2016 Senior and Alumni Reflection
James Madison University, Music Major
When I first heard the sound of the piano, I fell in love. The crystal clear melodies rung through the hall and immediately I knew I had to play this instrument. The piano became my source of happiness, as well as a place to vent my feelings. I found a solace on the piano bench and it never failed me. It frustrated me at times when I couldn’t play the difficult runs, but after hours upon hours of grueling practice I was always elated when the piece finally came together.
Soon after, I fell in love with the flute. As I began to play more accompanied pieces, I grew to love how well the piano and flute complemented each other; they were two beautiful instruments weaving a colorful story together. I thank God for giving me my special gift of music; it’s been such a blessing to use it for His glory.
I also want to thank all my music teachers who have helped me along the way, especially Mrs. Kuo and my flute teacher, Dr. Jennifer Lapple, for nurturing and encouraging me to love music wholeheartedly. It’s because of them that I want to become a music teacher myself and share this gift of music with younger students.
University of Virginia
Ten years ago, on one of those lonely afternoons that seem to color our childhood summer days, I found myself sitting next to my mother as she whispered a melody from a keyboard. Through the voice of her fingers and the words of the notes she played, I felt my first connection with the piano, one marked with amazement and wonder.
Seven years ago, after my first two years of instruction under Mrs. Juliana, I was absolutely disheartened. Every time I would practice, it would come only after the constant chiding of my mother, a chore of routine and a division between heart and mind. Performances would destroy me, as the apprehension of an indescribable, incurable sense of doom would overwhelm my rationale. Yet again I felt a connection, or rather a disconnection, fueled by frustration and misunderstanding.
Five years ago, I rediscovered music. After pushing through all of my doubts, my frustration, and my stage fright, I found the same wooden keys that I had always known, with open, embracing arms where I had failed to see before. I began to compose, I began to improvise, I began to feel the heartbeat of the composers I studied- with the same clarity as the ticks of the metronome. With the purest thanks to my parents for their everlasting support, as well as the consistent and loving guidance of Mrs. Juliana, I once again felt a connection with the piano, filled with determination and hope.
And now, I feel the swell of the music crawl along the length of my arms, as the peaceful tremor of sound conveys to me what I’ve always felt, but never truly known. While the image in front of me, with the familiar arrangement of black and white keys, and the shifting, scurrying of fingers sluggish yet somehow serene is a reoccurring memory, my vision fades to grey as the movements became instinctive to my body. I smile. The final connection I feel, with the music, with my journey, with the piano, is nothing short of happiness.
University of Virginia
The transition between playing the piano and enjoying the piano happens when you start hearing the music. Asking yourself where the phrase is going, or which note you are arriving at will help you become a better listener. Going into college I listened to a lot of professional classical musicians. My favorites were Barenboim, Hamelin, Van Cliburn, but I also listened to certain classmates who were far better than me. I knew their sound had a higher quality than mine, but I was confused on how to improve my sound.
The first piece I played for my college professor was Bach’s Italian Concerto. For me it was just another piece and Baroque was just another style. I was immediately forced to play with my hands separate, not because I didn’t know the notes, but because I wasn’t hearing them. With the Bach, the left hand carried the melody just as much as the right. We went over which notes to highlight, which ones were heavy, and which ones were light. Then we repeated the process with the right hand. I had to sing the phrases of each hand, always arriving on the note at the end of the phrase. One passage was supposed to sound like violins, the next one served as a backdrop for a dance. When I put both hands together the next week, the piece came alive. It became fun to play, as I was hearing the voices of both hands. Even today I still play the Bach, enjoying the new dimensions I had discovered.
The same questions were asked for every new piece I played. What emotion does this passage evoke? Where is the phrase going? What scenery do I see when I play that passage? I learned that chords can feel like ice, or they can feel like a drop in the pond. Passages can feel foreboding, like a calm before a storm, or seductive, like Mephisto luring the villagers into the forest. The imagery in my head made all the difference. I could hear how my touch affected tone and texture. My awareness of the subtleties of a piece allowed me to better understand what Barenboim, Hamelin, Van Cliburn, and others were trying to convey. That’s why I continued to play the piano after high school. There is always something new to discover. Each piece is a story, and within it are characters, motifs, themes, etc. Playing a new piece is like reading a new book. I am forever grateful to Juliana for mentoring me in piano, and for developing my passion for music. Without her I would have quit long before high school ended, not having the capacity to continue learning about music. I wish her a successful transition to her new home, and hope she continues to inspire students there as she has here.
James Madison University, Piano Performance
“Music is a universal language.” In my earlier years, I heard that saying a lot in elementary general music classes. It wasn’t until high school where I truly began to understand what that phrase meant. Just before high school, I had been studying piano with Juliana for 6 years. I was always attracted to the music of Chopin, Beethoven, and Rachmaninoff, as well as the orchestral music from the video games I played. In high school I became interested in other genres of music and decided to branch out: I joined a Jazz Combo, Chamber Choir, and Show Choir -all of which had completely different kinds of music than what I was used to. But I realized that I was learning all of it so fast, so easily. It was because I was applying the tools gained from Juliana’s piano lessons.
All the music theory was there: the counting, the idea of singing a melody, the dynamics, everything. I began to feel the music, feel the indescribable emotions, it was almost as if I was creating scenes in my head for everything I was playing. It was around that point where I began to really understand classical music and began to speak the language of music.
I had a revelation - Playing the piano isn’t just about hitting all the right notes. It’s about giving every note a meaning. Putting those notes together to make a phrase. Putting those phrases together to tell a story, a story filled with emotions that words cannot describe. That is what music is. The French music of Ravel, Russian music of Tchaikovsky, Hungarian music of Liszt: no matter the nationality, the music itself tells a story that people from all over the world can comprehend. Studying with Juliana for 10 years helped me understand that “Music is a universal language.” I simply cannot thank her enough.
Graduate school at University of Virginia
I began playing piano when I was six years old. During my early years, I really hated the piano because my parents forced me to practice against my will. However, I never could imagine that 18 years later, I would not only continue playing the piano, but relish playing the piano to relieve stress and enjoy the music.
My love for the piano developed after I saw Lang Lang perform when I was eight years old. After I saw his amazing performance that night, I wanted to become a professional pianist. Although I was discouraged from going professional from my father when I told him the day after I saw Lang Lang, my love for the instrument never died. It developed even more. I began to play piano with my heart and my emotions. I was lucky to have a piano teacher who allowed me to develop my passion at that time. Although I wasn’t very technical, I appreciated showing my feelings to others through the piano. My love for the piano developed even more and I soon learned that playing the piano was more than just playing the right notes.
In high school, I began to study piano more seriously. I learned concepts of phrasing, story-telling, and all the “soft” skills that were involved in piano playing. I’m very grateful to have undergone this study since I now appreciate the piano even more. Although I cannot go professional, I fully do believe that piano will be a permanent part of my life. Even as a working adult, I had the opportunity to take lessons with Juliana Kuo and learned so much about music from her. There is so much to understand and so much to appreciate from playing the piano and I am very grateful for my parents to have introduced this instrument to me when I was only six.