By Jenna Purcell
City on a Hill Press Reporter
A piano bench can be awfully cramped for the pizzazz of two musicians.
So, how can UC Santa Cruz’s music faculty foster all the intricacy of a piano duet without scanting on style?
In the upcoming faculty showcase concert, “From the Romantics to Brubeck: A Celebration of Piano Ensemble Music,” the music department plans to up the ante by throwing a second piano into the performance’s mix.
“The use of two pianos really allows us to create a sort of sound wall,” said Amy Beal, an associate music professor and performer in the upcoming concert. Beal will play along with fellow professors Mary Jane Cope and Erika Arul.
“The music’s more virtuosic [on two pianos],” Beal said. “Having two different pianos gives each performer full range of the instrument. The performer and the sound aren’t restricted like they are in a duet. Plus, it’s just more fun to play this way.”
Advertised as “music for four hands at two pianos,” the three faculty members and guest performer Kumaran Arul, Erika Arul’s husband, will take turns playing a variety of piano music written for two. Cope, who volunteered to organize this concert, says she is grateful for the perks afforded to the UCSC music community.
“Our faculty is graced with the presence of a number of wonderfully talented pianists, each with unique gifts and areas of interest,” Cope said. “We are also fortunate in that our wonderful recital hall houses two absolutely beautiful Steinway grand pianos, which are well-matched for our endeavor. … We had so much fun preparing this program.”
Erika Arul, a busy professor, pianist, and mother, talked about the challenges — and rewards — of creating this type of artwork.
“As a teacher and a mom, it takes a lot of organization, time, and focus to present a program of any length,” Arul said. “However, the process is always enriching and musically rewarding. As with any challenge, you do your best and hope that your work leaves the world a little better for it.”
Cope hopes the faculty’s level of enjoyment in creating the concert will carry over to her students’ musical practice.
“Students should enjoy the wide variety of music, from the well-loved standards of Brahms to lesser-known works by Shubert and Dello Joio, and also the use of well-known folk tunes and jazz elements,” Cope said. “They should also be intrigued by the versatility of the two pianos for projecting a broad spectrum of musical color and expressiveness.”
Having unique perspectives as both professors and performers, the three faculty members hope to connect with their students on a separate plane from the traditional lecture atmosphere. Beal sees this different dynamic as essential for fostering true musical growth within the department.
“This is how the best music departments function, combining classes and performances,” Beal said. “I play piano a lot in class, then break it down for my students, but it’s always very useful for them to experience formal concerts. We’re doing what they’ll be doing, which makes for an interesting relationship.
“And we’ll all be nervous!” she added with a smile.
Cope shared similar enthusiasm about seeing her students in the recital hall rather than the lecture hall.
“I love having students in the audience,” she said. “Their presence provides an opportunity to model what I teach, hopefully to encourage and inspire, and perhaps to broaden their musical horizons.”
While music represents an academic discourse at UCSC, performances that stem from the department are designed to remind the community and the students that music is, at its core, an art form. With that in mind, Erika Arul, while conscious of the benefits of performance for her own students, hopes the artistry of the concert extends beyond the classroom.
“It is my hope that anyone, student or not, will connect with the ideas that these brilliant composers have written into their music,” Arul said. “In live music, the connection with the composer becomes fresh and alive. We can still relate to their humanity and connect to them emotionally.”