From 4 1/2 on, Luke’s love of piano has occupied a spot on his calendar and a slice of his life. For the past three years, especially, his efforts have grown more and more feverish as he approached an event that could make or break an ambitious goal he’d set for himself in ninth grade.
“It’s kind of part of me – I’ve always played,” Luke said, by way of explaining his passion. “I love the escape. They say that when a musician plays piano, a lot of his brain shuts off. One part of the brain is activated – the same part that’s activated when you meditate.”
So how do you supercharge such a calming routine? “I saw someone get [the Certificate of Merit program’s Senior Merit Award] in ninth grade, and I thought, ‘I want that,’” Luke said. “So I just set it as my goal and worked toward that. My piano teacher thought I was crazy for trying to do it.” His instructor’s surprise had to do with the program’s tough requirements; participants must earn honors three times and reach at least the seventh level before they leave high school. Luke’s goal, then, would be to pass from the second to the seventh level in just three years.
“I enrolled in the program during 10th grade for the first time,” Luke explained. “… You’re given material that you’re going to be assessed on, and you have to learn it in a year’s time. But junior to senior year, I skipped three levels, so I had to do three years’ worth of work in one and be assessed on the final level.”
In the midst of all of this, let’s not forget, was nearly all of Luke’s high school experience. This monumental challenge he’d set for himself lie atop his homework, college applications and occasional involvement with music at The Bay School. So it was that between his foray into jazz with Colin Williams’ Jazz 1A class, performing at Morning Meeting and just generally working his way through high school, Luke came to achieve his goal.
“I learned four pieces,” Luke said. “‘Chopin Polonaise in A Major,’ ‘Turkish March’ by Mozart, the Bach prelude from ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’ and ‘Romanian Folk Dances’ two or three by Béla Bartók, a contemporary composer.” The skills on which Luke was tested were equally as varied as the pieces of music he learned. “I was assessed on music theory,” Luke began. “Level seven is the same quality as freshman music in college, so I could pass out of freshman theory with the music I know. There’s theory, ear training – so my ability to hear and interpret music through my ears – sight reading, performing and technique.”
The results? “I received either ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ ratings in the sight reading, technique and performance categories, and above an 80/100 on the theory component,” Luke said. In fact, he earned a 94 percent on the theory and ear training test – well above the required 80 percent. His upcoming recitals, in which he’ll publicly perform the pieces he worked so hard to learn, comprise the final, nerve-wracking leg of Luke’s three-year quest for a Senior Merit Award.
With his goal achieved and graduation just around the corner, what’s next for Luke? “I plan on minoring and possibly majoring in college,” he said. But no matter what, he’s sure piano will remain part of his life. Luke concluded with a nod, “I definitely want to keep playing.”