A Creative Thinker

Music major Joel Shimada accomplished an unparalleled feat for himself and California Lutheran University earlier this year. In January, the Music Teachers National Association’s Young Artist Competition named him one of seven finalists across the nation in the String category at the young artist level (ages 19-26). The cellist earned this distinction after outperforming multiple competitors across California and the region.

Competition: a Means of Self-Improvement

According to Shimada, the competition occurred in three phases. After winning in person for the state of California, he moved on to the southwest division competition, which was held virtually with video submissions. That phase included winners from the state competitions in California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. 

“I won this stage as well then proceeded to the final stage in which the winners from all seven divisions across the United States competed virtually,” said Shimada.

This is the second time Shimada participated at the young artist level and third time he’s been involved in the competition. While in high school, he competed at the senior level (ages 15-18), and the judges selected him as the alternate for his home state of Nevada. In 2020, he competed virtually due to the pandemic and won for Nevada. 

To ready himself for this year’s event, he prepared the same way he would have for any competitive audition. 

“To be honest, other than continuing to study and practice with the goal of improving my artistry, I did not employ any particular strategy with regard to the different levels of the competition,” said Shimada. “For me, the competition was not necessarily an end in and of itself, but a means by which I intended to foster self-improvement.”

Having played the cello since sixth grade, and he said that he enjoys the instrument’s versaitlity the most.

“It can play so many different roles in so many different types of ensembles and can be used to play a variety of genres,” said Shimada.

At Cal Lutheran, Shimada mainly studies the performance of western classical music, yet he appreciates jazz and would like to find ways to converge the two genres.

Finding Meaning in Music 

Shimada’s mentor Yoshika Masuda, DMA, assistant professor of cello and strings studies director, calls his student’s efforts “an unprecedented achievement for the music department.” 

Through Masuda, Shimada has learned myriad valuable lessons, yet paramount is the role of being inquisitive in art and life.

“He has always stressed the importance of understanding the reasoning behind all my artistic decisions,” said Shimada. “Sure, you can play music in a similar way to others, but you should never blindly follow unless you agree with the principles behind it. This of course seems obvious, but I, like many others, have fallen victim to societal pressures to conform to a certain way of doing things.”

He adds that  Masuda has emphasized he use his ears – and sensitivity - to guide him in finding meaning in music.

“I can affirm that this has had a drastic and lasting impact on me as an artist and free thinker,” said Shimada. 

When Shimada completes his studies in musical performance in 2023, he wants to forge a career in chamber music, a form of classical music composed for a small group of performers and instruments. He would like to tour and record musical works with his fellow chamber musicians yet is open to the opportunities that come with his craft.

“I very much enjoy playing solo works and performing in orchestral settings, but chamber music is where I feel the most gratification,” said Shimada. “Of course, I understand that the world is constantly changing and evolving, so my artistic endeavors, too, may adapt as I mature.” 

“For me, the competition was not necessarily an end in and of itself, but a means by which I intended to foster self-improvement,” said Shimada. 


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