Our grantees| Nikita Stěpaněnko| A pianist's diary: Chapter 1
27. October 2017 Nikita Stěpaněnko

A pianist's diary: Chapter 1

We're in the middle of the October, 2017, in the US, inside "the Big Apple" NYC. I'm writing this text in a dormitory room, in Andersen hall, a building which is attached to the Manhattan School of Music, located in the Upper Westside, Manhattan. I'm a sophomore year student and I am still not sure whether I'm dreaming or not.

One has to dream though, for "A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work." ( Colin Powell ). How did I even get here? It all began with my hobbies as a kid. I did karate, I played tennis, piano, computer games, I watched films, I read books. As a teenager, I felt in love with certain classes and before I graduated from a high school, I kept dreaming about my job, which would be related to my hobby or a favorite class, so that I could work restlessly, while time would  run too quickly, and I would eagerly do my job, day after day, with endless enthusiasm and constant improvement of what I do best. Since my childhood, I knew that I was born with perfect pitch and a good memory as well as other musical talents, however I was open to many life paths until I was 14. Even during my music high school I was considering future majors such as linguistics, international relations, history of humankind or philosophy. Instead I went to the Prague Consetvatory to pursue the Associate degree of music, for by that time I already viewed music as a sort of destiny or predestination thanks to an endless support from my family and audience reactions to my music performance ( it is a priceless moment to hear any comments, praises or reactions after your performance ). I knew that I wanted to study in a college abroad for multiple reasons. It's a different environment, it's a broader view and an outlook of the world happenings. In the US, the music colleges are specialized in the classical music theory and history of the 20th century as well as performances of that kind of music, however at the same time the older music is taught and performed in stylistic and authentic manners, also different teachers, etc... During my graduation year in the Prague Conservatory, I successfully auditioned to 3 colleges of music - the Prague Academy of Performing Arts and two NYC music colleges. I never regretted choosing the Manhattan School of Music. During the freshman year, I was adjusting to the new city, school, new environment, new colleagues, new teachers. I realized that I am able to easily find a common language with other musicians in a conversation, regardless of nationality, because music is an international language. In the end of the first year, my piano teacher told me that he didn't expect such a progress in my performance and he said that if I keep up the pace, I'm on the right path. My freshman final exam grades as well as my piano jury were better than my audition grades. I was convinced that I'm on the right place. The Manhattan School of Music is a perfect place for young musicians and there are lots of various opportunities ( simply because the NYC is a center of a never ending cycle of performances of all the classical music stars from all around the world ).

And how am I feeling right now? I am busy all the time and I feel super excited. The September was calm. Every student chooses mandatory and elective classes during the first two weeks, called add/drop period. About 90% of those classes are related to music, especially music theory classes - from the Gregorian chant up to atonal music or music history - from the middle ages through Bach&Mozart up to electronic and contemporary music, however there is also a selected choice of non music classes such as the Alexander Technique. It is not an easy task to form a schedule in order to not make any time conflicts between classes. Also there is a limited amount of credits. My most favorite class is my major - piano lessons with an incredible pianist, Mr. Alexandre Moutouzkine, whom I admire not only as a musician, but also as a kind and supportive person. It is fascinating, that my teacher teaches around 25 students and at the same time has a zero space in his calendar ( two years ahead ). He keeps playing concerts, recitals and teaches masterclasses all the time of the year across the US.
Later on, the classes are getting a bit tough. Right now, it's the time of midterms ( mid October ). Unlike my freshman year, this year I am able to prepare more efficiently for any tasks, asignments, practicing or planning to go to concerts in Carnegie hall and Lincoln center or my own performances.

My "regular day" consists of classes such as Keyboard Skills, Aural Skills, Music Theory ( for students with advanced knowledge ), Bach elective, Symphonic Chorus ( a huge choir, a mandatory class where students rehearse and perform two different pieces for choir and orchestra per academic year, last year pieces by Ravel and Britten were performed, this year pieces by Mozart and Mendelssohn are sung ), Humanities, Chamber Music ( I am playing with an ensemble - a piano quintet by Schubert, my colleagues are a violinist, a violist, a cellist and a double bassist ). In November, I am planning to enter a piano competition ( dedicated to George Gershwin ) and I will have a several gigs such as a performance in a library, a house of culture or a retired house. I also sing regularly at least once per a week in churches.
Imagine that apart from previously mentioned classes, you have to fill up your daily schedule with up to 4-8 hours of piano practicing each day ( I go to sleep late due to my habit of finishing the task that I'm working on in that moment ). In January, I am planning to play my first piano solo recital, which will be at least one hour long ( I have never played in front of audience for longer than 30 minutes ). My recital program will contain pieces by J.S.Bach, F.Chopin, L. van Beethoven, Vitezslav Novak, Klement Slavicky as well as a piece that was composed by my friend, Jiri Trtik, who was my colleague in the Prague Conservatory and who studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music in Ohio. Of course I bought some tickets to Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center events featuring piano recitals, operas and symphonic works. Also, my friend from Ecuador (a jazz pianist, my former roommate), invites me to join him in a Musical Theater show in the Times Square Church where he performs.
I am the only student from the Czech Republic who is enrolled in Manhattan School of Music and although I have a lot of friends here, I feel nostalgic after my home and especially I feel deeply touched by the music of Dvořák, Smetana or Martinů, while these were travelling abroad. I am very gratefull to the Kellner Family Foundation for helping me to continue pursuing my life goals and dreams. To be continued.

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