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‘Make music every day’: Corona del Mar High senior named U.S. Presidential Scholar of Arts

Sophia Rabin, a senior at Corona del Mar High School.
Sophia Rabin, a senior at Corona del Mar High School, recently won the U.S. Presidential Scholar of Arts for 2023. Rabin plays a show at the Campus Jax singer-songwriter showcase in Newport Beach on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)
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Sophia Rabin is always thinking about song lyrics, and she has thousands of voice notes and written memos in her phone to prove it.

Her bedroom walls are covered with album vinyl covers from artists like Lorde, Phoebe Bridgers and Paramore. Shelves are filled with more. A drum set sits in the corner, her guitar is never too far away from reach, and there’s a keyboard just waiting for her to tickle a key or two when a melody creeps into her head.

At one point during an interview about her most recent award, Rabin stopped to write down a line. It’s not the first time it’s happened, she joked, and it wouldn’t be the last either: She once stepped away from an AP exam to write down a lyric that popped into her head.

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The Corona del Mar High School senior was recently named a U.S. Presidential Scholar of the Arts for 2023, making her one of 20 students to be honored this year. She joins 160 other high school seniors selected nationally for their exceptional performance in the categories of academics, arts and career and technical education this year and is part of the 59th class of U.S. Presidential Scholars.

Sophia Rabin, a senior at Corona del Mar High School, recently won the U.S. Presidential Scholar of Arts.
Sophia Rabin plays a show at the Campus Jax singer-songwriter showcase in Newport Beach on Tuesday. Rabin said she has been playing music since she was 4, starting with the guitar.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

For Rabin, this is another feather in her cap of achievements over the past year, which include being named a national finalist for YoungArts and receiving notice of a full scholarship to attend USC this fall.

“I’m so lucky recently,” Rabin said, with a laugh. “I’ve been getting recognized. Songwriting is a really isolated thing, but I’m getting recognition from YoungArts; I’m going to USC next year, which is pretty unbelievable. I’m getting recognized at this caliber, and now nationally — it’s hard to even fathom that this is happening to me because it’s been radio silence for so long. Right now, I’m just so excited it’s happening and people are finding me, and new opportunities are opening up.”

Rabin said she’s been playing the guitar since she was 4. Her father is a musician and was in a band in college, writing songs and performing. She said she was surrounded by music growing up and, after noticing a creative spark in her, her parents decided to enroll her in music classes.

When she was attending Harbor View Elementary she started a band, the Galvantics, with some classmates. They performed at the House of Blues and open houses, anywhere that would take them.

“It was just a really fun way to start doing music,” she said of the band. “Doing that showed me how much fun playing with your friends and [playing] live can be.”

Sophia Rabin, a senior at Corona del Mar High School, recently won the U.S. Presidential Scholar of Arts.
Sophia Rabin, a senior at Corona del Mar High School, recently won the U.S. Presidential Scholar of Arts for 2023. Rabin is a singer-songwriter, and won in her discipline for YoungArts.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The Galvantics later dissolved as the girls went their separate ways to different middle and high schools, but Rabin kept writing and playing music.

Adding to her initial repertoire of guitar, she learned the piano, drums and bass and became a vocalist. She went to GRAMMY Camp for songwriting, networked, played shows and eventually entered the YoungArts competition. She was able to attend National YoungArts Week in Miami this year, which she said is what led her to being nominated for the U.S. Presidential Scholar of Arts award.

“It was like heaven,” Rabin said of National YoungArts Week. “I got to play my song that I actually wrote about my mom and that was the one that got me selected. It’s a really special song to me. That performance went really, really well. It was one of the biggest rooms I’d ever played to ... and then I got word I won first place in my discipline [voice, with an emphasis in being a singer-songwriter], and then I was interviewed and selected as a candidate in January.”

Flash-forward to April when she found out while getting ready to go to school that she’d won the U.S. Presidential Scholar of the Arts competition.

“I came barging up the stairs, yelling, ‘Mom! I did it!’ and my parents were both asleep because it was so early,” she said, laughing.

Sophia Rabin, a senior at Corona del Mar High School, recently won the U.S. Presidential Scholar of Arts.
Sophia Rabin plays a show at the Campus Jax singer-songwriter showcase in Newport Beach on Tuesday. The CdM senior is a vocalist and plays piano, guitar, drums and bass.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The song that captured her first place in Miami, “Shadows of Airplanes,” was written last June. Rabin’s mother, Allison, had just had knee surgery and was facing complications that caused her excruciating pain. With her father out of town on a business trip and her brother unable to drive, Rabin drove her mother to the hospital, where her mom joked through the pain that the experience could be used to create her daughter’s next hit single.

“As a mom, you try to shield your children,” Allison Rabin said. “I was in such a tremendous amount of pain. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t even hold a pen to fill out the paperwork, and my 17-year-old has never seen me like this, so I was trying to keep her distracted. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I said something like, ‘It’s going to be OK,’ to try and turn the tragedy into something that she could focus on so she wasn’t focusing on my pain.”

Once Allison Rabin got put into the hands of the doctors, Sophia drove home in the shadows of the airplanes from John Wayne Airport.

“All those people on that plane have no idea that I just went through the three most traumatic hours of my life,” Rabin recalled. “So, I held my phone up, started a voice memo and just started singing. But also crying. I came up with the chorus melody.”

Sophia Rabin plays the guitar and sings.
Sophia Rabin plays a show at the Campus Jax singer-songwriter showcase in Newport Beach on Tuesday. Rabin will be singing at her high school graduation this June. She will be heading to USC in the fall.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Rabin plans on pursuing her craft professionally and will be double-majoring in popular music performance and business when she arrives at USC’s campus. She’ll also be singing at Corona del Mar’s graduation ceremony this June.

It’s a nice bookend to her high school career, she said.

To other young, aspiring songwriters, she said, “You should just write something. If it’s terrible, no one has to see it. I’ve written some bad songs in my time. But if you write every day, it’ll get better. You may not be able to see it, but the people around you will. Now that I can reflect back on years and years, I realized ... this was 12 years in the making. You just have to be fearless, as Taylor Swift says.

“It’s not that I wanted to write. I had to. It was in me so deeply to start making things, and that’s why it was always certain that this was what I’m going to do. If you feel that anywhere inside of you, make music every day.”

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