Sensory Percussion: Q&A with Alumnus Ben Sloan on His Work with The National

Ben Sloan is a musician, producer and teacher who is passionate about making music accessible to all. Last year People’s Liberty awarded the CCM alumnus with a $10,000 grant to build Percussion Park in East Price Hill. This year he’s experimenting with sensory percussion, which led to a performance as Artist-in-Residence at The National’s Homecoming Music Festival in April and a short tour with the rock band.

Ben Sloan. Photo by Ryan Back.

Ben Sloan. Photo by Ryan Back.

Sloan (BM Jazz Studies, 2011) is grateful for the opportunity to tour with The National and thinks they will work together again in the future. He’s now on a two-week tour with local ensemble A Delicate Motor, which releases a new album Fellover My Own on June 29. Later this summer, Sloan will travel to Berlin to participate in an experimental music festival called PEOPLE.

When he isn’t performing, Sloan works as a teaching artist at MYCincinnati, an after school youth orchestra program directed by CCM alumnus Eddy Kwon (BM Jazz Studies, 2011). He teaches the pre-orchestra students, ages 5-10, in a class that combines singing, movement and percussion.

We caught up with the busy alumnus to talk about his work with sensory percussion and his experience with The National.

What is sensory percussion? When did you start working it?
Sensory Percussion is amazing, and that’s about 90% of what you need to know. It was developed by Sunhouse, and though it’s making the rounds with musicians all over, it is still a relatively new technology. Sensory Percussion is essentially a collection of sensors (you can use up to four), which attach to a drum. Using a corresponding software, the sensors analyze the vibrations of the drum to determine where the player is hitting, i.e. the center, the rim, the shell, the edge, etc.

It’s up to the player to “teach” the sensors how and where one prefers to hit the drum — it is a very individualized system. This “mapping” of the drum allows the player to specifically pinpoint quadrants of the drum and assign samples, midi data, effects and a host of other functions. The result is a totally dynamic and fluid interplay between electronic, sample-based sound and acoustic drumming. I’ve had the sensors for about a year now, and over the past few months I’ve been really digging into them. They are so powerful, it’s incredible. I think the open ended nature of the software, makes the sensors so compelling. No one really sounds the same, because it’s up to the player to set the musical palette and craft the sounds.

How do you incorporate sensory percussion in your work with music groups and local projects?
Since they are still a bit new, I haven’t fully utilized them with any projects other than my own. For the longest time I sort of felt that the music I created through recording and manipulating samples wouldn’t or couldn’t be realized in a live context, but with the sensors, I can take a lot of that material and produce it live, or even embellish the sound. They are just really dynamic instruments.

I’ve brought them to MYCincinnati for our students to use, but because this technology is so new and exciting to play it makes normal drums less enticing. I have to win them back over by playing something really fast or loud — it only kind of works.

You also brought this percussion style to the National’s Homecoming Festival. How did you get involved in the festival?
I ended up using sensory percussion pretty heavily at Homecoming. I was working with A Delicate Motor ensemble to write a set of new music, but I knew I wanted to do something entirely on my own, which was impetus for writing some music with the sensors. The process was an endless tweaking of a sound palette until I could improvise an entire piece. From those improvisations, I would distill whatever I thought was good, and cut out the rest.

I got involved with the festival through Bryan Devendorf, drummer of The National. He’s always been inviting, and over the years we’ve gotten to know each other a bit. He reached out to meet while I was touring with the band WHY? and since then we’ve stayed in touch. He asked if I would be interested in being this year’s artist-in-residence at the Homecoming Music Festival, something they hadn’t done in the past, and I said ‘yes, like duh, of course!’

What was performing with The National at the festival like? Any plans to reconnect with The National in the future?
It was affirming. I spend a lot of time being critical of my work and my abilities, but when artists on that level invite me to play, it’s feels like a major validation of the hours put in. It’s also time to step up and not look like a doofus on stage! I mean, I totally ‘look’ like a doofus, cause that’s how drummers look when they play, but I think it sounded good.

Ben Sloan at The National's Homecoming Festival in April 2018.

Ben Sloan at The National’s Homecoming Festival in April 2018.

