By: Nina Campli, Assistant Student Life and Arts Editor
The students in the music composition class went to Steinway Hall on Friday, October 27, for a private concert performed by Steinway artist and famous toy pianist Margaret Leng Tan. For their class, the students are in the process of composing solo piano pieces as their final project. Professor of Music Trevor Weston said, “I thought that attending a concert of modern piano music would inspire students as they composed their final projects.”
Weston reached out to Vivian Chiu, Drew alum and the Director of Cultural Partnerships and Artist Services for Steinway Inc. to see if she could recommend a concert with modern piano music for his students. Instead of just simply recommending a concert that was occurring during the semester, she offered to contact some of her clients to see if they would be willing to give a private concert.
Weston stated, “A couple pianists were interested, but Margaret Leng Tan’s schedule worked the best for this semester. Tan presented a lecture/performance that she is going to present on tour. Ms. Tan also agreed to play through the opening measures of some of the student’s final projects.”
Tan’s lecture and performance focused on three 20th century American composers: John Cage, Henry Cowell and George Crumb. Jillian Canal (‘19) stated, “My favorite piece from the private concert was ‘The Banshee.’” It was during this piece that Ashlie Sicilia (‘19) held down the sustain pedal while Tan performed the piece, which requires the plucking, strumming and scraping of the strings inside the piano.
One of the students whose piece was played, Dorian Wu (‘19), said of the experience, “It was terrifying, but was probably the coolest thing that has happened to me. My heart was pounding.” The inspiration for their piece is the Qixi Festival. Wu stated, “The story behind the festival is that of two lovers, a cowherd and a weaver maid, who fall in love but are banished to separate sides of the Milky Way. Once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, a flock of magpies take pity on the two and form a bridge to unite them for one day.”
In addition to Wu’s piece, Tan played two other student compositions. Tan offered specific feedback for these students as well as general advice for all of the composers as they continue to work on their final projects. This was especially important to the students as they come from diverse backgrounds and don’t play piano as their primary instrument. At the end of the lecture and concert, the Drew students also got the chance to speak with the Director of Human Resources at Steinway Inc. and learn about post-graduation employment opportunities.
The trip was especially appropriate as many of the pieces that Tan played at the concert the students are studying in class. While 20th century music can often be weird and alienating, especially when listening through headphones, the concert brought the pieces to life, enriching the students’ study of these pieces. Bri Vazquez Smith (’19) shared her favorite part of the day, saying it was “getting to see Margaret play and perform the pieces that we listened to in class.”