The Road to Carnegie Hall

One musician tells her story

Renata Lee

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I take a deep breath before entering the room. The judge smiles at me when I walk in. I politely say “hi” and hand him my evaluation sheet and music. I walk over to the piano and realize it is a medium-sized grand. I prepare to play. I adjust the small seat to make sure it is the right height and distance from the piano. I sit down and look at the keys. The piano is old and the keys look worn-out. The judge tells me that I can do a few exercises to get used to the piano. As I work my way up and down the keys with my scales, I am surprised by the different feel of the piano and the closeness of the keys to one another. After the final exercise I place my hands on my lap and tell the judge that I am ready to play. Well, here goes nothing.

So…what happened next? I think I passed out on the piano. Nah, just kidding. That would have made a more interesting story though. Before I tell you what happened, you might be wondering how I ended up in that situation in the first place. Well, it all started in the early summertime when my piano teacher and I decided I should enter an upcoming competition. How did I prepare for that competition? I thought you’d never ask.

 

  1. Choosing the piece.

 

I first had to choose a piano piece that would fulfill two requirements. First, it had to be by a Russian composer, as that was the theme of the competition. Second, it had to fit my level of practice. My teacher chose one of Tchaikovsky’s “Seasons,” December.

  1. Learning the piece.

This step involves learning the notes on the sheet music and listening to others play the piece on CDs and YouTube to familiarize myself with it.

  1. Practicing

This step is the longest and most demanding. It involves playing the piece section by section, over and over, until muscle memory kicks in. With each practice, minimal, if any, mistakes should be made on each note. This step also includes repeatedly listening to the piece.

  1. Memorizing and Finalizing

By now the entire piece should be well-learned technically. More emphasis is placed on the actual musical quality and feeling of the piece. This step also requires more listening, but it is fun because this is when all the elements involved in performing the entire piece come together, including technicality and musicality.

  1. Competition Time

At this point in time, the piece is mastered. After a few months of preparation, it is time to shine!

As I begin to play, the feel of the piano begins to throw me off as I start the piece off roughly. However, muscle memory kicks in and I begin to feel the music of my piece. My fingers glide up and down the piano as the voices of the piece converge to create a beautiful sound. There are a few very minor slips, but the most important thing at this point is to stay focused and to continue playing the piece. As I finish the piece, I feel the last note ring softly and fade as I lift my hands off of the piano. I look over at the judge. He smiles at me and says, “Good job,” which could mean anything at this point. I smile back and say “Thank you.” I exit the room.

About a week later, as I was finishing a piano lesson with my teacher, we suddenly heard loud shouts and excited exclamations. Confused, the two of us walked out of the room. I saw my brother as he shouted, “You got Grand Prize!” Grand Prize was the highest placement in the competition.

I was going to play at Carnegie.

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