For DonorsFor Applicants

Chang Heaton Scholarship for Music Excellence

Funded by
5 winners, $500 each
Application Deadline
Jul 28, 2023
Winners Announced
Aug 28, 2023
Education Level
Undergraduate, Graduate
Recent scholarship winners
Eligibility Requirements
Education Level:
Undergraduate or graduate student
First-generation student
Field of Study:
Music or theater

The arts are essential to a vibrant culture, a thriving economy, and a creative society. 

Unfortunately, there’s often a lack of support for programs like music and theater, and many students are discouraged from pursuing their passions as a result. First-generation students and minority students face particular challenges when pursuing the arts due to a lack of mentorship and financial resources. 

This scholarship seeks to support first-generation BIPOC students who are pursuing careers in music or theater so they can find success through their passions. 

Any first-generation, BIPOC undergraduate or graduate student who is pursuing a degree in theater or music may apply for this scholarship. 

To apply, tell us why having a career in the arts is important to you.

Selection Criteria:
Ambition, Need, Boldest Profile
Published September 1, 2022
Essay Topic

Why is having a career in the arts important to you?

400–600 words

Winning Applications

Alexandra Tejada
California Institute of the ArtsLos Angeles, CA
Wesley Mac Hermanus
Berklee College of MusicBoston, MA
Throughout my life, I have discovered an unwavering passion for music and the arts. From my earliest memories, I was captivated by the harmonies that filled the air, drawing me into a realm where emotions were painted with melodies and rhythms. It was in those moments that the significance of a career in the arts took hold of my heart and forever imprinted upon my soul. For me, having a career in the arts goes beyond a mere profession; it is a way of life. The arts provide a unique avenue for self-expression and creativity. They grant me the opportunity to communicate and share my emotions, thoughts, and experiences with the world. Through music, I can convey the deepest recesses of my soul, bridging gaps and forging connections with people from all walks of life. It is a universal language that transcends boundaries and speaks directly to the heart. Moreover, a career in the arts offers a platform to inspire and uplift others. I have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of music in the lives of individuals. It has the ability to heal wounds, evoke emotions, and ignite the flames of hope in the darkest of times. Just as music has touched my own life, I aspire to create an impact on others, to be a conduit of joy, hope, and healing through my artistic endeavors. It is a calling to share the beauty and power of music with as many people as possible, leaving a positive imprint on their hearts. A career in the arts also represents a lifelong journey of growth and exploration. It is an ever-evolving pursuit, where creativity knows no bounds. Embracing a career in the arts means constantly challenging myself to push the boundaries of my own abilities, to delve into uncharted territories, and to embrace new techniques and styles. It is an endeavor that demands dedication, discipline, and a perpetual hunger for knowledge and improvement. Lastly, I recognize the profound responsibility that comes with a career in the arts—to contribute to the broader artistic community and nurture the talents of future generations. I am committed to sharing my knowledge, experiences, and insights with aspiring artists, guiding and inspiring them on their own creative journeys. By fostering a supportive and collaborative environment, we can collectively elevate the arts to new heights, leaving a lasting legacy that extends far beyond our individual contributions. In conclusion, a career in the arts is not only important to me; it is my life's purpose. It is a means of self-expression, a way to inspire and uplift others, and a path of continuous growth and exploration. Through my artistic endeavors, I aspire to leave an indelible mark on the world, reminding people of the transformative power of music and the arts.
Zayas Lanier
American Academy of Dramatic Arts-Los AngelesGlendale, CA
As a BIPOC individual who has experienced youth homelessness, holds previous art degrees, and triumphed over past abuse, having a career in the arts holds much importance to me. My journey has been a testament to the transformative power of artistic expression, and through my work in theater, dance, piano, and singing, I have found healing, growth, and a sense of purpose that I am determined to share with the world. Growing up as a BIPOC individual, I often felt like an outsider, marginalized by the world around me. Youth homelessness further exacerbated this feeling of isolation, making it difficult to envision a future where my dreams could come true. However, it was during these challenging times that I found solace in the arts. Whether it was losing myself in the rhythm of salsa or finding my voice through the piano, the arts became a sanctuary where I could be truly myself. These were expanded upon when I receieved past degrees in Graphic Design , Digital Media , & Visual Communications. My past experiences of abuse were particularly traumatic, leaving deep emotional scars that took time and effort to heal. Through this expression I found a therapeutic