GALESBURG, Ill. — Having started the cello at age 4, Maury Cohn has been practically immersed in the music community his entire life.

"I was actually exposed to it through a babysitter who knew another kid who played the cello," Cohn said. "I then expressed interest and met with the teacher, Carolyn Suda, who was and still is an amazing teacher."

Cohn, 17, a senior at Galesburg High School, will make his solo debut with the Knox-Galesburg Symphony at the Orpheum Theatre on Feb. 25.

Suda said Cohn "is invested always in what he does. He goes where things are most fascinating and interesting and he immerses himself 100 percent in it. There's a point at which it has to be an intellectually intelligent lesson as well as musical," Suda said in describing Cohn's dedication to his music. "There's a bit of intellectual sparring that has to go on in order for him to be engaged."

For example, "we make up stories about the music so we can emotionally engage with the pieces. We always have to laugh," she said.

This practice, Suda explained, is something all musicians must go through in order for their emotions, as well as those of the composer, to transcend beyond the notes on the sheet music.

Cohn said his personifications tend to vary between pieces, but he believes that "sometimes, creating a story about the music serves as a way to remember what feelings I wanted to convey at particular moments." Using these stories as a memory device, he explains it is "easier to remember some tale of a little boy running through the woods, tripping here, jumping through a meadow there ... than it is to remember a list of things like 'play this part harsh,' 'play this part boisterously.' But sometimes, that technique doesn't exactly lend itself to the music, so it really depends."

These intellectual efforts have definitely paid off in Cohn's favor. This past summer, he had the opportunity to attend two national chamber music programs. Spending a total of seven weeks at camps, he split the time between focusing on chamber music, and on solo performance. The previous summer was spent at an intensive orchestra camp for five weeks.

With all this success, one might think it comes easy.

"Everyone likes to start an instrument," Cohn said. "The problem comes about six months later, when you have to practice ... I practiced a lot, but not always at my wishes. I don't think that's unusual. I never wanted to give it up, though."

Having started the cello at age 4, Maury Cohn has been practically immersed in the music community his entire life.

"I was actually exposed to it through a babysitter who knew another kid who played the cello," Cohn said. "I then expressed interest and met with the teacher, Carolyn Suda, who was and still is an amazing teacher."

Cohn, 17, a senior at Galesburg High School, will make his solo debut with the Knox-Galesburg Symphony at the Orpheum Theatre on Feb. 25.

Suda said Cohn "is invested always in what he does. He goes where things are most fascinating and interesting and he immerses himself 100 percent in it. There's a point at which it has to be an intellectually intelligent lesson as well as musical," Suda said in describing Cohn's dedication to his music. "There's a bit of intellectual sparring that has to go on in order for him to be engaged."

For example, "we make up stories about the music so we can emotionally engage with the pieces. We always have to laugh," she said.

This practice, Suda explained, is something all musicians must go through in order for their emotions, as well as those of the composer, to transcend beyond the notes on the sheet music.

Cohn said his personifications tend to vary between pieces, but he believes that "sometimes, creating a story about the music serves as a way to remember what feelings I wanted to convey at particular moments." Using these stories as a memory device, he explains it is "easier to remember some tale of a little boy running through the woods, tripping here, jumping through a meadow there ... than it is to remember a list of things like 'play this part harsh,' 'play this part boisterously.' But sometimes, that technique doesn't exactly lend itself to the music, so it really depends."

These intellectual efforts have definitely paid off in Cohn's favor. This past summer, he had the opportunity to attend two national chamber music programs. Spending a total of seven weeks at camps, he split the time between focusing on chamber music, and on solo performance. The previous summer was spent at an intensive orchestra camp for five weeks.

With all this success, one might think it comes easy.

"Everyone likes to start an instrument," Cohn said. "The problem comes about six months later, when you have to practice ... I practiced a lot, but not always at my wishes. I don't think that's unusual. I never wanted to give it up, though."

In 2010, Cohn received a scholarship to attend the Eastern Music Festival in North Carolina. In 2011, he was admitted to the prestigious Madeline Island Chamber Music program, and was one of 12 cellists chosen to participate in the National Cello Institute's Advanced Residency program in Los Angeles. He also has performed with the Illinois All-State Orchestra, Galesburg Community Chorus and Monmouth Chamber Orchestra.

With his love for the cello, Cohn has truly shown a strong presence in the music community. However, according to Suda, "his real love of the cello has emerged within the last four years. He spent a year in Thailand, and then returned even more committed." Cohn went to Thailand after his mom, Knox College Professor Nancy Eberhardt, decided to return to Thailand for her anthropology research. Because he studied at an English-speaking international school during his time abroad, Cohn never had a break in his musical, or academic education.

"I would say the time I spent there, even though it wasn't as intense musically, gave (me) so many experiences which you can pretty much bring to anything. I think also because I was a part from it for so long, that I was just excited to get back into it again," he said.

Because of this reignited passion, it wasn't a surprise Suda saw so much change.

"He has so much to say with the cello. He has so much to say, because he has so much to give. Maury is someone who wants his life profoundly to make a difference in this world. There's so much humanity in him. That's what his most extraordinary gift is," Suda said.

When asked about personal inspiration Maury said, "I think it changes over the years. When I was little, I liked it for the community. I had my friends through music. When you get older, and start concentrating on your own practice, that goes away a little bit."

But whether it's inspiration from the people around him, or dedication to his solo practice, Cohn's love and passion for the music itself shines above all.

"It's such a beautiful language. It lets you communicate on so many levels that you just can't do normally," he said. "There's nothing like it."

His passion for the instrument and music is actually what inspired Suda and KGS director Bruce Polay to ask him to perform as a soloist for the upcoming concert.

"Maury's a very talented man, in many areas," Polay said. "I've seen his progress over the years and I figured it was time and he was at the ability to showcase him."

Cohn will be playing Saint-SaËns' "Contrato One in A Minor."

"I played it my sophomore year of high school, so I don't have to go through the process of learning something new," he said. Because of his familiarity with the piece, he is focusing on the more difficult parts.

"When you play a piece you've played before, you can do so many more things musically and spur of the moment while performing."

In addition to his solo, he is planning for his academic future by looking to enroll in a double-degree program in which one enrolls in a university, as well as a conservatory, in order to earn a bachelor's of arts and bachelor's of music within five years.

"We've been preparing by sending tapes to conservatory programs," Suda said. "It's helped me see him as an even more exceptional musician because of his ability to absorb things so quickly. I can tell him to change the fingering on a particular measure, and he can change and memorize it within five minutes to continue recording. He may be the quickest at that."

After realizing Cohn's impending graduation from high school and the need for him to move on, Suda said, "It's hard for me to say goodbye to him, but it's time for me to say goodbye to him."

Information from: The Register-Mail, http://www.register-mail.com