After the Sunday night show, The National invited me out for a short tour, so I ended up hopping on the bus for a few days with them. It was a treat to spend some time with the band, and see everything behind the scenes — touring on that scale is crazy! They had such a big crew, all of whom were kind and patient. I’m still reflecting on it all. I’m just grateful. I’m not sure how or when, but I think we will work together again!

What else are you working on right now?
A Delicate Motor started a two-week tour on June 18. We have a lot of momentum from the festival, and the record Fellover My Own is due to be released on Sofaburn later this month. Our album release is June 29 at Northside Tavern. I’m trying to invest as much time in my solo project as possible. It’s still so fresh, but I hope to put out an EP in the coming months.

Later this summer, Price Hill Will/MYCincinnati, in collaboration with The Contemporary Arts Center is hosting the third annual Price Hill Creative Community Festival, which is an ever-evolving and beautiful festival. Each year we host artists-in-residence to work collaboratively with MYC students for two very intense weeks. Along with the artists in residence, the festival curates a huge array of great performers to come do their thing. This year we are hosting cellist and composer Tomeka Reid, who has cultivated some powerful momentum in the Chicago improvisation and jazz scene. I strongly encourage you to go check her work immediately! We also have Josiah Wolf (CCM alum), multi-disciplinary arts collective Collaborative, Jarrod Cann and Paradox Teatro. The full list of artists, and their work is listed online at creativecommunityfestival.org/artists.

That Price Hill Creative Community Festival usually consumes me in the best possible way. It’s happening on August 3-4, the performances are unique and sometimes challenging, it’s all ages, we have great local food and admission completely free!

 

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International Trombone Festival Features Performances by CCM Alumni

CCM alumni are preparing to take over that stages at the International Trombone Festival, which features performances and recitals from a number of alums and professor Tim Anderson. Hosted at the University of Iowa, the festival runs July 11-14, 2018.

The Elysian Trombone Consort. From left to right, Chad Arnow, Nate Silar, Brett Shuster and Timothy Anderson.

The Elysian Trombone Consort. From left to right, Chad Arnow, Nate Silar, Brett Shuster and Timothy Anderson.

The festival features a performance by the Elysian Trombone Consort, which includes Nate Siler (DMA Trombone, 2012), Chad Arnow (BM Trombone, 1997; MM Trombone, 1999; DMA Trombone, 2014), Anderson and Brett Shuster. The quartet will give a new music recital at 1:30 p.m. on July 11 at the festival.

Devoted to the development of trombone repertoire, the Elysian Trombone Consort frequently premieres and performs new works including the compositions of David Fetter, Rodney Oakes, Frank Gulino and John Siler. The group also premiered John Crouch’s Concerto for Four Trombones and Wind Ensemble with the Peabody Wind Ensemble and previously with the CCM Wind Symphony and Wind Ensemble in 2012.

On the second day of the International Trombone Festival, alumnus Russ Zokaites (MM Trombone, 2010; DMA Trombone, 2017) presents a lecture on commissioning new music at 9 a.m. and a recital of new works for bass trombone at 11:30 a.m.

Russ Zokaites.

Russ Zokaites.

Zokaites will be assisted by alumna Brianna Matzke (MM Piano Performance, 2011; DMA Piano Performance, 2014) and Anderson. His recital features works by Will Timmons (MM Trombone Performance, 2009), Inez McComas (DMA Composition, 2009) and Carrie Magin (MM Composition, 2010; DMA Composition, 2013).

“I aim to increase appreciation for classical music through education and performance,” Zokaites says. “By creating a community surrounding musical pursuits, we can make music for everyone. Collaboration creates energy and excitement. This enthusiasm is contagious and encourages curiosity in audience members. We create for them.”

Zokaites has commissioned and premiered 19 works that utilize the bass trombone, and he has performed new music at the American Trombone Workshop, the International Horn Symposium, National Sawdust and the ArtSeedZ Festival in the Netherlands. He was a fellow at the 2012 Alessi Seminar and is an artist for Lätzsch custom trombones.

