SOMA youth wow crowd at annual community recital

SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Burgeoning young pianists from Maplewood and South Orange were given the opportunity to amaze an audience as the local Music Educators Association presented its annual Community Piano Recital at the DeHart Community Center in Maplewood on April 3.

The array of musical selections ranged from a lively rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” to Chopin’s “Waltz in A Minor.” The program also featured piano duet; mixed instrument duets from sisters Maria and Kaitlin Knipe, on cello and piano respectively; and several pieces composed by the young performers.

The annual recital is the brainchild of a local consortium of piano teachers who wanted to create a forum for their students to interact with one another and their community.

The piano recital is open to any music student who is a resident of Maplewood or South Orange, and age 18 or younger.

“The annual recital started back in 1996, after a former Maplewood piano teacher discovered that the now-defunct organization Arts Maplewood would bring in a piano every year for a series of concerts at the Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts in Maplewood because the center had no piano in there,” Maplewood piano teacher Elizabeth Burnett said in a recent phone interview with the News-Record. “Through the generosity of the organization, our recitals were originally held at the Burgdorff Center, where we were allowed the use of the piano on non-concert days.

“When Arts Maplewood was no longer able to sponsor the recital, we moved to St. George’s Church in Maplewood, before moving to Winchester Gardens in Maplewood, and since 2012 it has been held at the DeHart Community Center.”

Burnett said that to find students to participate in the recital, the consortium contacts as many piano teachers with students from Maplewood and South Orange as possible, asking the teachers to submit the names of young musicians. Students play an audition piece in the home of a committee member for an audience of three piano teachers, other than their own instructor, in order to be accepted into the recital.

Burnett said that the recital has maintained its popularity among local music students since its inception 20 years ago.

“This year we have 38 students performing, and in the past we have had up to 13 teachers submit the names of 51 students to perform as part of the recital,” she said. “Our mission is to showcase local pianists through the age of 18, and we are excited to present a community of pianists, instead of the students only performing once a year in their teacher’s studio recitals. This allows them to perform for a wide audience in a community setting. Our community recitals are a celebration of music for solos, duets and performances with other instruments.”

For some, the community aspect of the recital is one of the most rewarding features of participating in this annual event.

“Playing an instrument in the traditional sense of playing it and then going home and practicing, is a very isolated experience,” piano teacher Tricia Tunstall said in a recent phone interview with the News-Record. “For many of our students, it was something they did by themselves, and never really got to connect with other students.”

For Tunstall, being able to have the shared experience of playing for others and also listening to others play is a priceless experience for music students.

“They have a natural group of friends and peers that they can connect with and learn from, they have really enjoyed listening to each other, learning from each other and inspiring each other,” she said. “For the piano teachers, it has been a positive experience as well to get to know each other and work together because it can become very isolated for us as well.”

South Orange piano teacher Yudit Terry enjoys having her students involved in the recitals each year because it helps them not only to connect with other piano students, but also to develop as performers.

“I have had students in the recital since it began in 1996, and I think it is a wonderful way to give your students a forum to perform and watch them grow from year to year without fear or stage fright,” she said in a recent phone interview with the News-Record. “It brings together the community, and you see parents and siblings coming out to support their little performers.”

Terry also likes the fact that it brings together a very diverse group of students, both in terms of age and backgrounds, as some students attend area public schools and others are in local private schools and might not have met if not for the community recital.

Vivienne Germain, 14, who studies with Terry, echoes this sentiment about the ability to make new friends in the community who have a shared interest.

“I’ve been taking piano for almost nine years and I enjoy the community recitals because it’s a good opportunity to hear a lot of students in the community,” Germain said in a recent interview with the News-Record. “It’s interesting because you see familiar faces and compare how they sound now as opposed to five years ago when we all first started doing the recitals together.”