Piano masterclass highlights creative recruiting during pandemic

Piano masterclass highlights creative recruiting during pandemic

calendar icon26 May 2020    user iconBy Kathe C.Andersen

Top: Paul Barnes teaches a piano masterclass for Nebraska Young Artist Award pianists on May 16. Bottom: Daniel Bernhardson of Lincoln Christian School performs Claude Debussy's Fireworks from Preludes, Book Two.
Top: Paul Barnes teaches a piano masterclass for Nebraska Young Artist Award pianists on May 16. Bottom: Daniel Bernhardson of Lincoln Christian School performs Claude Debussy's Fireworks from Preludes, Book Two.

Lincoln, Neb.--While COVID-19 may have cancelled the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts’ annual Nebraska Young Artist Awards day of activities on April 8, it didn’t stop the college from continuing to recruit these top artists in the state.

The College has hosted the Nebraska Young Artist Awards for the past 23 years, dating back to 1998. The awards annually recognize high school juniors across the state who are talented in visual art, music, dance, theatre, and film and emerging media arts.

The celebration moved online, first through social media recognition of all the award winners (https://go.unl.edu/nyaa2020), and now a virtual masterclass for the piano recipients on May 16.

Among the 59 students from more than 40 high schools across the state who were selected for this year’s awards were seven piano students.

Marguerite Scribante Professor of Piano Paul Barnes offered to hold an online masterclass for those piano students, and Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts Director of Recruitment Alfonzo Cooper, Jr., was happy to take him up on the offer.

“We were disappointed not to be able to have our in-person Nebraska Young Artist Awards event this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cooper said. “It’s one of our favorite spring events that we’ve been hosting for nearly 25 years, and it is an important outreach event for us to connect with arts students across the state. So when Dr. Barnes asked if he could hold an online masterclass for the piano recipients, I was happy he came to me with this idea. I think it really shows the initiative of our faculty and how much they care about their students and the experience they get at Nebraska.”

Barnes was able to use technology effectively to teach the students.

“It was an honor for me to be able to work in this format with these talented students, teachers, and parents,” Barnes said. “The Zoom format actually created a very interactive and multi-platform experience for the students as I was able to easily share YouTube videos to make my performance points, I could play myself of course, and then most importantly, I could zoom in on very specific moments in the musical score to make very specific points about the performance. And with my Apple Pencil, I’m going crazy with color!

Four of the seven piano students participated in the May 16 masterclass, including Daniel Bernhardson from Lincoln Christian School.

“I wanted to participate in the masterclass because it was a great opportunity to work with an amazing teacher and listen to some great musicians,” Bernhardson said. “I think it’s important for me to be on the other side of the room, the one listening in on a lesson. I don’t have many opportunities to do that often, and it’s interesting to see how others analyze music and interpret the author’s intent. It’s enlightening to learn concepts from a different perspective than I’m used to, and I am grateful to Dr. Barnes for the opportunity.”

He was honored to be a Nebraska Young Artist Award recipient. He plans to study biochemistry or molecular biology in college, but he has not decided whether or not to minor in music yet.

“To me personally, it cements the idea that I should pursue music later in the future, not necessarily on an undergraduate level,” he said. “But music is one thing that age cannot take away.”

Christopher Jennings, of O’Neill High School, also participated in the masterclass.

“I wanted to have a chance to show what I’ve been doing with my piece in front of Dr. Barnes when we didn’t do it in person,” Jennings said. “It is important because during this time, it was nice to connect and learn more things musically.”

He appreciated the recognition of the award.

“I was excited to find out I received the young artist’s award because I was the second person in our school’s history to receive it,” he said.

Teacher Anne Madison (B.M. 1994), who is the chair of the piano department at the Omaha Conservatory of Music, had three piano students selected for the Nebraska Young Artist Awards: Julia Becker and Alexis Nothelfer, who both performed in the masterclass, as well as Jessica Hua.

“Saturday’s masterclass was a breath of fresh air,” Madison said. “It was wonderful for students and teachers to have an opportunity to ‘get together,’ share music and explore its depths with others who enjoy it and are excited about the process. Paul did a great job of creating a personal connection with each student and bridging the screens between us. I loved the way that he enriched the learning environment with thoughtfully chosen videos and his real-time notations on pdf images of the students’ scores. Each student went away with clear, practical ideas and a smile on his or her face. It was a wonderful event.”

Barnes said the masterclass fulfilled his goal of inspiring these talented piano students.

“All and all, I was able to inspire all of these students to practice harder, delve deeper into the musical message of their pieces, and have fun all at the same time,” he said. “And encouraging all of these fine students to audition next year for the Glenn Korff School of Music.”

Madison said the Nebraska Young Artist Awards are a wonderful program.

“As a UNL alum, it makes me happy and proud to see the university honoring Nebraska’s top students in this way,” she said.

Cooper said the Nebraska Young Artist Awards play a vital role in recruiting for the college.

“The Nebraska Young Artist Awards are a Hixson-Lied tradition,” he said. “This recruitment event allows us to scout and recruit some of the best artistic talent in our own backyard. One of the university enrollment goals is to enroll more resident students to campus, and the NYAA gives us the opportunity to do so.”

Despite the challenges of recruiting during the COVID-19 pandemic, this masterclass is an example of how the college keeps recruiting in innovative ways.

“COVID-19 has interrupted life and a sense of normalcy for most,” Cooper said. “It is events and opportunities like this masterclass that we are still able to make the university, its resources, faculty and staff accessible to students even when it’s not possible to do it in person.”

Cooper’s own recruiting has moved primarily to phone and virtual options.

“Students are able to request one-on-one times with our units, as well as me,” he said. “This is done via Zoom, but there is a phone option, too.”

The College is rising to the challenge of being creative, regardless of circumstances.

“The creative minds of our faculty and staff are challenging the norm as to how best we can serve current and incoming students,” Cooper said. “Though the norm is being altered, the creative avenue for our students is still there. If I were a prospective student interested in the arts, this would be a college that I would be excited to enter and study.”

For more information on any the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts’ programs, contact Cooper at acooper5@unl.edu.

The 2020 Nebraska Young Artist Award winners in piano include (* indicates the students who performed in the May 16 masterclass):

• Julia Becker*, Omaha Marian, student of Anne Madison
• Daniel Bernhardson*, Lincoln Christian, student of Catherine Herbener
• Ealynn Hsu, Lincoln East, student of Marcia Wiebers
• Jessica Hua, Millard South, student of Anne Madison
• Christopher Jennings*, O’Neill, student of Pat Will
• Timothy Mars, Lumen Christi Home School, student of Pat Fletcher
• Alexis Nothelfer*, Gross Catholic, student of Anne Madison

For a full listing of this year’s Nebraska Young Artist Award recipients, visit https://go.unl.edu/0ao8