The International Trombone Association, whose mission is to promote the trombone and all trombone-related activities around the world, hosts the annual International Trombone Festival at a different university each year. In addition to the festival, the I.T.A. also produces a quarterly magazine, publishes sheet music, commissions new works for trombone and holds competitions, along with other activities. Visit the festival’s website for more information.

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CCM Sound Design Alumnus Wins Daytime Emmy for Disney’s Broadway Hits Broadcast

Theatre will always be Matt Kraus’ first love, but the CCM alumnus has made a name for himself by taking on diverse sound design opportunities in multiple mediums. He’s worked on theatrical productions with Liza Minelli and Kristen Chenoweth, and has also been involved in many live telecasts such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar live in concert.

Most recently, Kraus (BFA Sound Design, 2001) won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Sound Mixing for his work on the TV broadcast of Disney’s Broadway Hits at Royal Albert Hall. Directed by Jeff Lee, the production brought well-known Disney artists and beloved hits to the London stage.

The broadcast featured the BBC orchestra, led by Keith Lockhart, and nine Broadway vocalists including CCM alums Alton Fitzgerald (BFA Musical Theatre, 1986) and Ashley Brown (BFA Musical Theatre, 2004). It also included the West End cast of Aladdin, a children’s choir of 100 singers and award-winning composer Alan Menken. Kraus has worked on similar shows with Disney over the years but says that this production was much larger.

“The logistics were daunting, as we were loading into the iconic venue and performing all in the same day,” he remembers. “We prepared for months to make sure that once we arrived at Royal Albert Hall, we would have all the tools at hand that we’d need to do the show.”

“The hardest part was keeping the audio team on track to make sure that we kept up with the tight schedule and quality of the audio. All that while getting nine primary vocalists and a world-renowned orchestra comfortable and happy with the sound.”

Disney’s Broadway Hits at Royal Albert Hall aired to much acclaim internationally on SKY TV, Broadway HD and BBC Radio. Kraus says he has enjoyed his work with Disney Theatrical because the productions always bring together a talented team of artists, musicians and directors.

Kraus has worked on many live telecasts, including Macy’s July 4th Fireworks, Tony Bennet’s 90th Birthday Celebration at Radio City, The Wiz, Peter Pan, The Sound of Music and the 2016 International Jazz Day broadcast live from the White House. He has also been the audio coordinator on remote shoots of the Tonight Show, which has filmed all over the country. He’s worked on hundreds of high-profile events like iHeart Radio’s annual Music Festival in Las Vegas, a Gucci/H&M Fashion Show featuring Prince and Nicki Minaj, and Elton John’s 60th Birthday Celebration at St. John the Divine.

Kraus is now a nationally-known sound designer, but he still fondly remembers his time as a student at CCM. He recalls countless late nights drafting and finishing CCM tech rehearsals and finishing the long days with “a milkshake at UDF and a high five.” He credits CCM with molding him into the sound designer he is today.

“Current students should be open to all kinds of opportunities that may come their way,” Kraus advises. “It’s normal to be focused on one medium or design aspect, but there are so many rewards to becoming a well-rounded artist with diversified projects.”

“Theatre will always be my first love, but I’ve had some really amazing experiences working on concerts, live events and television.”

Learn more about CCM Sound Design at ccm.uc.edu/theatre/tdp/sound.

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CCM Alumnus Marcus Shields Returns As Visiting Assistant Professor of Opera Directing

UC College-Conservatory of Music Interim Dean bruce d. mcclung has announced the appointment of CCM alumnus Marcus Shields (MM, 2015; AD, 2017) to the position of Visiting Assistant Professor of Opera Directing. Shields’ appointment will officially begin on Aug. 15, 2018.

Shields is a New York City-based director who specializes in the presentation and performance of classical music and opera. His experience ranges from installation/performance art to fully produced theatre, blending his artistry as a pianist, singer, visual artist and director into works that probe the boundaries of genre.

He has served on the directing staff of the Lyric Opera Chicago, Atlanta Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Wolf Trap Opera and the Curtis Institute of Music. Directing credits include La Vida Breve with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and Northern Kentucky University School of the Arts, and a touring production of The Bolcom Cabaret with engagements at the Neue Galerie in New York and the National Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington, DC.