outlet for processing the pain and confusion. The arts allowed me to channel my emotions into a creative force, gradually transforming my pain into strength. It was in this journey of growth that I realized the immense potential the arts hold for healing and empowerment, both for oneself and others. Currently, I am actively involved in film, dance, and piano, honing my skills during the many current creative strikes. These outlets have become an integral part of my identity, shaping my perspective and influencing the way I approach life. In film, I discovered the power of storytelling, enabling me to find my inner voice and confidence. Dance taught me discipline and perseverance, showing me that every step forward, no matter how small, contributes to the grander narrative of progress. The piano has been my constant companion, allowing me to express myself when words fail and connecting me to the depths of human emotion. Moreover, my experience of singing at Carnegie Hall was a defining moment, not just in my artistic journey but in my life. It was a dream come true, affirming that with dedication and resilience, I can turn my aspirations into reality. Having a career in the arts is not just about pursuing a passion; it is about making a meaningful impact on the world. I believe that as an artist, I have the responsibility to use my talents to amplify the voices of marginalized communities, to advocate for social change, and to inspire others to find strength in their own stories. My journey as a BIPOC individual who has experienced youth homelessness, past abuse, and growth from those experiences, serves as a testament to the power of the arts to uplift, heal, and empower. In conclusion, having a career in the arts is not a mere choice for me; it is a calling that has emerged from the depths of my experiences and the resilience I have cultivated along the way. Through the arts, I have found purpose, healing, and the courage to embrace my true self. As an artist, I am committed to breaking barriers, shattering stereotypes, and creating a world where every voice is heard and celebrated. The arts have been my guiding light in the darkest moments of my life, and I am determined to use that light to illuminate the paths of others, spreading hope, joy, and empowerment through the transformative power of artistic expression.
Zachary White
Temple UniversityLancaster, PA
A career in the Arts is important for an individual who seeks a path of self-expression and creative fulfillment. Artists from various backgrounds such as painting, music, theater, and literature play important roles in our society helping to enrich culture, inspire change, and establish connections among people. For some time now I've been involved in the world of theater and it has given me an outlet like nothing has before. I have been able to do things such as process emotions, find personal growth and fulfillment, and help inspire others. The role of Jack, from the musical Newsies, came at a point in my life I could relate to him in so many ways. I was struggling mentally. I had just been adopted, a milestone that I should have been happy about, but ended up having the opposite effect. I was unsure of the direction of my life, and I just wanted to get away. Jack wanted to escape his life in New York after dealing with so much and move away to Santa Fe. The process of bringing him to life was one of the most therapeutic things I have ever done. I discovered how to process my emotions by getting to tell his story over and over every night on stage. Jack taught me to not run away from fears, uncertainty, and problems. Instead, both Jack and I learned to face our fears together on stage and that was when I realized I am, and will always remain, strong. As my drive to constantly improve keeps going, I find myself encountering challenges that push me beyond my comfort zone, pushing me to explore my abilities. And with the help of various mentors, I have been able to tap into things such as Empathy, adaptability, and emotions I have never thought id be able to . The process of bringing stories, such as Jacks to life instilled a profound sense of purpose, which will hopefully lead to a career that with each performance I do, I find out a bit more about myself. As a performer, I have witnessed how theater can ignite conversations, evoke emotions, and spark meaningful change in audiences. After my performance as Jack I received several messages from people who I went to school with. They told me how powerful it was to see a gay person of color leading a musical. Especially since it was a role that had been played by prodomantaley white gentlemen. They also told me that by watching me perform, they too felt a confidence in them to go out for things they wouldnt usually go for. I’ve learned that what is often performed on stage can almost always relate to real life topics, struggles, triumphs, and universal experiences, sparking some sort of internal thought amongst audience members. Through storytelling, I hope to touch hearts, open minds, and encourage empathy, contributing to a more compassionate and connected society. Theater has and will always be my guiding light on a journey of self-discovery, personal growth, and artistic fulfillment. As an outlet for emotions and a platform for storytelling, it has allowed me to channel my creativity and passion into something truly outstanding. The ability to inspire others and push boundaries is truly something special. As I continue on this path, I am driven by the thought that through theater, I am able contribute more empathy, inclusivity, and overall confidence to our society. The arts have the capacity to leave a lasting impact on individuals and communities, and I am eager to be a part of this profound artistic journey.
