Obviously, Graef eventually received the cello she so coveted. She began studying cello when she was four years old and made her concerto debut at age 12. Her parents are both professional musicians — her father, Richard Graef, is the assistant principal flutist in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and her mother, Emily Seaberry Graef, is the founder and flutist of Chicago’s Juliani Ensemble. They encouraged her to pursue any career she desired and did not want to pressure her to follow in their musical footsteps — but she did anyway.
Graef was home schooled until junior high school, which gave her a flexible schedule to practice cello, explore Chicago and get involved in a number of other activities. She was a competitive horseback rider until college, played volleyball for six years, trained in ballet for seven years and studied piano for 10 years. She was also involved in sports, art classes, photography and worked on her high school year book.
“There were a lot of other things that I really enjoyed doing, but I never seriously considered anything else,” Graef says. “I feel like most of my formative years were me planning for the future and banking on becoming a professional musician.”
She was able to sample what life was like for professional musicians through her parents. When her father went on tours with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Graef, her mother and siblings went with him. Together, they visited Europe and China.
Graef earned her bachelor’s degree in cello from the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance. When she arrived at CCM to audition for the college’s graduate cello program, a few professors encouraged her to attend an introductory meeting about the CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship.
“I was blown away,” she remembers. “It sounded like an incredible opportunity at a great place while getting a degree, which was really important to me.”
“I think it’s definitely accomplishing its goal in helping prepare you for the future through academic training and professional experience,” Graef adds about her experience in the program so far. “Getting a master’s degree debt-free is amazing.”
The CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship accepts up to five fellows each year, and is currently accepting applications for the 2019-21 class. Fellows perform the equivalent of five weeks per season with the CSO while enrolled in a two-year Master of Music or Artist Diploma degree program at CCM. Each Fellow receives full tuition scholarship support from CCM, in addition to a $10,000 per year graduate stipend and a one-time Graduate School Deans Excellence Award of $3,000. Each Fellow also receives compensation of $8,000 per season while performing with the CSO.
As a master’s student, Graef balances her time between course work and performance work. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays tend to be busier days where she is usually at school from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in a mix of classes and ensemble meetings. Her fall semester at CCM includes courses in music theory, music history, a chamber music seminar with the Ariel Quartet and more. After class, she practices cello or works on school projects.