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Cliburn Quarterfinal Round

Yekwon Sunwoo, of South Korea, performs during the 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Sunwoo, who won the event, was among this year's featured performers at the Lied Center for Performing Arts.

Leave it to the piano teachers.

For the past five years a group of piano teachers -- and those who appreciate the sort of performers who emerge with the help of dedicated teachers -- has donated money to bring professional pianists to the Lied Center for Performing Arts.

Now they’re eyeing the younger set, hoping to give serious high school piano students a chance to immerse themselves in their music for a week on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus -- and work with an internationally renowned performer.

The first piano academy -- an event the Lied Center hopes to make an annual event -- will give piano students a chance to participate in master classes and workshops, private lessons, attend a recital and put on their own performances.

The piano circle -- a group of donors especially passionate about classical piano, including several who have dedicated their careers to teaching it -- has been helping to bring three award-winning pianists to the Lied Center each year.

The circle began as a way to increase the number of piano performances, said Lied Center Artistic Director Ann Chang, and has been so successful the Lied has created other “circles” of donors focused on a particular genre.

Last year, Chang asked the piano circle how they’d like to expand the piano experiences associated with the Lied Center.

They chose to focus on high school piano students, who don’t have the same types of opportunities as their peers who play in bands and orchestras.

“Serious students don’t have as much of an outlet to explore their talents,” she said. “They wanted us to start an academy so we could encourage students of this age to feel supported and engaged and wanting to do better.”

Mary Sue Harris, a performer and former piano teacher, said the academy is geared toward giving opportunities to young pianists and helping them be successful.  

"If given an opportunity, they will always excel, and this is a perfect opportunity," she said.

The piano academy hosted by UNL’s Glenn Korff School of Music from July 22-28. Intermediate or advanced high school students will stay in the dormitory suites and study with UNL faculty, including Chang, who is also an artist-in-residence and associate UNL professor, visiting performer and teacher Donna Gunn, as well as American pianist Spencer Myer.

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Myer, lauded for his work by the Boston Globe and labeled “definitely a man to watch” by London’s The Independent, is one of the most sought-after artists on today’s concert stage, Chang said, and is an enthusiastic supporter of the education of young musicians.

He’s served as a guest faculty at the Oberlin and Baldwin-Wallace Conservatories of Music and was named Artist-Teacher of Piano and Collaborative Piano at Boston’s Longy School of Music of Bard College.

One of the best parts of the academy is that it won’t end in July, Chang said. During the academy, students will study the performers the piano circle is bringing to the Lied Center the following year, as well as the music they will perform.

Academy participants will be invited to attend the artists’ performances throughout the year, and possibly lead pre-concert talks about the upcoming performances.

“I think that’s a cool part of this that keeps that learning process going throughout the year,” Chang said.

Tuition is $250, plus room and board for $310. Limited full scholarships are available. For more information, go to liedcenter.org/pianoacademy. The application deadline is May 1. Enrollment is limited to 40.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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