Thando Silinda
Berklee College of MusicBoston, MA
As a world, we have languages that help us to communicate with each other. Every language has its words, the pronunciation of those words, and the contextual meanings attached to them. You must understand how these three concepts interlink to express yourself fluently and meaningfully in any language. Music, as a universal form of communication, has proven to supersede all these language rules. As much as we can try to break down chords, and music theory and have debates on the power of expertly devised arrangements, it is difficult to explain why every human being can be touched by a song. My parents always told me that I learned to sing before I could even speak. The first songs I knew the lyrics to, were gospel songs. Even though I had no true understanding of religion or what it meant to believe in God, I knew that those songs made me feel connected to something bigger than myself. I knew that Cece Winans’ ‘Jesus, you’re beautiful’ reminded me of home and comfort. This deeply rooted and inexplicable effect of the melodies that help us express the non-verbal sensations experienced by all people, is the reason that the world will always need music. I needed a new way to communicate when I was 10 years old, dealing with my parent’s separation and the death of my grandfather. I had never had a single music lesson in my life but when I placed my fingers on my dad’s old keyboard, my first original song came to be. I knew that certain chords made me feel sad while others lifted my spirits. I knew that unfinished melodies felt like stories left without an ending. Without words, I knew how to speak. Music became my new language. At the age of 11, I could feel my frustrations vibrate in the air as I beat my first djembe drum. I understood the need for pain and sacrifice in life when I saw the lines indented in my fingers after I played a steel-stringed guitar for the first time at the age of 13. In that same year, the community I found in my school’s marimba band brought me the comfort I had never gotten at home. Before I realised it, music was all I knew. It was not long before my family became concerned with what they called my “obsession”. “You’re too intelligent to be an artist!” “But what will be your real job?” “You can always do music as a hobby.” I felt misunderstood by them. They did not see that this was the only way I knew to express myself. I felt selfish for wanting to choose music as a career until I found myself volunteering at the Dasha foundation, a school for mentally and physically disadvantaged children, during my final year of high school. Interacting with young humans who were unable to communicate with words, was what reminded me of why the world needs music. One student stood out to me, his name was Solumuzi and he was autistic. He struggled to read social cues and was unable to participate in verbal communication, but when it came to singing, he hit every note without hesitation. In every way that he was disabled physically and mentally, he was enabled to do in our music sessions. That is why I never gave up on my dream to pursue an education in music. We all deserve a chance to speak in a language that we understand and feel understood using. I want to be able to give that to people.
Keyen Vang
Regis UniversityThornton, CO
Growing up, I never knew what I wanted to be. A lot of kids around middle school and high school start to develop an understanding of what they want to do as adults. Many people go into science, striving to become doctors, nurses, or even physicists. Others tend to go towards other fields involving mathematics, education, or social sciences. However, I didn’t take an interest in any of these things. While I was good in math and psychology I always felt myself gravitating towards the thing I loved most, music. In high school, Choir was the only class I looked forward to every single day, regardless of what we were doing. I loved everything about music. From how expressive you could be to portraying a different emotion with just the sound of three notes played on a piano. Music and singing helped me express myself in a way words can’t and to this day continue to move me regardless of how complex or simple it is. When I got to college, my horizons started to expand on the possibilities that you could do. I soon went into the music program to see all of these different opportunities for a music career. This is when I found my love and passion for Music Production and Recording Arts. Being able to make and produce not only my music but other people’s music is something I wanted to do for so many years, but could never express. I feel that through this career, I can help others express their emotions or feelings around the world with something that I love. This career can also help me create music for others to enjoy and connect with. Whether it’s to help someone on a bad day or to help someone escape into another world, there’s a way to connect regardless. Having a career in music is so important to