You may have been placed into piano lessons as a youngin’, begrudgingly practicing every week against your will. And you may have also quit not too long after, mastering the basics, perhaps with Fur Elise in your repertoire. For Savannah Bukant, this was not the case. After playing for 15 years, she is currently a music minor and a pianist who knows no limits to her mastery of the art. In her interview, she gives some insight as to why she stuck with it, how she handles her nerves before a performance, and how her playing carries over into her everyday life.
Sarah Oliva: What age do you first remember playing the piano?
Savannah Bukant: Oh I was five. I actually have a first memory. Santa Claus brought me a keyboard for Christmas. I just remember playing little tunes on it by ear… all your “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Twinkle Twinkle” songs. My parents kind of heard that I had an ear for music, and they put me in lessons starting in first grade.
SO: So many children get placed in piano lessons, but end up quitting after a year or two…what made you decide to stick with it?
SB: My mom always remarks how it was strange she never had to ask me to practice, most parents have to say, “Have you practiced today”? I just love music—I think part of it is kind of the progress of hearing or experiencing the song that sounds so awesome and really moves you and thinking, “Oh I can’t do that” and then practicing, and being able to master the piece! I think that was part of it when I was younger, knowing that I could work hard and my hard work and my time pay off. When you’re little and learning short pieces, it’s a really quick turnaround. It is also totally a break from the science part of my everyday life (since I’m a bio major). When I play I’m like, “Wow, why am I still not a music major”?
SO: How long have you been playing since you started?
SB: I guess it would be about 15 years (the whole time). I’ve taken lessons ever since I started. It might have been early high school where I considered stopping taking lessons because high school gets so busy…but I’m so glad that I didn’t stop because out of all of the things that I did in high school, it was definitely the biggest passion I had.
SO: And you’ve been taking lessons ever since you came to GU?
SB: Two credits (one hour) every week with Dr. Hunter.
SO: How often do you practice?
SB: Not as much as I should! My goal is an hour a day, but I don’t reach that…depending on the week. This time of the semester is so hard.
SO: What inspires you to play?
SB: Sometimes it’s just my emotional outlet; if I just need to kind of get out of my head, I’ll play, and I’ll go to songs that I’ve learned in the past. I guess a lot of my motivation comes from the excitement of mastering a piece (what I was talking about previously). Initially hearing it played by some professional pianist, and thinking “that is so cool” and wanting to play it. From my years of experience, I know that if I put in the time and the energy, I will master it! I know that if I work hard I’ll get there. And once I master a piece, it’s so fun to play and to hear myself.
SO: Do you ever sing while you play?!
SB: That is the hardest thing for me; pretty much no. If I’m playing I can’t sing… I don’t know how they do it! Alicia Keys, what?!
SO: What genre of songs do you play the most?
SO: Do you ever hear a song on the radio and think, “Oh I want to play that”?
SB: Yeah! And sometimes I’ll go onto ultimate guitar and look up the chords/tabs. It’s easy for me to look up the sheets and play from there. Yeah, that’s fun to do.
SO: How often/where/when do you perform?!
SB: At Gonzaga, it’s usually at the end of each semester. In both the piano department recital and the student recitals. I actually don’t love performing. It really stresses me out; makes me anxious.
SO: How do you prepare your nerves before a recital? Do you have any recital-gone-wrong story?
SB: I’ve definitely gone to adjudications playing from memory where I’ll just all of the sudden hit a wrong note and stop and have to start over. Each note comes from the previous note, and if I stop in the middle of a song I can’t start up again. My teacher through middle school and high school taught me this technique where, while you’re practicing a song, you’ll stop at a certain spot and start at that spot again intentionally. So if you’re performing and freeze up, you’ll go to the nearest spot you remember playing from… I should do that more often. She calls it “practicing, forgetting”.
In terms of before a performance, in all honesty, most of the preparing becomes months before with practice. In terms of nerves, it’s really hard for me to get rid of them and I haven’t mastered that. I know a little bit of nerves is a good thing, but I get too nervous, and I don’t usually perform at my best, which is really frustrating. Once you start playing—to just enjoy the music and stop thinking about how nervous you are—that is key.
SO: Where would be your ideal location or venue to play at?
SB: I’ve always wanted to be one of those Nordstrom piano players! Since I’m not in love with performing while people are sitting there watching me—I love playing while people are hanging out and talking, and I’m the background music. That would be so much fun. Or like in airports, kind of in the middle of the terminals, I would love that so much!
SO: Do you think what you’ve learned from piano has carried on to other parts in your life?
SB: Yes, I do. I played in adjudication—this was last fall semester. It’s a thing in the music community for accomplished professors or musicians to adjudicate students, so they’ll come in and students will play for them. It’s kind of like a music lesson, but with a fresh perspective—someone coming in whom maybe has different experiences. You play two pieces, basically they’ll listen to you play, and they will sort of critique you in a constructive way. I always loved getting that because it allows me to see a new part of the piece that I’m learning that I didn’t see before—it kind of broadens the scope of the music.
This guy was so amazing—he was a music professor from BYU, Idaho. What he said about my playing directly correlated to my life. I needed to give space to my music and not try and control every note, but let it come out, and let the emotions and the love for the music just come through. I think in life I kind of try to make sure everything is in line, too.
Luke Janicki and I actually had a section together, and what he said about Luke’s was so similar to his life as well. It was so cool, he totally had a gift. I’ve had adjudications growing up and this was by far the best one.
SO: What is your favorite song to play, and who is the composer?
SB: Probably my most recent piece that I performed, Rachmaninoff Prelude in G minor, I played it at the fall recital…it’s the best.
SO: Do you ever compose your own songs?
SB: I used to compose a lot when I was younger. I even did a program called “Reflections” in elementary school and junior high; I actually submitted compositions… and I won some awards! I think when I entered high school, I just kind of lost the time to commit to the creative outlet and it’s really sad ‘cause I really enjoyed it!
SO: There are so many pianos spread out throughout campus…what is your favorite one to play?
SB: The choir department just got a new piano, and I went in there and played it and I was in heaven. It’s a Boston, which is made by Steinway. That and the Steinway that’s in the music annex warehouse that we play in for the recitals.
SO: What pianist would you inspire to be like?
SB: Probably Chopin. He wrote so many works on the piano and he wrote only for the piano—and that was really rare, most composers wrote for other instruments too. A lot of what he wrote were etudes, which are warm up pieces, and the fact that so many of his etudes he wrote are performed is just incredible. I’d love to meet Chopin.
SO: Do you do anything else with music at Gonzaga?
SB: I was in the women’s chorus for two years. I am a music minor—I came in as a major, but I quickly realized that wasn’t realistic, ‘cause I’m a bio major as well.
SO: Do you see yourself playing as a profession down the road?
SB: I don’t see it as my primary profession just ‘cause I’m going into medicine. It’s more of just kind of a part of who I am and I enjoy playing both for myself and for my family. My dad absolutely loves hearing me play, and my grandparents, and I really love when other people get joy out of my music…like when I can play for my friends, or help other people play (even just a simple song!). I’ll never stop playing.
If you haven’t heard her play, you may want to consider going to a recital or maybe just sneaking into the choir department for a private viewing.
If you or anyone you know is interested in sharing musical talent around campus–solo artists or bands, we invite you to reach out to the GUBB staff and we will graciously welcome you to come chat. No matter if you’re a Finn-from-Glee-singing- in-the-shower raw talent or Beyonce-the-next, we want to hear from you!
You can reach Sarah Oliva at: firstname.lastname@example.org.