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  • Joey Karz

From Pianist to Composer

I have always loved getting lost in music, but I’ve never been good at practicing. I’ve played classical piano for a dozen years, but as I grew older, I slowly noticed myself enjoying improvising and writing songs more and more. In fact, by middle school, my diligent classical repertoire practice sessions turned into hours of straight improvisation. So, as I was going into high school, I decided to give piano another chance and went to Interlochen Arts Camp to study classical piano performance.

I emerged myself in the program and really enjoyed studying music, however, I felt like I was wildly less experienced than any of my peers. I was more studious and intense with my practice schedule than I had ever been, however, the more I played, the more I loved to get distracted in improvisations and forget about my repertoire.

At the end of my 6-week program, I was required to play in a final recital and by about the third week, I realized that I’d never be able to learn a piece anywhere near the level of my classmates’ in time - which is fine of course - however, I wanted to stand out and play something meaningful to me. So, I improvised. I knew it probably hadn’t been done before, and perhaps wasn’t even allowed, but I decided to spend the next month or so writing and preparing the most challenging original piece I could possibly play.

I spent my practice time balancing my Interlochen curriculum with my burgeoning opus. I worked hard, and not only did I actually enjoy locking myself in a soul-sucking practice hut, I craved it when I was away. I was addicted to composing this work.

I finalized the piece with confidence, and ascended the daunting recital stage. I was nervous of course, but confident and excited to share this piece with the audience.

It was a disaster. I blew an entire section, completely botching the runs that I had spent too many hours rehearsing. I even had to stop and reset in the middle of the piece. When it mercifully ended, I took a bow and tried to sneak out of the hall. That’s when things got strange. Students kept congratulating me, asking how I came up with such an impressive piece. Teachers, who I was positive gave me no respect, suddenly took an interest in me. I was the composer among pianists - other students could play my music, but no one else could write it.

Going into my sophomore year, I spent more and more time writing music and actually joined the LA Phil’s composer fellowship program where I was finally given a proper and incredible education in classical composition. I still played piano, but now, composition was clearly in the foreground. I enrolled in the composition program at Boston University’s Tanglewood over the next summer where I grew to love creating music even more. From there, I have been lucky enough to be given opportunities to write music for a variety of ensembles, student films, and friends. I am currently studying composition at the University of Michigan and above all, I am grateful that this passion guided me to where I am now.


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