me, as music is my way of connecting and communicating with other people. I also want to show that as a person of color, this is another path that you can take. Other than my parents, I never had teachers or role models that looked just like me, and it was hard to see myself in any other position other than the stereotypes social media and movies portray of Asian Americans. I want to show others that you can pursue careers that you are passionate about or provide young Asian Americans with another role model that looks exactly like them. I understand how hard it could be to pursue something you love so much. As a first-generation college student, I understand the pressures and challenges of family members wanting you to become something you won’t be happy with. As they want to pursue careers such as doctors, lawyers, or even scientists. However, I want to prove that you can be just as successful in these careers when you choose something you are passionate about. Music has such a huge impact on my life, and I want to be able to use this as a career to help those around me. Connecting with people without words is such a powerful tool that I want to harness and use throughout my entire life. That is why a career in the arts is important to me. We need people who can connect and communicate with one another, without the difficulty of words. Music breaks the barrier between languages and words and is a universal language that I want to hone and use to help not only myself but those who need a connection.
Zyheim Bell
Rider UniversityTrenton, NJ
As a black musician, walking into choirs that aren't strictly gospel, auditions that aren't solely musical theatre or pop and r&b, I'm instantly put on the edge, like a mouse who has stepped foot into the lion's den. It's not hard to see that I don't belong; I'm not welcomed. That's been my constant battle every day I pursue my career in the arts. As P.O.C artists, we walk into an audition room and instantly see a sea of blondes and brunettes, reminding us we are walking into a world that is not made for us. Even when we have breakout artists like Paul Robeson and J'Nai Bridges and many other prominent black artists, we are still never respected. Their talents and accomplishments equated to them being diamonds in the rough. Baffled faces as I tell someone I'm singing a classical aria because "A black man doesn't sing opera." I've always struggled to find mentors because no one really wanted to take me on. I was new to them, an anomaly to their natural order. Comments about how "full" or "soulful" my voice was, or my favorite, the cold honest truth, "I don't know how to work with your type of voice." Professionals with years of training who couldn't work with my voice. That's why I work so hard to have a career in the arts. Representation matters, and it's essential to have it for younger generations. One face that's all I wanted, one face that looked like mine, a face that could tell me I was safe, I was okay! One person to say I have a voice like yours, one person to take me under their wing-like I saw so many of my white peers receive. I want more for us. I'm pursuing my career as a music educator to show younger generations that we can have this skin and sing in choirs; we can have this hair and be classical singers. Breaking down the look that has become ingrained into the professional singing world. Just one face being there who looks the same as those potential kids can inspire them. I want to train to be able to work with everyone's voices, not just the ones that fit my style and sound of singing. We deserve to be treated and seen as equals, and that starts with more of us developing the drive to pursue our careers in the arts.
Demetrius Calhoun
New York Conservatory for Dramatic ArtsBrooklyn, NY
Having a career in the arts is essential to me because of the simple fact that it is NOT just important to me but my liberation. As a developing adolescent with a slightly flamboyant flair, my family and I didn't have the luxury to do as we pleased or take up certain hobbies and other trades. We were movers, workers, and hustlers who were always on the go, just trying to gain all the knowledge we could to put food on the table to create small magical moments that were just half as good as any other typical family. From Backyard Birthdays, the Occasional but rare vacation out of state, to a simple evening stroll on the gentrified side of town and stopping at a quaint little bookstore, not to purchase the books, but to escape the world we know and into the pages while getting lost in that new book cover smell. We were simpler people then, limited in the spaces we were confined to, yet we made diamonds out of the stones we were given. Fun memories were made, but that's what it only became and remained; a memory. Life went on, and we returned to our demanding day and office jobs and the public school systems that reflected the struggling but hopeful community and lifestyle around us. School in Chicago, for me, was just a continuation of surviving the city itself. By surviving, I mean just getting through and making it to the next grade; after all, I didn't have the time to get caught up in the small things like maintaining friendships that last or going to after-school programs; the atmosphere and location were just too uncertain for all that. With that straightforward mentality, it was easy to stay focused and excel even if