Arts for Youth Spotlight: Michelle Schodowski
"Music is my Life," says Michelle Schodowski
By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | March 27, 2013Michelle Schodowski has a long list of musical accomplishments to her name, including a maximum merit scholarship to the Tennessee Governor's School for the Arts for the upcoming June session. Her description of what music means to her explains where her dedication arises.
"Music means my entire life," she says. "I love nothing more than performing in front of an appreciative audience and sharing my music with them. Performing is such an intimate and personal thing, and a musician can express things through music that could never be expressed with words or actions. About two years ago, I decided that I wanted to go to assisted living and retirement homes to play for the residents. It is the greatest feeling being able to evoke deep emotions and thoughts in my audience. The greatest musician is capable of making people laugh and smile with joy and move them to tears with the sorrowfulness of the music. I've had several instances like this at the retirement homes and at other performances. It is so gratifying to be able to accomplish something like this."
Michelle began taking piano lessons when she was 5 and has been playing since. She began with dance lessons because of a communication error.
"My parents always tell me that when I was about 2, we had a recording of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker' ballet with Mikhail Baryshnikov. My mother would have to play the video constantly for me, because I would smack on the TV saying "again, again.' Initially, they though I was infatuated with the dancing, so they put me in dance lessons. When I was about 3, my dad bought an upright piano. They realized that I actually loved the music, because I would always bang on the keys of the piano attempting to create music."
When Michelle was 7, she began studying with Alexander Peskanov. She says she has always been inspired by him and his playing. "I remember the very first lesson I had with him," she says. "I was 7 and I played a C Major scale, one octave up and down, which is the requirement for Level I of the Russian Technical Regimen. After I finished, Alek asked if he could sit down at the piano; and he played the same scale in C for Level VII, super virtuoso, of the regimen. I listened and watched in awe as his hands glided over the keys, going in parallel and contrary motion, at what seemed to be the speed of light. Being only 7 at the time, I thought I was witnessing something inhuman; and I couldn't fathom myself ever being able to play with such vivaciousness and virtuosity. Now, after several years of experience, I'm finally catching up. All the pieces that are in my repertoire are the same pieces that Alek performs in his own concerts. Of course, I'm inspired by great pianists like Arthur Rubinstein, Boris Berezovsky, Emanuel Ax and others; but Alek's playing has always had such a profound impact on me, mentally and emotionally. He's the reason why I've come this far with my music and why I wish to devote my life to piano and performing."
In addition to her studies with Peskanov, Michelle has been invited to piano master classes with teachers such as Randall Faber, author of the Piano Adventures series; Chi-Long Hu, East Tennessee State University professor of piano; David Brunell, University of Tennessee professor of piano; and Pavlina Dokovska, Mannes School of Music in New York City. She also studies music theory with Ann Holler at King University.
Michelle wants to be a professional concert pianist. Her favorite classical composers are Chopin and Liszt. "I can relate easily to the music of Romantic composers, because it has everything from beautiful lyricism to showy virtuosity, particularly for piano work. I listen to other types of music as well, but I have a much higher appreciation for classical music because of the complexity and the emotions that the composers were able to portray so effectively through it."
She says she is still working on her personal style. "I try to be sensitive to the details in the score to make my performances convincing and have an emotional impact on whoever listens, along with what the composer has written. I have to think about what the composer's feelings were when he was writing it and what he was wanting to express through the music. It is always much more interesting when I can attach something to it, whether it be an image, a story, the sound of another instrument, a movie, and so on. Without this, the music is dead and has no meaning."
Michelle isn't the only musician in her family. Her paternal grandfather and great-grandfather were Philadelphia Mummers. Her great-grandfather played the violin in the String Band Division and played for silent movies. Her grandfather played the accordion in the Aqua String Band and was in a country-western band.
She also has a rather unusual family connection to the piano. Her maternal great-great-grandfather wasn't a musician, but he was profoundly affected by the piano. "He was walking on the sidewalk in downtown Philadelphia and movers were hoisting a piano into a building through the window, because it was too large to move it up the stairs or the elevator," she says. "He just happened to be walking under the piano when the cords holding the piano snapped and fell on him, killing him."
Michelle's mishaps with piano have only included one rolling because the wheels weren't locked. In the next year, she is planning on applying to conservatories and universities to further her education. Her short list is Juilliard, Curtis Institute of Music, Eastman School of Music, Peabody Institute, New England Conservatory, Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University and Cleveland Institute of Music.
If you want to hear Michelle before she goes to college, she is performing Saturday, April 6 at 2:30 p.m., in the chapel on the campus of King University, Bristol, Tenn. The concert will include Beethoven, Chopin, Bach, Liszt and Rachmaninoff.
In what little spare time she has, Michelle enjoys reading and watching movies. She is 16 and lives in Kingsport, Tenn., with her parents, Paul and Sharon Schodowski. She attends The Academy at King in Bristol, Tenn.
Alexander (Alek) Peskanov and Michelle Schodowski during their first piano lesson together.