For any musician, making a New York debut is a big deal. To be a college student and make a New York debut, that is huge.
Four Bluffton University students made their New York debut Oct. 21 with a piano recital in historic Steinway Hall. Pianists Brandon Fullenkamp, a senior from Wapakoneta, Stephanie Patterson, a junior from Findlay, and Tim Yoder, a junior from Dalton, performed alongside Dr. Lucia Unrau, professor and chair of music. Fullenkamp debuted a piece composed by fellow student James Brake, a junior from Ohio City.
Brake composed "Let Fear to Madness Evolve" using a computer notation program. "It never sounded quite like I wanted (on the computer)," said Brake. "I told Brandon that the piece hinged on the emotion he portrayed. He took it to a place I never imagined."
The recital concluded with the crowd-pleasing eight-hand piece "Galop-Marche" by Albert Lavignac (1846-1916.) "This was an opportunity for us to have an 'ensemble' experience at the piano," according to Unrau. "It involved lots of choreography and 'getting out of each other's way,' which was sometimes very challenging, but very enjoyable!"
Bluffton is an "All-Steinway School," one of 120 colleges and universities that use all Steinway-brand pianos. As a result, Steinway & Sons provided the location for the recital and dessert reception, and gave Bluffton visitors a guided tour Oct. 22 at its factory in Long Island City, Queens.
"As a performer, I know that pianos play differently," said Patterson. "It's nice to know why, to have seen all of the intricate things that go into making a piano." During the two-hour tour, the group was able to see the craftsmanship that goes into the making of a Steinway piano, including hand carving, hand stringing and bending the wood for the outer shell.
"The Broadway show we saw, 'Memphis,' in the Shubert Theatre, was spectacular," said Yoder. "It was special that we got a backstage tour and got to be on the stage of the Shubert Theatre." Ken Hitchcock, saxophone player for "Memphis" and friend of Julia Szabo, director of alumni relations and annual giving, led the student tour. "It was bizarre to go from outside to the stage in 12 steps," Brake said. "It was such an intense space."
About 30 alumni, friends, family, Bluffton faculty and administration gathered for the recital, tour and dinner at the well-known Sardi's restaurant through a "Meet Us in New York" alumni event.
"This was a life-changing experience for our music students to have a NYC recital debut on their list of credits this early in their career," said Unrau. "I'm so proud of how they have grown into not only wonderful musicians, but into people of outstanding character who are comfortable interacting both musically and socially with our alumni family and friends."
After graduation, Brake hopes to be a high school band director and compose music specifically for his students. Fullenkamp, Patterson and Yoder plan to go to graduate school-Fullenkamp to study orchestral conducting; Patterson, to further her study of music theory with a dream of someday teaching at the collegiate level; and Yoder, to continue studying theory and composition.
Fullenkamp summed up the experience by saying, "This has been a dream come true."