The Seattle Times: Seattle Piano Institute draws students from around the world for piano and life lessons

  • UW professor Robin McCabe with student Hans Chan (photo: Philip D. Lanum)
    UW professor Robin McCabe with student Hans Chan, from St. Louis, during the 2017 Seattle Piano Institute. (photo: Philip D. Lanum)

A "piano boot camp" — but with something extra — draws a select group of young pianists each year who gather not just for music master classes but also for lessons on everything from dance to philosophy.

Robin McCabe, professor of piano at the University of Washington, recalls little acts of subterfuge by piano students during her days in postgraduate studies at the Juilliard School.

“We had great practice pianos, all Steinways, two floors of them. Students raced to get to the best ones, and if you got one, the room was yours as long as you stayed there,” she said. “But if you were gone more than 15 minutes, according to Juilliard’s rules, another student could hijack the room. So if you wanted to get lunch, you’d leave all your sheet music open on the piano and put a spare pair of shoes down by the pedals. It would look like you’d just padded off to the restroom.”

So it’s no wonder McCabe thought it would be nice to assign designated practice rooms and times for the talented young pianists participating in this July’s innovative Seattle Piano Institute, held on the UW campus.

“It sounds trivial about designating rooms,” she says. “But SPI students have always thanked us. They don’t have to hunt for a room or bribe some trombonist to go away.”

Eliminating such hassles for serious piano students is part of the idea behind SPI, which is described by three-time participant Hyun Su Seo (now pursuing her master’s degree in music at the University of Southern California) as a “piano boot camp” — but one with something extra.

Founded in 2010 by McCabe, who joined the UW faculty in 1987 and served as director of the School of Music from 1994 to 2009, and fellow UW professor of piano Craig Sheppard, the annual institute offers one 10-day session for 17 advanced students ages 16 and up (a group known as Session One). A second group (Session Two) for 12 kids ages 9 to 15 runs for four days. (Both sessions are full for this year.)

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