Conservatory pianist Sam Glicklich discusses his experience growing up in the Colburn community and his participation in this year’s Musical Encounter Interactive.
This interview has been lightly edited for style, content, and clarity.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your musical background. How did you get to Colburn?
I like to think of myself as a “Colburn Lifer.” I’m twenty years old, and I’ve been with the Colburn school for twenty-one years. My mom works in the Community School for Performing Arts as a piano teacher, and she’s been with Colburn for over twenty-five years. I’ve heard many stories from CSPA faculty who’ve been there about the same length of time as my mom, who’ve seen my mom pregnant with me, walking around the campus and teaching before I was even born. My first memory of the School is a tap dance class my father and I participated in!
I started playing the piano when I was two or three years old–my mom introduced me. She taught me for about six months before turning me over to one of her colleagues at Colburn, and I’ve been at the School ever since. I studied piano with Rina Dokshitsky until the end of high school, and I also participated in music theory, guitar, and chamber music classes in the Community School. I’m really proud to have been a part of the Colburn community for such a long time.
How did you first get involved with Colburn’s Center for Innovation and Community Impact, and how did that lead to your participation in this year’s Musical Encounter Interactive?
As a high school student in the Community School, I had the opportunity to participate in Musical Encounter, a program where a couple of my friends and I would perform for 2nd—4th graders in local elementary schools. Afterwards, we’d have about a dozen kids ask us questions, and it was an incredible experience for me. I loved seeing the faces of these young kids light up, and their enthusiasm for music was evident throughout.
As a Conservatory student, I’ve been able to observe Musical Encounter Interactive (MEI) for several years now, and I’ve known Dean Zeisler for a while. After last year’s performance, I went up to Debbie Devine and mentioned I’d be really interested in participating in MEI. And just a couple of a weeks ago, I received an email from her asking if I was still interested, and of course I said yes without question!
Thinking back to all of your artistic experiences thus far, is this first time you’ll be involved in a fully-staged performance, complete with costumes, choreography, and a script? If so, what are some things you’re looking forward to? Do you expect there will be any challenges?
This is definitely the first time I’ve done a performance of this kind, to this magnitude. The only thing I can compare it to is when I performed at my preschool graduation. I was dressed up as the Jamaican flag… I forget the reason why, but that was part of it.
But I’m really looking forward to this experience! I love working with kids. I tutor, I teach, and I’m also super close with my younger sister. Working with kids has always been a really big passion of mine.
However, I’m also really nervous. I don’t have a lot of experience memorizing a script. And acting and being charismatic on stage outside of a strictly musical performance puts me in a very vulnerable spot… one that I don’t have much experience with. Nerves aside, I’m really excited to be participating in MEI this year!
This point that you bring up of putting your charisma on the stage… how do you feel like that’s different from playing a solo piano recital?
It’s very different! When I perform, I try to put all my emotion into the musical performance. I try to convey my own feelings of sadness, joy, and nostalgia throughout a piece of music. But as a pianist, I don’t face the audience when I perform, so I can’t see their reactions until after the performance is over. However, with something like MEI, I have to combine acting with musical performance–it’s like musical theater. Acting requires a different level of comfort and confidence on stage. It’s not something I’m used to, but I’m up for the challenge!
In your opinion, what does the virtual element of MEI add to the experience?
Every virtual performance is going to be different from a live performance. In live performances, the audience provides an energy that is unlike anything else, especially when that audience is full of 4th graders. It’s going to be so different this year because there’s not going to be anyone to interact with in the moment. You don’t have that relationship or communication with the audience that you would normally have. And in a way, that’s scarier for me because I won’t be receiving any immediate feedback. But the benefit of virtual performances is that they can reach a wider audience, which is a huge plus.
You mentioned you’ve seen MEI performances in past years. Can you describe what the atmosphere in Zipper Hall is like during these performances?
Oh, it’s incredible! When the Conservatory students walk in, all the 4th graders are all already there. There’s so much energy–you hear all of them talking, you can hear their excitement, you can feel their excitement in the hall. It’s indescribable. There’s a curiosity from the kids rather than an expectation. And during the performance, you hear them cheering, clapping, laughing, or they get sad when something sad happens on stage… you hear every kid’s emotion. It’s a special experience that I really value, and it shows how integral art and music are to a student’s education.
Why is it important for you, as an artist, to be actively engaged with your community?
As a classical musician, I’ve heard countless people say that classical music is “dying.” But classical music isn’t dying at all. What we need to do now is focus on arts education. I’ve been very lucky to have received excellent musical training at Colburn, and I feel it’s my duty to pay it forward. A lot of children don’t have access to instruments and aren’t taught anything about classical music. But it’s so impactful for a community to have music and arts around them… they need to express themselves.
When I was in middle school, I started performing at the St. James Soup Kitchen. After one performance, one of the diners came up to me and said, “I came here to feed my body, but you fed my soul.” And that’ll never leave me. These performances where I’m able to share music with my community–especially with those who may not always have easy access to the arts–are much more valuable to me than performing in the largest concert halls in the world.
What does it mean to you to continue your music education in the Conservatory and be part of this Colburn community all through your growth as a young artist?
I’m very lucky to have had access to the Colburn School throughout my entire life. I feel that the School has shaped me not only as a musician, but also as a person. The personal relationships I’ve developed with teachers from the Community School, the Music Academy, and the Conservatory are very important to me. I’ve always received tremendous support from all of them, ever since I was young.
As a Conservatory student, I get a kick out of seeing young kids walk around campus because I remember being just like them. I think it’s amazing to see Colburn welcome students of all levels, from the beginners to the aspiring concert artists. As a Community School student, I always looked up to the Conservatory students, wishing I could be in their shoes one day. And now, as a Conservatory student, I want to be engaged with the young aspiring musicians. I will forever cherish my time here and will continue to stay part of the community for the rest of my life.