Students from Around the World Participate in the First Colburn Virtual Piano Seminar

iPad with Colburn logo in front of a piano keyboard

During the two-week online seminar, piano students participated in performance classes, private lessons, master classes, and professional development courses.

On August 3, 2020, in response to an educational gap created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Colburn kicked off a brand new offering: the Colburn Virtual Piano Seminar. For two weeks, students ages 9–25 from across the world participated in online performance classes; private lessons given by Colburn faculty; master classes and Q&As with renowned guest artists; and courses in piano mechanics, career development, and technology—all online.

“Because of this new normality we’re living in, summer festivals were cancelled,” explained faculty member Fabio Bidini. “These festivals provide students not only the opportunity to learn, but also to get to know new people, new colleagues, and new teachers and to have new experiences.”

With this in mind, Fabio approached Micah Yui, a piano faculty member in the Community School of Performing Arts, with the idea for a virtual seminar. And Micah ran with it.

“Micah did a fantastic job organizing and taking care of everything,” lauded Fabio. “In less than a month, we were able to come up with a fantastic seminar with four different teachers and four different master classes led by amazing, immense musicians and teachers from outside [of Colburn].”

In addition to Micah and Fabio, the faculty roster included HyeJin Kim and Rodolfo Leone, with master classes led by Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Alan Chow, Douglas Humphries, and Yoheved Kaplinsky.

Twenty-five-year-old Susana Gómez Vázquez, who is currently working on her Master of Music degree at Hochschule für Musik und Tanz in Cologne, first heard about the Colburn Virtual Piano Seminar from Fabio himself. “Fabio shared some information with his students in Germany. It looked interesting. I didn’t even think twice about [signing up].”

“I liked the fact that we could receive so many private lessons and from different professors,” continued Susana, who has been playing piano since the age of five. “And I loved the pianists who were giving the master classes—especially Jean-Yves Thibaudet! All of those things together, plus the seminars about recording devices, piano technology, and all these things that nowadays are so important since we are locked down to our houses.”

Susana found the technology course taught by Fred Vogler, principal sound designer and mixer for the Hollywood Bowl and Walt Disney Concert Hall, particularly beneficial. “Now that I have quite a bit of online concerts at home, I’m wondering which sort of mic [to use], how should I place it—all these questions. And he covered it all.”

One unique aspect of the seminar was that participants could observe any private lesson, and the scores were all available online. Susana currently resides in Spain, so it was challenging with the time difference to observe lessons, but she was able to catch several. “I really liked the fact that there were people from all generations, from younger to older, so you could learn a lot from the way the teacher approached [instructing] the different ages.”

When asked about one thing she learned from the seminar, she said, “I definitely saw a change in the way I was listening to music. I was listening much better and reflecting on my own playing, challenging myself to work on achieving the best I can every time I sit at the piano. And I think that’s what makes a good musician.”

Faculty certainly took notice of her growth and talent, as Susana won the senior division of the seminar’s closing competition. In addition to receiving a $1,000 prize, she also won the coveted opportunity to record a recital in Colburn’s Zipper Hall, when it is safe to do so. Hannah Zhu, the winner of the junior division, received a $500 Steinway Prize.

“It made me super happy [to hear I’d won the competition],” said Susana. “I’m away from my friends right now, and this cheered me up a lot. I’ll think more about the repertoire for my recital when I know when the concert will be, but I’ll probably include some Chopin and some contemporary music.”

Overall, Fabio deemed the first Colburn Virtual Piano Seminar a success. “In the seminar, we were able to create a community,” he mused. “On the last day, the faculty each said the same thing: ‘we already miss all these kids.’ Hopefully in the future we will be able to keep doing this, perhaps even in-person.”