Keyed in: Local pianist hopes institute takes talents to new levels

Luke Rhodes, 15, Lawrence, is one of several students who will participate in the International Institute of Young Musicians competition and workshops during July at KU.

Luke Rhodes, 15, Lawrence, is one of several students who will participate in the International Institute for Young Musicians competition and workshops during July at Kansas University.

The reflection of Luke Rhodes is shown in the music stand on his piano in Lawrence. Rhodes, 15, will participate in the International Institute for Young Musicians competition and workshops during July at Kansas University. Hes a very fine student" says his private instructor Carole Ross. "Hes


The schedule of events for the 2008 International Institute for Young Musicians. Events are free unless otherwise noted. For more information, visit

¢ Sunday: Competition semifinals, 9 a.m.-8 p.m., Swarthout Recital Hall.

¢ Monday: Competition finals, 3 p.m.-8 p.m., Swarthout Recital Hall.

¢ July 13: Winners concert, 7:30 p.m., Lied Center. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $7 for students.

¢ Student recitals at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and July 14, 17, 18, 21, 22, 25, 28, 29 and 31, all at Swarthout Recital Hall inside Kansas University’s Murphy Hall. Also, at 7:30 p.m. July 16, 23 and 30.

¢ Honor recital at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Lied Center.

Twice a week, Luke Rhodes hits the gym with high school football and basketball players, lifting weights to hone his skills.

But he’s doesn’t play a sport. He plays the piano.

That’s in addition to the two hours a day he spends practicing. And the 1 1/2 hours he spends weekly taking private lessons. And the frequent weekends he dedicates to piano competitions.

Does the Lawrence resident ever want to take a break from music, to relax and just enjoy being 15?

“There isn’t any time for that,” Rhodes says. “It’s do it now or give it up forever. You have to have a drive.”

Rhodes, who will be a 10th-grader as a home-schooled student this fall, takes that drive into a monthlong piano academy that opens Sunday at Kansas University.

The International Institute for Young Musicians has held its summer workshops and competition for young piano players at KU since 1992, with the exception of a three-year hiatus.

Students such as Rhodes will show off their skills and be looking for guidance from faculty and their peers.

“This is a unique opportunity for someone at this level,” Rhodes says. “There aren’t that many people this dedicated to the piano at my age.”

Rising stars

This year’s IIYM events will include 85 pianists from 22 states and four foreign countries. They range in age from 11 to 19.

“They’re all the top pianists in their area,” says Scott McBride Smith, IIYM president and CEO.

The International Piano Competition will kick off the activities starting Sunday. The competition is open to the public, as is a winners concert July 13.

The students will continue with lessons, workshops and recitals throughout July.

“This is a chance for them to experience who they are – and what role music is going to have in their life,” Smith says. “They wouldn’t come if they weren’t serious about music in their lives.”

And he says Lawrence residents can reap the benefits, with nearly all the events free and open to the public.

“A lot of our winners have gone on to be the stars of the next generation,” Smith says. “The people of Lawrence can say, ‘We heard them first.'”

Musical commitment

Rhodes is hoping to be one of those stars.

He already has won several competitions, including the 2007 International Music Festival concerto/sonata/sanatina competition.

He started taking piano lessons at age 5. At age 7, his family sold implements from his deceased grandfather’s farm to help buy a high-end piano.

“It was an investment we needed to make,” says Patrice Rhodes, Luke’s grandmother, who home-schools the prodigy.

Luke Rhodes prefers classical music, and Beethoven is his favorite composer. But he always has three to five pieces of music to work on at any one time.

“He’s a very fine student,” says his private instructor, Carole Ross. “He’s very talented, both musically and technically. He covers a large amount of repertoire.”

He spends two hours a day working through that repertoire, usually with his golden retriever, Oliver, at his feet. (Oliver barks or leaves the room if Rhodes hits a wrong note, the pianist says.)

And then there’s those weight-training sessions – the Fred Roll workouts at First Serve, 5200 Clinton Parkway.

“I wouldn’t be able to practice two hours a day if I didn’t do it,” Rhodes says.

As for the future, Rhodes says he wants to study music, probably at KU. And he’s considering majoring in music composition or conducting to add to his piano-playing skills. He says he has no plans to back down from his musical commitments.

It’s these sorts of students that are a perfect match for IIYM, Smith says.

“They’re very motivated,” the director says. “Sometimes we have to lock the practice rooms to get them out to see the town.”