Pianist playing her way through college
BY MORGAN JONES
From the time she walks on campus at 7 a.m. with coffee thermos in hand, until the wee hours of the night when she lies down to catch a few hours of sleep, a student and devoted musician is working toward her passion.
Junior piano pedagogy major Kate Griffin has a passion for music and expresses it with her chosen instrument -- the piano.
"For me, music is raw emotion," Ms. Griffin said. "I really feel like music is an organic feeling for humans. Almost as natural for humans as breathing or seeing or hearing. It is a very natural thing for us. I think one of the things that really conveys emotion to us is sound. Even more than words."
Griffin is among five other students in the piano department of fine and performing arts that has a passion for learning and performing music.
"I think a lot of people that don't understand music majors think that we just play around on our instruments a lot and they don't realize the dedication and hard work that it takes," Griffin said.
Ms. Griffin started college at Tyler Junior College as a French horn major, but soon found her true passion, the piano.
"It was basically love at first sight," Ms. Griffin said. "I saw how much my teacher loved music, and not just piano, just music in general and I was like, 'I want to love music like she does and I want to be my best for this art.' I felt like I couldn't do that on the French horn and I didn't want to do that on French horn."
This blossoming passion for piano sparked the start of her undergraduate career that led her from TJC to Texas A&M University at Commerce, where she worked under the direction of adjunct instructor Dr. Maria Guenette.
However, Dr. Guenette came to The University of Texas at Tyler last spring, and Ms. Griffin transferred to continue to learn from her professor.
"I like UT Tyler," Ms. Griffin said. "We have really great faculty; our music staff is really good. I enjoy my lessons and classes. We have a really good staff, especially for it being such a small school."
Between classes, hours of practice and accompanying rehearsal time, Ms. Griffin schedules weekly lessons with the 11 students she teaches the beginning basics of piano.
Since June, Ms. Griffin has been teaching 12-year-old Amanda Hard weekly with the encouragement of her mother, Christi Hard.
"Kate is very encouraging," Christi Hard said. "We have a piano in our house that was not getting used. Amanda likes to practice because she usually has a choice between either practicing or doing chores and she chooses to practice."
Along with her other classmates, Ms. Griffin is preparing for her performance in the student recital on Nov. 29 that will feature numerous vocal and instrumental student artists.
"When I perform, I get really nervous; everyone does and you can't help it," Ms. Griffin said. "But whenever I am confident in whatever I am performing, it's not a bad nervous, it's a good nervous. I really try to tell the story through my music."
Piano pedagogy and accompanying senior lecturer in music Vicki Conway teaches and prepares her students to their best ability for their student recitals, she said.
"The students need to learn how to perform," Ms. Conway said. "In order to perform, you need an audience. It's a very different atmosphere practicing piano in the comfort of your own home or in the comfort of a practice room with only you. As soon as other people are listening, it really puts your whole mind and body in a completely different place, how to deal with nerves and anxiety so the only way to learn how to perform is to do it."
The attendance for the student recitals has been satisfactory in the past, but they also would like more campus support, Ms. Conway said.
"It (attendance) varies, sometimes we have very nice audiences. It depends on the students," Ms. Conway said. "If they have a lot of family and friends in the community then they will come. It would also be nice to have more faculty attendance at recitals, but I understand everyone is busy in their own areas."
Each music education major is required to perform a 30-minute solo recital at the conclusion of their senior year.
Performance majors are required to perform a 30-minute recital their junior year and one hour recital their senior year, Ms. Conway said.
"Music is a very complex process, it's like learning a whole new language. You have to read that language, hear that language and then you have to produce that sound in whatever form whether you are a flute player, a pianist or a singer," Ms. Conway said. "You have to be able to perform or create a work of art. So all of that combined is many different level of processing for the brain and the body. It's great that the students get to perform their work in the recitals."
When working on a piece of music to perform, Ms. Griffin describes the process as an intimate learning experience to best understand the music and composer's objectives.
"Whenever I don't want to give myself the best, I feel like I owe music the best," Ms. Griffin said. "The composers, the music that they write, is so brilliant and so genius and it's like they deserve my best. So if I am tired, I think about that."
As a junior working for a bachelor of music in piano pedagogy, Ms. Griffin is working toward completing the total 120 credit hours.
That includes 44 hours of core curriculum, 20 hours of lower-division, 27 hours of upper-division and 3 upper-division music electives.
"We have the same amount of classes as everyone else, the same homework, most people work and then we have to practice X number of hours after everything each day," Ms. Griffin said.
Ms. Griffin compares her busy schedule to others in her field of study.
Ms. Griffin starts each day on campus at 7 a.m. to practice her music for about two hours. Then she is in class until mid-afternoon, depending on the day, and spends her late afternoons giving one-on-one lessons to her 11 students.
Once home she practices into the early morning hours, often overlooking meal times.
"I have a thermos I carry around filled with coffee, constantly drinking coffee," Ms. Griffin said. "If I am not practicing my music, I am doing, like, homework or I am studying. Everything I do in my day is music. I don't not do music."