Montgomery County Brothers Use Music Careers To Give Student Performers the Spotlight

Maryland Public Television to air a one-hour special on the brothers' Strathmore-based nonprofit


Kristofer Sanz (left) and Rolando Sanz (right) with Grammy Award winner and YAA Mentor, Stephen Schwartz, before the YAA production of Children of Eden at Strathmore Music Hall.

Credit: Carmelita Watkinson

Rolando Sanz of Chevy Chase is an operatic tenor who has belted out songs at Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

His brother, Kristofer Sanz, has spent years as an instrumental music director at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac.

But their first musical collaboration didn’t come until 2011, when they pulled off a student performance in the lobby of The Music Center at Strathmore.

“We rented some folding chairs and printed some programs out of a copier,” Rolando, 38, said. “Once the performance happened, we were just very pleased that we got to work on something together. And, as the story goes, the phone started ringing, and people started asking about the next one.”

The brothers point to that first concert as the beginning of what would become a nonprofit dedicated to giving middle school and high school musicians the opportunity to shine. The Young Artists of America trains the students to present fully orchestrated theatrical productions, under the guidance of award-winning stars such as Kristin Chenoweth and Stephen Schwartz.

And instead of performing in the Strathmore lobby, the students are now stepping onto the main stage at the North Bethesda venue.

“It’s amazing working with a student musician because there’s no end to what they can achieve, and they’re not jaded yet by the world. So they’re really hungry and thirsty to rise to a high level,” Kristofer, 35, of Silver Spring, said.

YAA is about to get some new exposure with Maryland Public Television’s upcoming release of a one-hour special on the brothers’ nonprofit. The documentary-style program, scheduled to air at 8 p.m. June 1, will include interviews with Rolando and Kristofer and YAA performances of the music of Tim Rice, the famed lyricist who helped write songs for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and The Lion King. Rice himself will be the onscreen host for the program, Rolando said.

Kristofer said YAA is special because it gives student instrumentalists and singers the rare opportunity to work on sweeping theatrical productions, like those Rice has written.

Though many young performers are fans of musical theater–—or “closet musical theater fans”–—high schools don’t typically put on large, symphonic shows, he added.

And Rolando said even though he studied voice performance at Catholic University of America as an undergraduate, he didn’t get to sing next to a full orchestra until he was in graduate school at Yale University.

“For anybody to stand up next to a full orchestra and sing alongside them, it doesn’t happen that often,” he said.

Each year, YAA presents two mainstage productions, one in the fall and one in the spring. The high school-age performances typically have about 50 or 60 musicians in the orchestra and 40 or 50 vocalists in the cast, the brothers said.

Past performances have included “Children of Eden,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “The Circle of Life: The Songs of Tim Rice in Concert.”

The nonprofit also recently launched a program for middle schoolers, who will be staging their first musical, “The Lion King Experience,” on Saturday at AMP by Strathmore.

The brothers grew up in Montgomery County and said YAA affords them the opportunity to reinvest in a community that helped them flourish musically.

“Seeing these local young performers be inspired and really rise to the occasion and take the stage now at Strathmore is some of the most rewarding work I feel honored enough to do,” Rolando said.

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