An early enrollment program student earned the title of youngest national mandolin champion.Ethan Setiawan was named the national mandolin champion on Sept. 19 at the Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival, making him the youngest musician ever to win the championship.
The competition took place in Winfield, Kan., where tens of thousands of bluegrass-lovers gather every September to perform, listen and compete in national competitions.
Setiawan is currently a high school senior taking classes at Goshen College with the early enrollment program.
Setiawan first started playing the mandolin when he was 13 years old. He had played the cello already for years but Setiawan said that he was “tired of playing cello. It was just too big.”
The mandolin was easy to pick up because it tunes in the same intervals as the cello. Since Setiawan was homeschooled, he never played in a school orchestra, but after a few years of playing he began performing locally, and then joined the Goshen College Lavender Jazz Ensemble in his junior year of high school.
When asked how he got so good so quickly, Setiawan said, “There are a lot of really good mandolin players out there right now, and I’ve been able to play with a few of them.”
One of Setiawan’s favorite moments was getting to play alongside Jacob Jolliff, a professional musician and mandolin player.
“Playing with him was really inspiring,” Setiawan said. “Someday I’d like to tour with a band and be a full time musician as well.”
After winning, Setiawan has only set more goals for himself.
“A lot of my heroes have won that contest in years past,” Setiawan said. “I feel like I’m on their level now, and it challenges me to keep my standards high.”
Currently, Setiawan is unsure if he will attend Goshen College full time during the next academic year to major in music performance, attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. or explore his other options. But for now, Setiawan will finish out this semester by taking Introduction to Radio and Spanish 101, as well as continuing to play the mandolin in all of Lavender Jazz performances.