Published: Dec. 7, 2023 By

Colleen White (DMA ‘17), Paul Zaborac (DMA ‘17) and Cecilia Lo-Chien Kao (DMA ‘19)Photo credit: Dwan Miller Photography, LLC

Great ideas can come from anywhere—even a meal with your friends. Three CU Boulder College of Music alumni—Colleen White (DMA ’17), Paul Zaborac (DMA ’17) and Cecilia Lo-Chien Kao (DMA ’19)—developed a vision for the Scheherazade Music Festival (SMF) over brunch, and soon started working to make their dream come to life. 

“We casually thought, ‘What if we developed our own chamber music festival?’ Less than a year later, we had funding and a business plan,” White says. 

The nonprofit festival, held in Manhattan, Kansas, debuted in 2023 and will return for its second season in June 2024. [Experience the SMF performing “The Gorgeous Nothings” by Ingrid Stölzel.]

The SMF aims to tell stories through chamber music and each season features a unique theme. The 2024 theme is “Creatures Great and Small,” focusing on music inspired by wildlife and creatures of all sizes. 

The festival also hosts community events, children’s events and a composition competition that encourages composers to submit new works for voice, flute, saxophone and piano. The compositions must highlight narrative, focusing on the untold stories of underrepresented or marginalized groups and the festival theme; winning works will premiere during the summer festival.

“There’s something really unique and special about chamber music,” Kao says. “There’s an intimate and powerful connection among the performers and this connection extends to the audience. 

Colleen White (DMA ‘17), Paul Zaborac (DMA ‘17) and Cecilia Lo-Chien Kao (DMA ‘19)“Each performance is unique. This is especially true when composers are creating new music, performed for the first time in front of a live audience.” 

In their festival activities, these music alumni say they regularly apply skills learned at our College of Music. 

“Entrepreneurial know-how gained at CU has been instrumental in helping us develop this festival,” explains Zaborac. “From arts administration, marketing and audio/video production to audience relations and creative concert programming. Being able to draw on this wide skill set has significantly contributed to the success of the festival, allowing us to create something really exciting. 

“Perhaps most important was the entrepreneurial mindset itself, of looking at challenges and finding creative solutions—and the will to overcome, persevere and build something.”