Recently, Shields directed Bernstein’s Mass at Cincinnati’s May Festival, which attracted a sold-out crowd at Music Hall. At CCM he directed a semi-staged production of Arthur Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake and the 2017 Mainstage Opera production of Mozart’s Idomeneo, which was praised by arts reporter Janelle Gelfand as “striking” and a “rare treat.” In the fall of 2018, Shields will direct Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at New York City’s Madison Theater.

Recipient of the 2018 Stage Directing Fellowship at San Francisco’s Merola Opera Program, Shields holds a Master of Music degree in Voice and an Artist Diploma degree in Opera Direction from CCM. In 2017 he was a recipient of the Drama League Opera Directing Fellowship in conjunction with the Metropolitan Opera and Wolf Trap Opera.

On the announcement of Shield’s appointment, mcclung commented:

“CCM opera and voice students will benefit from Shields’ expertise as an opera director, visual artist and diction coach. His experience at San Francisco’s Merola Opera Program, Atlanta Opera and Chicago’s Lyric Opera promises to enrich CCM’s renowned opera program, ranked third in the country according to the most recent U.S. News and World Report ranking. I am grateful to the Search Committee Chairs Alan Yaffe and Robin Guarino for their collaborative effort on this successful search.”

Please join us in welcoming Marcus Shields to the CCM family!

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Cover artwork for CCM's 2018-19 Mainstage Series Subscription Brochure.

CCM 2018-19 Mainstage Series Subscriptions On Sale Now!

New subscription packages are now on sale for CCM’s 2018-19 Mainstage Series of Acting, Dance, Musical Theatre and Opera Productions. With CCM’s streamlined subscriptions, it has never been easier to get the best seats at the best prices. Arts lovers can simply mix and match the shows they want to see with customizable eight, six, four or three-show packages. Subscription orders placed before Sept. 10 will get seated before any single ticket buyers!

Cover artwork for CCM's 2018-19 Mainstage Series Subscription Brochure.

About CCM’s 2018-19 Mainstage Series
CCM was recently declared “Best of Cincinnati” in CityBeat‘s annual readers’ choice poll, but the best is yet to come with CCM’s 2018-19 Mainstage SeriesFrom October 2018 through April 2019, CCM presents eight masterworks spanning the spectrum of theatrical arts, including:

  • the best of comedic and dramatic acting with The Government Inspector and Our Country’s Good,
  • classic and contemporary musicals with Guys and Dolls and The Hunchback of Notre Dame,
  • great operas from master composers with Britten’s The Turn of the Screw and Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito,
  • and innovative dance programs with Birthday Variations and Cinderella!

Last season, single ticket buyers missed out on sold-out performances of Hamlet, Seussical (voted the year’s “Best Play” by CityBeat readers), Candide and Jesus Christ Superstar. Subscribers have a guaranteed seat to see the phenomenal talent and polished professionalism of CCM’s young performers. Download CCM’s 2018-19 Mainstage Subscription Brochure to learn even more about our upcoming productions!

Ordering Your Subscriptions
CCM’s customizable subscription packages range in price from $81-$192. Download our 2018-19 Mainstage Subscription price sheet, seating chart and order form for complete details. Then choose your shows and select whether you want seats in Section A (the best views) or Section B (the lowest prices). To pay by check, simply return your order form by mail or drop it off at the CCM Box Office in the Atrium of CCM’s Corbett Center for the Performing Arts. For credit card transactions, call the Box Office.

The CCM Box Office staff is always ready to answer your questions by phone at 513-556-4183 or by email at boxoff@uc.edu.

Don’t wait to get the best seats at the best prices!
Single tickets go on sale Sept. 10, 2018.

CCM Season Presenting Sponsor: The Otto M. Budig Family Foundation

CCM Mainstage Season Production Sponsor: Macy’s

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CCM Welcomes Kathleen Kelly as New Associate Professor of Opera Coaching

CCM Interim Dean bruce d. mcclung has announced the addition of Kathleen Kelly as the college’s new Associate Professor of Opera Coaching. An accomplished opera coach, conductor, pianist and teacher, Kelly’s appointment begins on Aug. 15, 2018.

