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BYUH student practiced up to five hours per day for the Fall 2021 BYUH piano recital

14 students of the piano class pose around two pianos all pushed together. They are all wearing formal wear.
Members of the piano performance class.

Cat Ruangthap said she has been practicing three-to-five hours a day nearly every day on a piano on the second floor of the McKay building auditorium in preparation for a recital.

She said she was one of 13 students in the piano performance class who prepared for the end-of-the-semester recital. Usually, the class has five-to-seven students. The majority of the students are underclassmen, with Ruangthap being one of only three seniors, she explained.

Ruangthap, a senior from Thailand majoring in piano performance and a recipient of the BYU–Hawaii music scholarship for 2021, said she also acts as a coordinator for the piano students. Her duties include helping advertise upcoming recitals. For example, she made the recital poster for the Aloha Center.

The purpose of the recital is to show just how much the students have learned and practiced, Ruangthap explained.

She described the preparation for the recital as challenging, due to the additional work and studies each student had to do in addition to their hours of piano practice. For example, she said during class every week, the students played their selected piece for the recital and learned from each other through critique and observation.

Coming from a poor family that was not always able to afford food, Ruangthap said she first discovered her talent for piano playing at church around age 7 or 8. She said her mother recognized her potential and was ready to help her in any way, despite the sacrifice it entailed.

Ruangthap explained her mother told her if she wanted to learn to play the piano, she and her father would pay for lessons as long as she used “every minute” of them. Lessons originally costed $500, but after three years, the Ruangthap family moved to the countryside, where she said they found cheaper lessons for $200.

From there, Ruangthap said she tried to gain entry into a top music school in Thailand, the Mahidol University College of Music. “I practiced six hours a day in high school,” she said, adding she applied to the College of Music six times before finally being accepted. Her experience with Mahidol University spurred her to pursue a piano performance major at BYUH, she said.

Ruangthap performed “La Campanella” by Franz Liszt at the recital, the same piece she played in the competition to secure her scholarship, which she described as “a difficult piece.”

Another student who participated in the recital is Juyoun Kim, a sophomore from South Korea who is double majoring in piano performance and mathematics. He said he has been playing piano since he was 6 but said “there have been some on and offs … and some times when I really had to catch up.”

Kim was originally placed in piano lessons by his mother, he said, who only hoped he would be able to play a few church hymns if he needed to. However, he said he discovered he enjoyed playing piano.

Kim said he first came to BYUH during the 2017-2018 school year. At the time, he said he was only majoring in mathematics and was taking piano performance as a minor. However, Kim then returned to South Korea for military service.

A boy and a girl play the piano on two separate pianos facing each other. The boy is wearing blue pants and a short sleeve button up shirt. The girls is wearing a black top.
Members of the piano performance class perform.

“I liked the progress of how [the piano performance minor] was going,” he said, and added taking it as a minor felt “a little short” to him. Wanting to learn more and study further, Kim said he switched to a double major upon his return to BYUH after his military service.

Unlike other piano performance students, Kim said he doesn’t view piano as a career path. He said he plans to be come an actuary for an insurance company.

“If I want to play piano, I need to be able to afford my own piano,” he said with a smile. “After my job is stable … I will still be playing piano and doing my own stuff with the music.” He said he isn’t opposed to the idea of teaching or performing and would love to do it if given the opportunity.

While piano performance students typically have a recital at the end of every semester, Kim expressed he was only “somewhat confident” about the December recital and will be more confident at the Winter 2022 recital.

He said he hasn’t been able to practice as much as he would have liked during COVID-19, though he noted many international students who stayed during the shutdowns have been putting “a lot of time” into their pieces.

According to Kim, the recital is an essential part of the piano performance course. “A lot of us can play piano but that doesn’t mean we can perform right,” he said. He emphasized they have a need to “regularly engage and exercise [their] music and see what [they] can do with that in front of other people.”

Mana Yamamoto, a junior piano performance major from Japan, said, “Our professors are so excited by this concert.” She will be performing Chopin’s “Ballade No. 3,” which she said she performed for the scholarship competition and has been practicing for almost a year.

Yamamoto said she started playing piano at age 7 and began her journey at BYUH as a piano major, briefly changed her major to hospitality and tourism management, and then changed it back one semester later to truly pursue her passions.