Celebrating 45 Years of Mimi Scholars

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Sierra Allen was a DMA student at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, preparing for a performance and teaching career. In February 2022 she had just begun work on her dissertation, which focused on E-flat and bass clarinet doubling in chamber and orchestral music. And she already had a toehold in the competitive world of gigging with studio orchestras.

But there was one problem.

“When I accept a studio session, I don’t learn what instruments I need to bring until the day before, and sometimes the day of, the gig,” said Allen. “There I was, writing a dissertation on clarinet doubling, and I didn’t even have the doubling instruments! I had to borrow one from my teacher, who was always gracious about it. But there’s always a chance the instrument won’t be available. That’s a major stress when you are trying to make a living through freelancing.”

Then Allen won the Mimi Alpert Feldman Scholarship. Established in 1977, the scholarship has been awarded to more than 100 outstanding students, to help them complete their degrees and excel in the world of professional music. Mimi Alpert Feldman established the scholarship with funds set aside by the Herb Alpert Foundation.

Herb Alpert and Mimi Alpert Feldman in 2017, on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of the Scholarship’s Establishment

In 2022, The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music will celebrate an incredible forty-five years of Mimi Scholars. The annual scholarship—and Mimi Alpert Feldman’s dedication to helping students—has proven inspirational over the years. On the occasion of her 96th birthday, Herb Alpert has generously agreed to donate an additional $150,000 to bring the scholarship endowment over the $250,000 threshold.

“I can think of no better way of honoring my sister than to make an additional gift to a program that is so dear to her heart and that has changed the lives of so many young artists and scholars,” said Herb Alpert.

Having attended UCLA, Mimi Alpert Feldman wanted to put the money directly into the hands of music students, to help them achieve their dreams. “My greatest gift is to hear from all of you students,” she said on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of her scholarship’s establishment. “You are part of my life now and I want to be your friend and counselor and keep this music thing going.”

And help them she has. Mimi Alpert Feldman has personally contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the scholarship over the years. An astounding 90% of Mimi Scholars (as recipients are affectionately known) have gone on to academic, teaching and performance careers. All agree that the scholarship was important to their success.

“I was really in need of support as a graduate student,” said Ji Young An, who completed a DMA in violin performance at UCLA. “I didn’t have any family in Los Angeles.  I’m from South Korea, and I attended the Paris Conservatory, so coming to Los Angeles was about as far away from both as I could imagine.”

Scholarship support is always critical for students, whether it is to fund travel, research, competition entry, or just navigating the expensive Los Angeles metropolis. It was certainly important for Ji Young An, far from home and family and working to complete her doctorate and establish herself as a musician in Los Angeles.

“I really feel like Los Angeles is a place where anything is possible,” said An, “so long as you keep digging in.” Ji Young An is now lecturer in violin performance at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, as well as the associate concertmaster of the San Bernardino Symphony. She also plays regularly with the Santa Barbara Symphony and Santa Barbara Opera, in addition to recording regularly as a studio musician.

In Sierra Allen’s case, The Mimi Alpert Feldman Foundation Scholarship meant that she had the means to purchase two contrabass clarinets (E-flat and B-flat). It was a timely investment. In 2021, she was principal clarinet for several major film orchestra recordings, and more engagements are around the corner.

Allen’s story has a generational twist.

“The E-flat contrabass clarinet belonged to Gary Gray,” said Allen. Gary Gray was a legendary clarinet studio and recording artist. For fifty years, he was also the clarinet professor and the head of woodwinds at UCLA. Gray passed away in 2021. But now his clarinet will live on in the hands of a UCLA alumna, thanks to the Mimi Alpert Feldman Scholarship.