At first glance, Zack Rubin looks like an average 17-year-old student. His 6-foot, 2-inch frame would probably do well on a basketball court.
The word "average," however, cannot accurately describe the Columbia resident, a violinist who last month scored among the highestof some 300 young musicians auditioning for this year's 115-member All-State Senior High School Orchestra. The orchestra performs one concert each spring.
The audition requires students to play an assigned piece of music, plus sight-read and play scales before judges. Two weeks later eachstudent receives his or her score.
Zack, who has played the violin since third grade, has been chosen for the All-State orchestra for seven consecutive years. Last year, he ranked second during the initial tryouts and earned the top score during a second audition, which determines each musician's final status and seating placement with theorchestra. The second audition won him the title of concertmaster --the person who leads the first violins and who is assistant to the conductor. Zack also was awarded the first chair in the orchestra concert seating.
This year's second audition is scheduled for the first weekend in March, when the orchestra comes together to present its annual concert.
"I am sure there are many others who are a lot better than I am who have not tried out for all-state, especially those students who take lessons at a conservatory," Zack said. Despite such modesty, Zack's skill has enabled him to be part of the All-EasternRegional Orchestra, which he considers one step up from the all-state orchestra. In addition, he is concertmaster for the Montgomery County Youth Orchestra and plays chamber music with a string quartet organized by Mark Ulrich, his private instructor, who also teaches orchestra at Howard High School.
His interest in violin first was stimulated by an elementary school orchestra teacher.
"Each year the orchestra teacher would give a demonstration, and it really interested me, so I decided to give it a try," he said. Zack was so interested, in fact, that he studied cover to cover from a how-to book on playing violin. He made rapid progress and a third-grade music teacher encouraged him to take private lessons. Zack can't recall ever experiencingthe usual hate-to-practice syndrome, and said that he wanted to learn as "quickly as possible."
Five days a week, he fits in two hoursof practice after dinner. On the other two days, he attends two-hourorchestra rehearsals.
Even so, he insists that he doesn't practice as much as he should.
"Two years ago, a teacher told me that if I wanted to go into music, I should practice at least two hours a day. I should practice four to six hours now," he said. But getting eventwo hours of practice in is difficult when it must be fit in with rehearsals for school concerts, the county orchestra and chamber music performances, not to mention homework and soccer practices. Zack plays on the varsity soccer team. And about four years ago, Zack also took up the viola "for a change."
"I am not disciplined," Zack said. "I tend to practice the things I like, rather than the things I don'tlike. It's definitely not a good thing to do, but I am enjoying myself."
Zack's room at home reflects his music and other interests. Astack of sheet music is arranged neatly on a shelf; a pile of car magazines is stashed in another neat pile.
Beneath the shelf in his room is Zack's "most precious possession" -- his violin. When Zack was in seventh grade, his music teacher encouraged Zack and his familyto accompany her to a store in Pennsylvania that sold violins. Afterlistening to about 20 instruments, Zack selected one that is over 100 years old.
"It definitely made playing a lot more enjoyable," Zack said.
Although Zack said his teacher encourages him to listen to classical music, he confessed, "I would rather be playing it than listening to it." His listening tastes lean toward progressive music, and a souvenir poster from a concert of the group Erasure adorns the wall of his room.
But he doubts his musical aptitude will lead to a career in music.
In his sophomore year, Zack decided he didn't want to spend four hours a day practicing -- there were too many otherthings he wanted to do.
"If I decide to pursue a music career in college, I will have to work hard to catch up." he said. "Still, it'sa remote possibility. It would be a waste to give up now."
His interest in cars and the mechanisms that keep them running has promptedhim to consider a career in engineering, instead.
So far, he has been accepted by an early decision process at Brown University. He also is considering Yale University and Rice University.
But Zack, whose grade point average is 4.0, says he would like to continue to play music when he is in college.
Zack is the son of Stewart and Harriet Rubin of Columbia. His brother, Jonathan, 20, is a senior at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Va.