Luke Payne ’18, a music and computer science major, plans to parlay his UMW degree into a music production career. Doesn’t hurt that he already has been on stage with the likes of Kristin Chenoweth, Tony Bennett, Renée Fleming and Henry Winkler. Oh – and he’s been playing gigs with a quartet for years.
Cellist Luke’s secret weapon as he begins navigating the world beyond Mary Washington is that he has played in the UMW Philharmonic – an opportunity that has allowed the 22-year-old to meet a myriad of celebrities and join fascinating musical journeys.
Oh – and that quartet? It’s comprised of a trio of other Philharmonic members: Zachary, Kaylee and Kelsey – all of whom share Luke’s last name as well as living quarters.
The four string-playing Payne siblings comprise a significant bloc of the 76-member orchestra. They not only belong to the Philharmonic, they are leaders in their sections, said Conductor Kevin Bartram, adding that they are an integral part of what makes the University-community orchestra so successful.
Asked his assessment of Luke’s commercial music production and recording artist aspirations, Bartram said, “He can do just about anything he sets out to do. He has talent, smarts, and initiative.”
In fact, Bartram said, those characteristics set all four siblings apart. “To me, they embody what is so positive about the Philharmonic – we may not all be blood-related, but we’re a real family.”
The Payne siblings’ actual parents, Jennifer and Kirby, have no musical inclinations, but they made certain their children had outlets to explore a variety of interests. The family lives in King George, where all four children were home-schooled – Dad, the naval base engineer, teaching math and science; and Mom focusing on English and the arts. All had piano lessons at an early age, and all gravitated toward stringed instruments: in addition to Luke on the cello; 19-year-old Kaylee, a UMW junior, plays viola; and on violin are the family’s oldest 24-year-old Zachary, a 2017 UMW grad, and youngest, 16-year-old Kelsey.
When asked what music means to them, Zachary said it best: “It’s just part of who we are; for us, playing is like talking.” He added that time with his violin also offers stress relief. For Luke, playing the cello is “a form of meditation.”
While the siblings spend a lot of time together – after all, they are the Payne Quartet, meaning that they play and practice with each other even when they’re not doing Philharmonic-related activities – they also practice solo. “We each have our own spaces at home,” Kaylee said. And yes – it sometimes makes for a noisy and discordant household. “Fortunately,” she added, “we have no close neighbors.”
Zachary started the UMW tradition. After spending a year at George Mason, he transferred to Mary Washington. The Philharmonic was a strong lure, as was the University’s robust computer science program. Luke enrolled the next year, and Kaylee followed suit. All have lived at home during their college experience. And all are applying their computer science expertise at Northrop Grumman in Dahlgren – Zachary works there full time, as will Luke after he graduates; Kaylee has a summer internship there.
As for Kelsey, all college bets are off. She has another year or two to decide where she’ll enroll, but she’s keeping her options open. All she knows is that she’s sticking with the UMW Philharmonic for the time being. When she auditioned and was accepted two years ago as a member of the Philharmonic, Bartram said the ninth-grader was the youngest person ever to join the orchestra. Her skills are outstanding, he said, as witnessed by her recent selection as area’s Young Artist Competition Instrumentalist of the Year.
In addition to meeting and performing with super stars on the Dodd Auditorium stage, the four Paynes have traveled with the Philharmonic to places like Ireland and California.
Bartram said Zachary, Luke, Kaylee and Kelsey add so much to the orchestra. “They literally embody the familial atmosphere of the Philharmonic. ‘Philharmonic’ means lover of music.” In that sense, each Payne is philharmonic.