Penn State College of Arts and Architecture
Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State

Sphinx violist Celia Hatton ‘grew up hearing a ton of world music’

By Teona Ringgold

Violist Celia Hatton is leaving her mark across the world. From New York City, where she is based, to South Korea, Hatton has played at festivals and toured nationally with a number of chamber orchestras. She also is a member of Sphinx Virtuosi, an orchestra of diversity that performed Latin Voyages: Viajes Latinos September 29 at Schwab Auditorium.

Hatton is the recipient of numerous awards, including honorable mention in the National Symphony Young Soloist Competition. With her former string trio, she won the Mozart Chamber Music Competition. She is also a founding member of conductorless string ensemble Shattered Glass, with which she has participated in educational workshops, commissioned new works, and recorded for Warner Bros.

She has appeared on NBC’s Today and performed on Saturday Night Live. She has performed with popular artists such as Pharrell, Justin Timberlake, Bastille, and Stevie Wonder. She can even be heard on the big screen in movies including Annie and Zoolander.

Hatton, an accomplished young artist of color, answers questions that touch on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the arts.

Teona Ringgold: When and why did you start playing?
Celia Hatton: I started taking piano lessons in kindergarten and then switched to viola in fourth grade in public school. I’ve looked up to my older brother my whole life, so when he started on piano and switched to cello, I figured I might as well do the same when my time came around. Hearing him practice cello in the living room made me fall in love with the deep sound of the cello, but I didn't want to be exactly the same, so he suggested viola instead. The world has enough violins, and who doesn’t want a C-string?

Ringgold: As a kid, did you know this is exactly what you wanted to do? Or did you just kind of stumble across it?
Hatton: As a kid I wanted to be an astronaut or a CEO. I didn’t know what CEO meant, but it sounded important. By sixth grade, I had a gut feeling my life would turn down the music path. I didn’t actively want to be a professional musician, but I felt a magnetic pull in that direction. My brother, Brian, was principal cello of his youth orchestra, took lessons from a member of National Symphony Orchestra, and won prizes in regional competitions. Childhood Celia wanted to be just like Brian. If he had become a professional truck driver, I probably would have aspired to be one, too.

Ringgold: Do you come from a musical background?
Hatton: My dad plays jazz sax, my mom is a classical clarinetist, and my older brother is a cellist. My dad also has a degree in ethnomusicology, so I grew up hearing a ton of world music.

Ringgold: Who has been a mentor to you or has inspired you throughout your career?
Hatton: All of my private teachers have been mentors. The teacher-student relationship in classical music is so crucial to development. I’ve been lucky to have teachers from the very beginning that nurtured and inspired me.

Ringgold: If you could play a piece with any musician, dead or alive, who would it be?
Hatton: I would love to play chamber music with Truls Mørk. I’m somewhat of a closet cellist, maybe even a closet bassist, too. I love his sound and sensitivity.

Ringgold: What are some songs on your playlist right now?
Hatton: Frank Ocean’s album Blonde.

Ringgold: Do you feel music and/or the arts in general should be added to school curricula?
Hatton: Definitely! Having a basic understanding or appreciation can add enrichment for the rest of someone’s life. I’m so thankful I took visual art classes in middle school and in my undergraduate degree because now I can go to an art museum in any city and find value. Same goes for physical education—I wasn’t blessed with good aim. I can’t kick a ball straight to save my life, but understanding the importance of physical activity has led me to embrace dancing through my whole life. Give me a beat, and I’ll probably wiggle.

Ringgold: Where do you hope your music career will lead you?
Hatton: I hope to do as much chamber music as possible! I have a hunch I’ll start my own concert series back home in the Washington, D.C., area, too. I love knowing the world, so I hope to travel and explore by way of viola.

Ringgold: How do you feel about the diversity, or lack thereof, in classical music? Is there enough representation of people of color in orchestras and composers?
Hatton: I love that there are so many conversations about the need to represent communities according to the shift in U.S. demographics. Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, in particular, is making deliberate efforts to include musicians and composers of color. It’s a great time for Sphinx since the organization’s mission to address these issues has been the focus for twenty years already. In New York City, if I’m the only person of color in a rehearsal, I always notice, and I always feel a responsibility to represent all people of color well.

Ringgold: What instrument, if any, have you been curious to learn other than your own?
Hatton: I’m dying to play electric bass. In my fantasy world, I’m the baddest e-bass player out there.

Read interviews with Sphinx cellist Karlos Rodriguez and violinist Hannah White.

Teona Ringgold, a Penn State junior majoring in advertising, is a communications intern with the Center for the Performing Arts. Ringgold recently completed an internship in New York City with O Magazine. The Pittsburgh native comes from a family of musicians and has grown up with the arts as a strong influence. She even attended a performing arts high school. She is involved on campus and in the community, and continues to explore the topic of diversity and inclusion in the arts.