The Chautauqua Piano Program lasts for five weeks. When Week Five came to its end, piano students were wrapping up their studies, reflecting on what they have learned and going home with the memories, friendships and connections they’ve made in Chautauqua.
Piano student Elizabeth Yao said she enjoyed her time in Chautauqua.
“I love the vibe of the whole community, and I love the fact that everyone here is so interested in arts and culture,” she said. “And there’s a lot of different disciplines going on.”
Fellow student Joseph Vaz said he likes the natural beauty in Chautauqua, and although he doesn’t know for sure whether it is inspirational to him as a musician, it does help him to be “in a good mood every day.”
Yao also said she met many “great people here,” including peers in the Piano Program whom she’s become friends with, and John Milbauer and Nicola Melville, co-chairs of the Piano Program.
Among the 22 piano students in the Piano Program, Yao said, “everyone pretty much gets along with everyone,” and no one is left out.
“Students here get along in a way (that) I haven’t seen in other festivals,” Vaz said.
Student Marc Levesque said he has heard about piano students in other programs tending “to form their own groups.” His own experience in Chautauqua isn’t like that, even if there were a significant numbers of students from two specific schools.
“Everybody is interacting a lot here. We’ve got enough people (from) Eastman (School of Music) and enough people from (Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music) to form their own groups if they wanted to, but that’s not happening,” he said. “Everybody is getting along well.”
Part of that comradery can be attributed to how Milbauer and Melville run the Piano Program, Yao said, and the supportive atmosphere they create.
“They are really genuine; that’s what I think helps make this festival so nice,” Yao said. “They care a lot about us, as students, and making sure that we get a good experience. … (They are) so genuine and personal with you, and they treat you like someone they want to get to know.”
As a rising third-year doctoral student in piano performance at Indiana University, Yao said she is facing the question of post-graduation plan. And music is a challenging career.
“You spend so much time on one piece just to make it OK. And then you perform it, and it’s so much anxiety and stress,” Yao said. “Also, there are already so many fantastically talented musicians out there, (so it’s) kind of hard to see where you fit in the world.”
Yao said she felt encouraged by Milbauer and Melville’s career information session.
“John and Nikki were really helpful. … They had an information session for students about careers, doctoral programs and the path that happens after you graduate from school,” she said. “I think that was really helpful and really encouraging for me — and really touching, because it showed that they cared about our worries.”
After five weeks of intense lessons, master classes and practicing, Yao said she has “a lot of mixed feelings” about leaving Chautauqua and going home. On one hand, she misses home and she wants to get back into “school mode” to work on her new repertoires, applying the new knowledge and approaches she learned in Chautauqua.
On the other hand, Yao said it felt like her time at Chautauqua “passed really quickly, in the sense that” she felt sad for the connections that didn’t get deeper and could’ve gotten deeper if she could have more time with her peers.
“I feel a little bit sad for not being able to hang out more with people, and maybe not being able to experience Chautauqua to the fullest because I was busy practicing, so I couldn’t go to that many lectures, or plays,” she said. “I went to several concerts, but not that many other things.”
But Yao said she had five fulfilling weeks with piano master classes and lessons.
“We were very busy throughout the five weeks … so I do feel like we gained enough knowledge,” she said. “And now it’s time to process that and let the seed grow and use it in the future.”