Kelly currently serves as an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance. She joined the faculty in 2015 as the school’s first coach/conductor of opera. While there, she conducted performances of Giulio Cesare, Così fan tutte, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dinner at Eight, the difficulty of crossing a field and L’heure espagnole/Gianni Schicchi, which won the American Prize in Opera Performance. She also led workshops for The Dream of the Red Chamber, Kept and Black Clown and oversaw the musical preparation for the university-wide performances of the new critical edition of Porgy and Bess.

Kelly was the first woman and first American named as director of musical studies at Vienna State Opera, where she oversaw the daily musical life of more than 50 ensemble singers in more than 50 operas from 2010 to 2013. She also curated a recital series in the opera house’s famous Mahlersaal and served as the series’ principal pianist. She was the recitative accompanist for new productions of The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, and assisted Maestro Franz Welser-Möst on new productions of Kát’a Kabanová and Z mrtvého domu.

Before moving overseas, Kelly served as the music director of the Houston Grand Opera Studio as well as the company’s head of music staff from 2006 to 2010. Highlights of these years include conducting her own chamber music arrangement of Hansel und Gretel in a remarkable production by Basil Twist, serving as pianist for the Eleanor McCollum competition and curating the HGOS recital series at Rienzi.

From 1997 to 2006, Kelly served as an assistant to the music director at the Metropolitan Opera, specializing in the works of Wagner, Strauss and Berg. During that time, because of her success as a prompter and musical assistant, she was the focus of a Wall Street Journal article and a Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast feature. From 2005 to 2008 Kelly was also the music director of the Berkshire Opera, conducting two productions each summer and overseeing the young artist program.

As a conductor, Kelly has led the 2018 Schwabacher Concerts at the San Francisco Opera’s Merola Program, Francesca Zambello’s critically acclaimed Ariadne auf Naxos at the Glimmerglass Festival (nominated for an International Opera Award), The Marriage of Figaro at Wolf Trap, the premiere of Emmerich Kálmán’s Arizona Lady at Arizona Opera, Carmen and Madama Butterfly at Opera Columbus, Hansel und Gretel at El Paso Opera and the Alexandria Symphony in Virginia. She also conducted the West Coast premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon’s A Coffin in Egypt, starring Frederica von Stade.

Kelly earned Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees in piano performance from Arizona State University and received a Fulbright Scholarship in Music to study at the Musikhochschule Lübeck in Germany.

She has performed internationally as a recital pianist, including performances at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Vienna’s Musikverein and Tucson’s Desert Song Festival. Her recital partners have included Jamie Barton, Thomas Hampson, Renee Fleming, Christine Goerke, Albina Shagimuratova, Valentina Nafornita, Patrick Carfizzi, Michael Kelly, Jill Grove and Troy Cook.

Kelly has taught master classes in the United States and internationally, including at Interlochen Academy, CCM, Baylor University, Vanderbilt University, Arizona State University, Western Ontario University, Peabody Conservatory and Moscow Conservatory, among others. She is also a regular guest coach for Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz program, and works regularly with young artist programs nationally, notably at the Los Angeles Opera, the Chicago Lyric Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, Seattle Opera and in the CoOperative Training Program at Westminster Choir College.

Additionally, Kelly is gaining recognition as a writer of articles, translations and original texts. She has written lead program articles for Wolf Trap, Houston Grand Opera and Arizona Opera. For the Arizona Lady performances, she created a new trilingual adaptation of the libretto. She also wrote the text Texanische Liebeslieder, a song cycle by David Hanlon, which premiered in 2015.

Most recently, Kelly wrote a new English translation Hansel und Gretel for Tri-Cities Opera. She was also commissioned by Wolf Trap Opera to write the libretto for Listen Wilhelmina!, a children’s opera that premiered in May 2017.

