—and it is very rewarding.”
By pushing himself to constantly improve, Papa advanced from Concert Band to the more selective Wind Ensemble and Two O’Clock Jazz Band, where he plays the clarinet and piano respectively. He is also the pianist of a jazz trio he started with Ben Harris ’25 and Zachary Dupont ’23. In all these ensembles, Papa’s hard work and love for music shine.
“He’s got a ton of musical ideas [and] he helps refine the job that others are doing, all while performing at an excellent level himself,” Harris said. “And I would definitely say that that is an important quality of a leader, to bring the energy to other people, and have that energy yourself.”
Papa’s band instructor of four years, Steve Scott, appreciates his talent just as much as his bandmates. “He brings a wealth of conceptual knowledge, coupled with a deeply musical and expressive sense of style,” Mr. Scott said. “In Jazz Band, he often is a featured soloist who has a strong command of the jazz language through improvisation. In the Wind Ensemble [he] is a wonderful section leader who sets a strong example of excellence.”
Papa is Mr. Scott’s go-to pianist and has taken on such projects as playing in the orchestra pit for the high school’s production of Mamma Mia last year. Mr. Scott similarly turns to Papa’s trio whenever he needs a small band, whether it be at the National Honor Society induction ceremony or during back-to-school night.
Through his dedication to music, Papa has racked up an impressive list of achievements. He qualified for junior and senior districts throughout all four years of high school. Additionally, he won the MAJE Outstanding Musicianship Award and was selected as a Student of the Quarter for the Performing Arts department. His trio also won a silver medal at the MAJE Jazz Combo Competition, allowing them to perform at the Hatch Memorial Shell in Boston.
According to his bandmates, Papa’s drive to succeed carries over to many other areas of his life. “He does so many things; he’s excellent at the piano and clarinet, but he also runs and does a lot of hard classes at school,” Dupont said. “All those together is a lot of work, [and] it’s really impressive how he can get all that work done and excel in every area.”
Papa’s unwavering work ethic, however, has not hindered his unique sense of humor. From crafting funny nicknames to concocting elaborate short stories, both Dupont and Harris recognize that his ability to make others laugh has always been a core part of his personality.
“When we’re rehearsing outside of school [or] when we’re in a concert of some kind, he always livens up the mood and makes it interesting and funny,” said Harris. “He’s been an inspiration in music and also in what attitude you should have… to always approach things in good spirits and to know [that] regardless of stress, you can always be happy and have a positive impact on people.”
Despite his busy schedule, Papa still enjoys using his musical talents for personal passion projects, such as learning the accordion, ukulele, and recorder in his free time, creating piano arrangements for video edits, and using Garageband to craft complex musical creations by layering his performances of various instruments.
Papa will attend Yale University, and plans on taking his love for music — along with his determination and ambition in the discipline — to New Haven.
“I will have to build a lot from the ground up again. I [will] have to start from the bottom of the ranks, but it is a very rewarding and gratifying process,” said Papa. “In ninth grade, I started in Concert Band, I must’ve been third chair. Now I am the first chair in Wind Ensemble. It is a very nice progression, and I would be happy to do it again.”
Article written by WHS Bradford’s Adam Juma ’23
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