Nikka Gershman-Pepper ’26 Receives Prestigious Music Award!

Dillon Ring

Nikka Gershman-Pepper ‘26, a seventh grader at Harvard-Westlake (HW), has accomplished something rare. She won a silver medal at the ultra-competitive and prestigious Manhattan International Music Competition, which was held online this year.

The Manhattan International Music Competition has prodigy participants from everywhere, such as London, Tokyo, Seoul, and of course, Los Angeles. The competition gives away more than $50,000 in prizes to its winners, in addition to the opportunity to play at the iconic concert venue Carnegie Hall.

Gershman-Pepper is a talented flutist and composer, and has been passionate about her craft from a very young age. When she was just five years old, she began writing melodies, but she didn’t know notation yet, so she used capital letters to write notes, she said. When she was nine, she first learned to use the professional notation program, Sibelius, to write down her musical ideas, and has been using it ever since, she told me.

As of now, she has been playing the flute for nearly seven years and doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. Her favorite genre of music to play is classical, specifically from the Romantic period (c. 1800-1910), she said. She practices two or three hours every day, about 20 hours a week.

Gershman-Pepper participates in several music programs in and out of HW. She is part of the HW Middle School Symphony, the Diana Morgan flute studio, and the Los Angeles Youth Philharmonic. She was also recently invited to participate in flutist Jim Walker’s masterclass, which in turn inspired her to begin the next chapter of her youth career, virtual collaborations and performances, she said.

Virtual music is a relatively new concept in today’s world. They are performances in which each player records their individual part separately, and then editing programs are used to compile each person’s part to create a larger performance. Gershman-Pepper began using these to continue performing and playing during the COVID-19 quarantine. She uses the program Garageband for audio mixing and Adobe Premiere Rush for video editing. She has performed several pieces on her YouTube channel, The NGP Station.

This brings us to her recent participation in the fully online Manhattan International Music Competition. She had heard about this music competition through their online ads, which advertised a huge opportunity for any wind musicians up to the age of 15. She submitted a recording of her playing Fantaisie Pastorale Hongroise by Franz Doppler in June.

“That piece that really spoke to me,” Gershman-Pepper said.

From there, all there was left to do was wait.

The day she found out about the results of her submission was Halloween. Her immediate thoughts and reactions included disbelief, excitement, and a strong sense of satisfaction to see such profound results from her hard work, she said. She said she feels extremely grateful for her flute teacher, Diana Morgan, and the Middle School Symphony’s conductor, Emily Reola.

Gershman-Pepper says that her next steps include more online music competitions which just might allow her to continue improving her musicianship, and to play music at amazing venues like Carnegie Hall.

Her next project is a huge undertaking for any professional, let alone a 7th-grade student. Gershman-Pepper intends to write an opera. The process can take anywhere from two to three years, and she is just two months in, she said. Gershman-Pepper has been a passionate flutist and composer her whole life so far, and plans to continue doing just that.