Interim dean mcclung thanks the search committee, co-chaired by Alan Yaffe and Robin Guarino, and committee members Amy Johnson, Marie-France Lefebvre and Michelle Conda for their work on finding CCM’s new associate professor of opera coaching. He adds,

“Professor Kelly brings a wealth of experience and artistry both nationally at the Metropolitan Opera and internationally at the Vienna State Opera to CCM’s nationally ranked and internationally renowned opera program.”

Please join us in welcoming Kathleen Kelly to the CCM family!

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Jiaen Zhang.

Piano Student’s Perseverance Takes Her from Hit and Run to Graduation

Jiaen Zhang.

Jiaen Zhang.

After being seriously injured by a hit-and-run in fall 2016, Jiaen Zhang was afraid she wouldn’t be able to fully recover to become a professional pianist. Thanks to her dedication, and the support of faculty and friends, the CCM piano student overcame her injuries and walked proudly with the Class of 2018 at this year’s Graduation Convocation on April 28.

Around 10 p.m. on Sept. 8, 2016, Zhang finished practicing piano in CCM’s Memorial Hall and began her walk home. As she crossed Calhoun Street, she was struck by an SUV, which threw her 20 feet and knocked her unconscious.

She woke up with fractures in her right hand and thigh, brain trauma and bruises on her lung and liver. After multiple surgeries on her thigh and hand, Zhang remained at the UC Medical Center for 20 days in recovery. Her thigh healed rapidly, but her hand remained in a plaster cast for three months.

“The flexibility of the joints in my third finger was completely lost,” Zhang remembers. “I had to start at zero, trying to at least move my injured finger. It took me two weeks before I could move it a single inch.”

While she recovered, her classmates and teachers at CCM sent her “heart-warming” messages, including a card with more than 60 signatures. Interim Dean bruce mcclung and Piano Department Chair Michael Chertock kept Zhang’s family in China updated throughout the ordeal. CCM Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Director of Graduate Studies Scott Lipscomb and the CCM College Office staff helped her make up missed classes so she would graduate on time. Zhang says her appreciation to them all “is beyond words.”

Chertock worked with Zhang to create a “back to piano” plan for her recovery. They began with simple pieces to rebuild the muscles in her injured hand. Chertock told her that the technical problems in her playing could be fixed with the right mindset.

“When you have the imagination and passion for music, your hands will find their own way to achieve whatever you want to do,” she says.

On Feb, 7, 2018 — year and a half after the hit and run — Zhang held her senior recital in CCM’s Robert J. Werner Recital Hall. She played a Mozart sonata, Alexander Scriabin’s Prelude and Nocturne for the Left Hand and Brahms’ challenging Op. 118. Chertock calls the recital a “heroic conclusion to a year and half of struggle.”

“She endured surgical screws in her right hand, multiple surgeries on her leg and a great deal of pain and scarring without the slightest trace of bitterness or anger,” Chertock says. “She rebuilt her piano playing and developed a style that is more broad, deeper into the keyboard and sustained.”

Zhang came to Cincinnati from her hometown of Guangzhou, China, to study at CCM. She says she was drawn to the college by its distinguished faculty and the artistry of its students.

“Since my first year here, I’ve learned a lot from the faculty and students,” she says. “In this environment, my studying and growth are not limited to only classrooms and lessons. It’s exciting to feel myself improve every minute. The friendly atmosphere encourages and reminds me to help my peers and people who haven’t had the advantage of studying music.”

Zhang was particularly fond of the piano repertoire class she took with instructor Andy Villemez, who recently won UC’s Outstanding Adjunct Instructor Award. The class gave her a broader understanding and knowledge of piano music, which helped her become more comfortable and confident when she gives lessons and presentations, she says.

“It taught me historical facts of piano music and how to better share this knowledge with audiences,” she says. “Rather than simply teaching my students how to play a nice sound, I can lead them to think about music in a more critical way by giving them the historical context of the pieces.”

She will continue studying with Chertock over the summer to prepare for her solo recital in China in September — it will be her debut in her home country after graduating from CCM with a bachelor of music in piano. After the recital, she plans to give piano lessons at a private music school in China.

“Jiaen’s calmness, courage and perseverance were ultimately able to overcome the reckless act that injured her,” Chertock says. “I will always remember her sincere desire to heal and refusal to live in despair.”

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