Piano majors set to showcase skills at recital

Ty Konell

Grand Valley State University is continuing its trend of allowing students to showcase their talents in the upcoming piano major studio recital being held Saturday, April 21. The event will feature upper-level GVSU students majoring in piano and will allow each student to demonstrate their musical capabilities.

The event is set to start at 3 p.m. in the Sherman Van Solkema Recital Hall in the Thomas. J and Marcia J. Haas Center for Performing Arts.

The students’ instructor, Helen Marlais, who is an associate professor of music and director of piano pedagogy at GVSU, said each of the performing students will be playing beautiful and virtuosic pieces.

One of the performing students, Reese Rehkopf, said piano playing has been a hobby of his since he was young and that his relationship with the instrument began because he wanted to hang out with a childhood friend.

“I started playing piano when I was eight,” Rehkopf said. “I grew up in church and was good buddies with the church pianist’s son. When my parents asked me what instrument I would want to play given the option, I said, ‘Piano!’ Not because I was particularly fond of the instrument, but because I knew if I took lessons from the church pianist, I would get to hang with my buddy more often.”

With a wide variety of musical interests, Rehkopf said he enjoys listening to and playing any genre that has soul.

“(I like to play) a kaleidoscope of different genres and styles,” Rehkopf said. “I enjoy playing contemporary classical and supporting living composers. I love late romantic works, especially Rachmaninov. I love R&B, funk, rap, rock, you name it; anything that’s heartfelt and has a good groove to it.” 

Each student performing in Saturday’s concert has been given a solo performance day to prep. Rehkopf, whose individual performance day is Friday, April 20, said he will be experimenting with a myriad of pieces that cross genre lines.

“Friday, I’ll be surveying music from Beethoven to contemporary compositions,” Rehkopf said. “I’m playing some really well-known classical pieces: Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ and Chopin’s ‘Ballade in G minor,'” Rehkopf said. “Then, I will shift gears entirely and will play classical/jazz fusion pieces by Nikolai Kapustin. There’ll be a contemporary trio piece, and then I’ll swing into some jazz tunes. It’s going to be a wild ride.”

The piano major also said he is grateful to have been able to study piano at GVSU, as he thinks the faculty in the music department is excellent.

“GVSU’s music department is underappreciated,” Rehkopf said. “The quality of teachers for a midsize public university is astounding. My private piano instructor, Dr. Helen Marlais, has taught me a wealth of knowledge regarding musicality, technique and even how to be a moral musician. The same goes for my other private instructors and my lecture professors. They have all been instrumental (pun intended) to my musical upbringing and character development.

“My exposure to new genres of music through the learning environment in the music department has led me to pursue composition, jazz studies and new music just in the four years I’ve been here.”

Moreover, GVSU has prepared Rehkopf as well as two other piano seniors for their upcoming transition into graduate schools.

“Three of the (performing) students are going on to excellent graduate programs,” Rehkopf said. “The students received full tuition plus graduate assistantships for the graduate programs at Ithaca College, New York; (the) University of Louisville, Kentucky; and (the) University of Knoxville, Tennessee.”

For Rehkopf in particular, moving onto graduate school to further improve his skills offers an exciting new journey.

“Going forward, I’m excited about moving to Tennessee to pursue graduate studies in jazz,” Rehkopf said. “I know that the best way to grow is to uproot myself from my comfort zone and shoot for the stars. That’s why I’m moving to one of the biggest music hubs in the country. 

“I look forward to further developing my musical voice and to using my God-given gifts to enrich people’s lives.”