you weren't trying to, like a lack of rigor. With school not much of a threat, my parents were proud of me for being able to be on top of it. At the time, all they could ever want from me was to be myself, go to the top, and thrive. The problem was I didn't know how. I didn't know what I wanted and felt I did not have a lot of options at the time. Looking at my parents, I didn't get much of a clue either. My Dad dropped out of High School, married my Mom, and had a job as a server in a restaurant, while my Mom, who had me while in college, went on to work a regular office job. I was like a blank card in a UNO deck, feeling very out of place. I was meant to do something but felt lost; until one day it found me. Theatre. My Mom, unbeknownst to me, signed me up for a community production of Aladdin. During that entire experience, something clicked within me. Suddenly the world made sense, and it slowed down for me to be able to feel free. Things had nuance; there were characters with stories, and there was expression through songs and dance sequences. No part felt small or more prominent than what was showcased; I felt like I was a part of something bigger than myself, even if just for a moment. Though it took some time to build up, a career in the arts is vital to me because there is nothing quite like it. Since my first play, nothing has come close to my love for Theatre. I'm all in with no signs of withdrawing, no backup plan, nothing. The art form is my life's true purpose.
Michelle Leidecker
New York UniversityNew York, NY
It was the arts that first inspired me. I was 7 years old when I asked for my very own violin, and my mother, who knew nothing about music, scraped together enough to buy me one and get me lessons so that I could learn. Through my years at magnet art schools, I continued with music (eventually switching to cello) and was able to make friends, go to schools and extracurricular programs, and so much more because of that first ask for a violin. Having a career in the arts is important to me because not only did I make life-long friends within the artistic spheres that I was apart of, but also because I saw the positive change that it made in other people's lives. I had a lot of friends who came from underprivileged backgrounds, who were struggling to find their footing, and our identities, as first generation americans, and it was the arts and specifically in my case music, that allowed us to find common ground despite our endless amounts of differences. I want to be able to give those opportunities to others in a positive way for their own careers and stories. I want to be able to give the opportunities that I had, and that my mom and I worked so hard for together to others, and maybe give them the ability to have a career surrounded by something they love doing rather than something they took up just to make money or support their families.
River Tuason
University of California-DavisEmeryville, CA
In second grade we took turns answering, “If someone could play you in a movie, who would it be?” I sat there not listening to anyone except my own thoughts while I panicked. As the only Asian student in the class, I saw all eyes looking at me when it was my turn. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember how I felt. I felt stupid and thought it was so unfair these students had so many different choices. As much as my teachers encouraged imagination and dreaming big, I felt like that advice excluded me. Years later at 18 years old, I gained the confidence to know that I have the ability to change that perception. I think back to that experience and I think it’s interesting how small questions and experiences can have such an impact years later. Because around the same time that happened, I told my parents I wanted to be an actress. I just saw the Disney Channel and I thought it would be fun. It was a harmless little comment from a six year old. My dad pointed at the Olympics on the TV and said, “Do you see any of us winning? No. We stick to what we’re good at.” I didn’t understand why he said that. What was I supposed to be good at? Being against acting was no longer the main issue, but it was finding out what Filipino Americans are supposed to be doing. All my six year old brain picked up was, “No arts. You don’t belong there. Find something else.” And that stuck with me for over a decade. I never even thought about pursuing acting until the lockdown in 2020. I spent hours watching movies and I spent my time after class memorizing monologues. I feel a spark in me when I memorize monologues or watch recordings of myself. There’s a spark to do better or a spark of joy celebrating my performance. When I pursue my other hobbies like running or coding, I don’t feel that special spark. It’s a very specific feeling that I intend to chase for forever. I want to do art to make a change, to be that someone I longed for on the screen when I was younger. This goal and career of mine is important to me because it’s what I love. There’s no greater feeling than watching yourself nail a monologue. When you’re born, there’s no set path on which you should be on. Everyone should be able to choose who should play them in a movie without hesitation or shame.


When is the scholarship application deadline?

The application deadline is Jul 28, 2023. Winners will be announced on Aug 28, 2023.

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