South Fayette School District News Article

Music In Our Schools Month Feature

Music in our Schools Can Have Life-Changing Results

CJ Inkenhaus does not come from a musical family. His first exposure to instruments occurred in third grade at South Fayette Intermediate School, and it was a life-changing experience. 

Music is now a dominant feature of CJ’s life and that of his family, and he hopes to eventually turn his love of the double bass into a career. After high school, he plans to major in music performance to further study bass and ultimately pursue employment with a major symphony orchestra. 

“In the performing arts, we are seeing a tremendous narrowing in the population of young people prepared for professional musical work – mostly confined to students from a few very large metropolitan areas and highly specialized training programs,” said Mr. Jeff Turner, who formerly played principal bass with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) and has been working with CJ since 2022. “I’m very happy that Pittsburgh’s culture still supports students like CJ, and parents like CJ’s, in pursuit of artistic endeavors that aim at a mission far higher than simple commerce.”

I have been delighted to witness CJ’s development into such a fine musician and artist,” Mr. Turner added. “His work ethic, curiosity, and desire to perform and create music with and for others give me hope that our future is not only about automation and production, but also about spiritual and human development.” Therefore, although CJ is only a high school junior, Mr. Turner encouraged him to take his talents to the collegiate level. 

Throughout the current academic year, CJ has been traveling to Duquesne University four days a week after school to take classes in Orchestral Literature and Repertoire and practice with the university’s symphony orchestra in which he is third chair. CJ was also selected to Duquesne’s Emerging Musicians Program for the spring semester. One of six area students to garner acceptance, CJ is receiving 14 private lessons with professor Aaron White, culminating in a recital in May in the PNC Recital Hall at the university’s Mary Pappert School of Music. 

Also, during this academic year, CJ has earned the position of principal for District 1 Orchestra through the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA). He qualified at the District 1 Festival to move on to the Western Region Orchestra, and, during a performance the weekend of March 23, he was selected to advance to the state-level competition in April. He also recently completed an extensive commitment to the pit orchestra for the high school’s musical performance of “Beauty and the Beast.”


As he considers his next steps after high school, CJ spent several days in December with his dad touring East Coast music schools. The trip included the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia (where he was fortunate to also score a lesson), New York’s Juilliard School, and the New England Conservatory in Boston. CJ has already applied to Curtis knowing that they’ll likely only accept 1-3 bassists for his freshman year. With 160 students who all attend for free, U.S. News and World Report ranked Curtis the hardest college to get into in 2022 at just a 4% acceptance rate. CJ also plans to visit Rice University in Texas and Indiana University - Bloomington where Mr. Turner teaches. 

But back to how it all started. CJ was nine years old when he spotted the bass in the music room at the Intermediate School. The instrument hadn’t been previously taught at this age in prior years, and it was bigger than CJ*, but he didn’t mind. “I didn’t want to hear the squeak of the violin, and I liked the bass right away,” CJ recalls. Soon, he began taking lessons from Justin Bendelbeginning a mentorship with one of Pittsburgh’s most sought-after bassists that continues today.

“CJ is well-known for his facility and artistry on the double bass that is well beyond his years,” said Mr. Bendel. “Over the years, as his teacher and mentor, I have had the privilege to watch him grow into a fine bassist and am proud of him for his continued dedication to music and the instrument.” Mr. Bendel is currently an adjunct professor of double bass and electric bass with both Chatham University and Westminster College and serves as a bass instructor with Fox Chapel Area Schools.

In fourth grade, CJ picked up the euphonium (aka tenor tuba) but that large instrument didn’t hold his interest for long and he returned his focus to the bass. That year also led to auditioning for the Three Rivers Young People’s Orchestra (TRYPO), and CJ was able to begin playing with their Symphonette program. By seventh grade he moved into the YPO where he has been principal double bass for the past three years and also plays percussion. He continues to play with TRYPO as well as the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra (PYSO) with concerts coming up for both groups this May.

At South Fayette, CJ's proclivity for music resulted in him having the opportunity "play up" in each grade's orchestras prior to high school and to play in the pit orchestra for the annual SFHS musical as a 7th and 8th grade student. As his freshmen year approached, CJ decided to once again try his hand at some band instruments, in addition to his bass studies. He joined The Little Green Machine as a sousaphone player and also volunteered to play tuba and euphonium in the Concert Band and Wind Ensemble until he was able to officially enroll in Wind Ensemble this year. He also participated in the Pep Band and Jazz Ensemble during his freshmen and sophomore years. Much of his participation in South Fayette band has included working with director Eryn Carranza.

“The level of passion CJ has for creating music and playing bass is seldom seen in musicians of his age,” Carranza shared. “In a day and age where instant gratification is the norm, it is inspiring to watch a young man take such pride in the creative process, working tirelessly to learn more, perform more, and achieve his goals. Even as his musical accomplishments increase in number, CJ remains humble and is, most importantly, an amazing human, always willing to help others. It has been a true blessing to be a part of his musical journey.”

Junior year is often seen as the critical year for students planning to continue their education after high school. CJ has proven to be adept at balancing his high school coursework with the extra classes at Duquesne and countless performance commitments with South Fayette and outside organizations. He is carrying a 4.1 GPA which includes enrollment in three college-in-high school courses in German, Argument, and American Cultures, not to mention calculus and physics.

*A full-size bass is just about 6’3” from scroll to endpin (nearly matching CJ’s current height); at this time, he plays the more common ¾ size bass which is just shy of 6’ tall. 

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