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The department is pleased to announce the incoming class of Kenan Music Scholars. These four students were selected from a pool of over 200 applicants and hail from across the country. Their skills and interests are varied and we look forward to seeing all they accomplish during their time at UNC.

“Every year the level of talent seems to increase, and we have to make impossible decisions about which exceptional musician/scholars to invite to campus,” noted Professor Evan Feldman, Director of the Kenan Music Scholars Program. “This year we’re proud to welcome four students from North Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Missouri. They’re already mature musicians, and we can’t wait for them to bond with our current Kenan community and the entire department.”

Read more about Neha Bharadwaj, Kevin Chen, Michael O’Laughlin, and Ari Staggs below.

Neha Bharadwaj, horn

Neha BharadwajNeha Bharadwaj is from Dallas, Texas, and is set to begin her college journey as a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill with a double major in computer science and music. She has earned the distinction of being a Texas All-State musician and was a valued hornist in the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra. During her junior year of high school, Neha had the opportunity to study horn under the guidance of Wei-ping Chou as part of the National Youth Orchestra 2. This experience proved transformative as she got to perform alongside members of the New World Symphony in Miami, Florida.  Aside from music, Neha’s interest in computer science is evident, particularly focusing on artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the future of technology. 

Neha’s career goal is to secure a position in the computer science field while also pursuing her passion for teaching horn during her free time. Beyond her core interests, Neha enjoys staying active and maintaining a healthy lifestyle through her interests in fitness and nutrition. She is extremely honored to be the recipient of the Kenan Scholarship and hopes to make a positive impact in both the computer science and music disciplines during her time at UNC Chapel Hill and beyond.

Kevin Chen, clarinet

Kevin ChenKevin Chen is a freshman from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. At the age of nine, he started his musical journey under the guidance of Marguerite Levin at the New England Conservatory of Music in Massachusetts. Passionate about music, Kevin embraced band and chamber music, earning spots in the prestigious Clarinet Ensemble and Youth Repertory Orchestra at the Conservatory. After relocating to North Carolina in 2018, Kevin continued refining his clarinet skills with Donald Oehler and became a member of the Triangle Youth Philharmonic. Throughout his high school years, Kevin actively participated in bands, orchestra, and chamber music groups, and was given the opportunity to perform as a soloist with the concert band. Moreover, he served as the principal clarinetist in many ensembles, including high school Concert Band, Symphonic Band, All-District Honors Band, All-State Honors Band, and the NAfME All-National Honors Concert Band, earning recognition for his accomplishments with a John Philip Sousa Award at East Chapel Hill High School. Kevin is very excited to be a Kenan Scholar and plans to pursue Physics as a second major at UNC.

Michael O’Laughlin, drumset

Michael O'LaughlinMichael “MO” O’Laughlin (drumset), from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, started playing the drums at 4 years old. Growing up in New Hampshire, Michael played live at various blues and jazz clubs starting at 6 years old. Throughout middle school, Michael spent time playing in the youth orchestra at the University of New Hampshire, and with multiple bands locally. In his 8th grade year, he went on tour in China in coalition with National Geographic and the Confucius Institute, providing accompaniment for a film showcasing nature scenes from the US and China. Michael has experience writing and arranging music, having performed his original song “Tainted Blue” live at the University of New Hampshire with renowned UK-based pianist and composer, Will Todd. After moving to the greater Philadelphia region, Michael was made percussion section leader for his high school marching band his sophomore year, and led the percussion section of the Downingtown Blue and Gold Marching Band at the 2022 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, CA. He also attended the School of Rock in Downingtown, PA, where he was twice named a national All Star at School of Rock. Michael has studied primarily with John Medeiros Jr. of the (Joe Louis Walker Band) over the course of 13 years. He is double majoring at UNC with Jazz and Chemistry, and is honored to receive the Kenan Scholarship and positively represent the UNC community.

Ari Staggs, jazz piano

Ari StaggsAri Staggs is a first-year student from Kansas City, Missouri. Ari has played piano since the age of four, developing a keen interest in jazz entering high school. He studies with Roger Wilder, jazz piano instructor at UMKC, and renowned saxophonist Rob Scheps. Ari has performed twice in the Missouri All-State Jazz Ensemble, working with directors Sean Jones and Alan Baylock, played in the LiveJazzKC High School All-Star Big Band, and recorded two albums under a fellowship with Kansas City Area Youth Jazz. As well as piano, Ari has also played string bass for six years in both jazz and classical settings under the tutelage of James Albright, bassist in the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra. Ari served as principal bassist in the Youth Symphony of Kansas City and earned a spot in the Missouri All-State Orchestra. He plays jazz professionally in the Kansas City area, leading his own group, the Ari Staggs Trio, and has played with groups such as the Roger Wilder Trio, Rob Scheps Quartet, Herschel McWilliams Trio, Blue Noyes Trio, and the Jim Lower Jazz Orchestra. He has performed in Kansas City’s top jazz venues including The Blue Room, The Majestic, the Gem Theater, and Corvino Supper Club. Ari is honored to be a recipient of the Kenan scholarship and will double major in Jazz Studies and Statistics and Analytics while at UNC.

Learn more about the Kenan Music Scholars Program.

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