Culture | The big show

At the Schulich School of Music, a doctoral student prepares for her final recital

I had never considered the rigours of a doctorate degree in music, but after speaking with Ruby Zi Jin, a performance student in her second year of the doctorate program, and seeing her perform on September 25th in the Strathcona Building’s Pollack Hall, I have a newfound respect for anyone embarking on such a difficult academic path. Jin played three pieces for her second doctoral recital, and the performance was approximately 75 minutes long – roughly the length of concert that a professional pianist usually plays.

Jin started her doctorate to work toward the goal of teaching music at a university. At the doctorate level, a student delves deeper into all aspects of music; literature, history, technique, performance, etc. and the doctorate program allows the student the time and opportunity to learn and perform.

Because piano lessons are primarily one-on-one throughout the doctorate program, the relationship between a student and teacher is very important.

“You need someone you’re happy to work with, because music is a passion, not just technique,” Jin said.

Professor Richard Raymond, Jin’s teacher, echoed these sentiments. “[A good relationship] is a question of personality and also what you need to teach and give [them] and what they need [to learn]. When the match is good and the personalities click, then it’s great.”

“[The solo recitals] are the most demanding aspect of the degree in terms of performing,” Raymond added.

In preparing for last Friday’s recital, Jin put a lot of thought into the pieces she wanted to play.

“You have to think about the audience and teacher; you want to play something really interesting for the public, but also want to choose music that you like…. [It is] very important to have an emotional attachment to the pieces you play,” Jin said. She also explained that one of the challenges of musical performance is thoughtfully interpreting composers’ works. “If you don’t understand something, you can’t just email the composer and ask [them to explain it], you have to know their style, and learn what is programmed within the music to gain the very deep meaning of it.” At the same time, according to Jin, adherence to the composer’s intentions must be balanced with the performer’s own personality and style.

Jin’s deep emotional connection with and understanding of the three pieces she performed truly came through Friday night. As this was my first time attending a doctoral recital, I was unsure what to expect from the evening. Just after 8 p.m., the lights in Pollack Hall dimmed, and the audience fell silent. Jin entered, took a slight bow, and began to play her first piece, “Douze Études, vol. 2” by Claude Debussy. There was a quiet calm about her as she began to play, and the keys seemed to come alive under her fingers.

“Metamorphoses on Themes of Johann Strauss II, No. 3,” by Leopold Godowsky, came next on the program. There was a playfulness to it with which I could really connect. Jin played with such force that she physically lifted off her seat at certain points during the piece, further emphasizing the emotional intensity felt through the music.

Following this piece there was a short intermission. Jin then came back on stage to play her final piece, “Sonata in B minor, S. 178,” by Franz Liszt. The sonata was intense, featuring an interesting juxtaposition of violence and gentleness that Jin captured beautifully. She played with a strong sense of purpose throughout the entire recital. I was thoroughly impressed – and not surprised – that she received a partial standing ovation from the small but dedicated audience.

Speaking with Jin a few days after the performance, she seemed quite happy to have completed her second, and final, doctoral recital.

Having finished the recital requirements of her degree, Jin still has her comprehensive exams and an oral defence of her dissertation ahead. Although the doctorate program is technically a two-year residency, students normally take four years to complete it because of the demands.

Despite the Schulich School of Music’s talented students, its concerts are often under-attended. Lack of advertisement on campus could account for this, as well as a general apathy toward university events. However, when asked about what could be done to remedy this, Raymond said that he wasn’t sure.

“I’ve always been puzzled that [music] students love to play, but don’t go to recitals as much as [we, as teachers,] would hope,” explained Professor Raymond, expressing the desire for students within the music faculty to lead the way in generating more excitement around Schulich’s events.

Because students spend all year preparing, many student recitals are held at the end of the winter semester, but there are sporadic recitals held throughout the year. Go see them – the Schulich student you see on stage may turn out to be one of the country’s next musical sensations.


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