As some of the 75 talented young pianists converging on Kansas University this week can explain, at a certain point, playing the piano becomes a lot more than just pushing the right keys at the right times.
The young students, ages 9 to 19, are here for the International Institute for Young Musicians, an annual event that draws musicians from all around the world — including a handful of local students.
“You sort of have to have a self-expression in the piece,” said 14-year-old Mason Kelso of Eudora, who is attending the IIYM academy for the first time. “When you play the piano at this level, it’s more than just hitting the right notes.”
For Kelso, he tries to envision a color wheel when he plays, hitting black, dark colors more aggressively, and lighter pinks and yellows more softly.
A piano competition started on Sunday in KU’s Murphy Hall, and is scheduled to continue todayMonday7-12. Not all the students will compete — many will come just for the instruction from upper-level instructors and the exposure to students from different cultures.
Jack Winerock, a KU piano professor, said he was excited to have the amount of local representation — in previous years, he said, fewer local students qualified for the competition. In addition to Kelso, Luke Rhodes, 17, and Chung Man Kim, 14, both of Lawrence, are participating. John Weiss, the 11-year-old son of former KU Bands director Scott Weiss, is also enrolled in the academy.
Rhodes is home schooled and Kim attends Bishop Seabury Academy.
Winerock said the academy can compete with other top piano workshops and competitions across the country.
“At the pre-college level, we can hold our own with just about anybody,” he said. “We have not only KU faculty members, but we draw lots of other faculty from various places.”
Rhodes has been to the institute before — he said he appreciated being able to connect with new friends from around the world, and also being exposed to what college-level music instruction is like.
“There is something about IIYM that you can’t experience in a practice room,” Rhodes said. “We can always work on technique, but a great pianist also has experiences to go with it.”
During the school year, Rhodes said he practices three or four hours each weekday, and six to eight hours on the weekends.
But, as many of the students have learned, life isn’t all piano, all the time. Kelso said he also spends time on other things, like the local 4-H club, band and choir and playing soccer at Eudora High School.
“Piano is something that sort of releases all the stress of my daily life,” Kelso said. “If I didn’t do any other things, then what would I release?”
And why go through all the effort in the first place?
For the art, said Kim. Because it’s something that brings him happiness and enjoyment.
Rhodes had a different take, paraphrasing the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould.
“Music isn’t something I love,” he said. “It’s simply the best way I can communicate my thoughts and ideas.”