An uncommon equation to be sure, but a fact nonetheless as evidenced by the hundreds of proud parents whose progeny performed with international piano phenom, Lang Lang, in his “101 Pianists” event. Culminating in a combined concert, 100 student pianists began their journey to this high point of their young musical careers over six months ago. Along the way, they made new friends, learned new music, and gained new skills to prepare them for their big day on stage with Lang Lang at the Tilles Performing Arts Center.
Students ranging in age from 7 to 17 were selected from over 200 applicants throughout the northeast and were initially paired with a partner to practice four-hand arrangements of two popular classical pieces: Schubert’s Marche Militaires and Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca. After months of individual practice and guidance from their private teachers, the 50 couplings came together to rehearse and perform on the campus of Long Island University Post in New York. Awaiting them on stage were 50 Roland HP-504 Digital Pianos and two piano coaches who had less than 24 hours to teach 100 pianists how to sound like a one big duet.
One of the coaches was Johanna Kosak, who also auditioned and coordinated all the students for the New York program. “This is an astonishingly exciting event for piano students,” says Johanna. “They are such graceful young artists and it’s been really great to help the children get ready to play on stage with Lang Lang.” Having taught for 20 years in her own private studio and at the college level, Johanna sees the 101 Pianists program as a unique opportunity for piano students in particular. “As a pianist you don’t get that much experience playing with somebody else – it’s kind of lonely work,” relates Johanna. “You practice in the practice room by yourself, you oftentimes play solo pieces by yourself…so this is very inspiring.”
While the performance with Lang Lang is certainly a high-point of the program, the core of the 101 Pianists experience is educational. After the students play each piece, Lang Lang provides feedback and suggestions for improvement. He shows how changes in phrasing and dynamics can make a big difference, but also how to approach all music and see beyond the notes. “We always practice and we always read the notes, but sometimes we also need to read through [to] what is behind the note,” Lang Lang explains. “It’s nice to just read and play, but it’s very different when you start analyzing dynamics and whether notes are short or long. They’re very simple things but make a big difference.”
He also emphasizes the value of pianists playing with a partner and how it can develop better listening skills. “Sometimes when you practice by yourself, you don’t hear a huge difference,” Lang Lang continues. “But when we have 100 players at the same time, if somebody starts rushing and someone else followed, then we’re totally out of tempo. That’s why it’s important as a pianist sometimes to play four hands, like a little orchestra, so we find our common advantages and so we can fix problems together.”
What began in 2009 as an outreach of the Lang Lang International Music Foundation to foster the enthusiasm of young pianists, has become an ongoing venture with host cities including San Francisco, Berlin, London, and Toronto. The monumental logistics of an event with 50 pianos being played on a single stage simultaneously lends itself to a digital piano solution, so Roland has been a worldwide partner to provide this key component of the program. “This is an international endeavor and we are proud to partner with Roland who provides our pianos in each country,” says Lukas Barwinski, Executive Director of the Lang Lang Foundation. “Parents and teachers play such an important role in encouraging the next generation of pianists and we created this program to support them in providing an experience that will inspire these students for a lifetime.”
“The ‘101 Pianists’ program is one of the most important educational programs we invest in,” says Kim Nunney, President of Roland Corporation U.S. “It’s amazing to see how the experience impacts these young musicians. It’s such a unique opportunity and the music they create is one-of-a-kind.”
As it traverses the globe, the 101 Pianists program continues to gain momentum and spark the imagination of piano students who can envision themselves on stage with Lang Lang. The next U.S. city to host the event will be announced soon so stay tuned. And in the meantime, if your student asks you, “How do I get to be one of the 101 Pianists?,” you already know the answer: “Practice, Practice, Practice.”