Last Saturday, two PCC students walked into a concert hall full of people and sat down in front of a nine-foot-long piano to perform their first solo piano concerts.
Mikaella Nam and Chris Gu played one after the other in the Westerbeck Recital Hall in front of friends, family and their own PCC personal teacher Manami Kawamura.
Gu took his teacher’s advice before starting to play, which was to just think about the music. He concentrated on his notes instead of getting nervous about the audience.
“You get a rush after you perform,” Gu said. “I guess it’s adrenaline, and it’s really good.”
His program included music by Frédéric Chopin, Johann Sebastian Bach and Alberto Ginastera.
Piano majors such as Gu and Nam at PCC are taught individual lessons by a teacher that monitors closely their progress.
“She’s really strict,” Gu said about Kawamura right after his performance. “She pushed me to get better because I wasn’t really taking piano seriously in high school. I found my motivation here.”
Like Gu, Nam’s choice of repertoire included music from composer John Sebastian Bach, Frantz Liszt and Ludwig Van Beethoven. She had already rehearsed in the big hall, but never in front of so many people. Not with all the lights on her.
She was nervous, but then “somehow I sat in front of the piano and my heart wasn’t beating as fast as it was in the backstage.”
“It can be stressful,” Jocelyn Chang said, a pianist and instructor at PCC. “[But] after this I’m sure she will become a much more mature musician.”
Gu, Nam, Kawamura and Chang know well what it takes to become a pianist. They all started around the age of five. For Kawamura studying piano has been “painful and joyful at the same time.”
When Chang was 12 she knew exactly what her future would look like.
“I had no doubts,” she said. “I knew I wanted to be a pianist, perform as much as possible and teach at college level.”
The piano department at PCC is very active. The Center for the Arts has a Yamaga electro-piano lab and acoustic piano classrooms. There are 56 pianos available for students, including 11 Steinway grand pianos like the one used by Gu and Nam for their performance.
These concert pianos are $150 thousand each. PCC didn’t buy them brand new, but they still represent an important investment.
“I have seen the piano department growing in recent years,” Kawamura said. “Students tell me it’s difficult to find a piano to practice on because they are all taken. They come as early as seven in the morning to find one.”
All the piano department’s key figures were in the audience supporting the students. The only person missing was Phillip Young, chair of Keyboard Studies, but he’s on sabbatical this year.
He’ll be travelling to Europe and Asia, where he’ll look at different teaching and performing methods. He will then bring new ideas back to his students at PCC. He says music brings him “order and self-expression” and that it speaks “very deeply” to him, challenging him “physically and spiritually.”
Discipline seems to pay off for him, as it did for Nam and Gu.