Piano festival hits a high note for USF recital hall

The first ever Rebecca Penneys Piano Festival will be held in the Barness Recital Hall, and everyone's invited.

But who is Rebecca Penneys? Having started piano at the early age of three and excelling rapidly, she is now a renowned Steinway pianist and world-class soloist, chamber musician and educator. Penneys has held concerts around the globe and has previously guided students into flourishing careers.

The Rebecca Penneys Piano festival is a sequel to her popular and successful Chautauqua program from her New York days.

In its Florida debut, the festival invites 31 of the world’s most skilled student pianists to converge on the University of South Florida’s new state-of-the-art facility, Barness Recital Hall. This is where participants will spend most of their time for the next two weeks (Sun., July 21-Sun., Aug. 4).

These students are said to be “bursting with super career potential.”

They will receive invaluable quality training from numerous distinguished piano teachers and all the practice time they could ever hope for.

“These are all very serious pianists who had to audition to be considered,” Penneys said. “In many cases they’re the stars of their communities and schools.”

Truly a melting pot of ages and backgrounds, all components of this event will share one common ingredient — the desire to reach their full potentials.

Penneys provides an opportunity virtually impossible to resist, promising quality education along with free tuition and housing right on the USF campus. Other than a modest registration and application fee, drive and passion are the only necessities.

HALL MONITORING: Much of the action at the piano festival will take place at USFs Barness Recital Hall.
  • USF
  • HALL MONITORING: Much of the action at the piano festival will take place at USF's Barness Recital Hall.
But what does this have to do with you? The most incredible aspect of this event is that you can be a part of it. The general public has free and open access to the event, as these students are put to work in a number of classes and exercises.

And you can witness all the hard work pay off, the endings of certain “journeys,” in the four student performances; Wed., July 24, Thurs., July 25, Tues., July 30 and Thurs., Aug. 1.

The full schedule of events can be found on the festival’s website.

Though students will receive plenty of private study and practice time, daily master classes (open to the public) will be thrown into the mix.

Master classes allow students to learn and grow from each other while teachers critique and advise — but the students won’t be the only ones benefiting. Though with limited seating, these classes are open to curious spectators — musicians and non-musicians alike.

“Master classes are very inspiring not only to person who’s getting lesson but other people who are listening,” Penneys said. “Everyone can benefit.”

In addition to Penneys, festival master class teachers will include not only piano professors from universities such as The State University of New York and The University of Michigan, but experts in fields other than music as well; behavioral optometrist Ray Gottlieb has worked with musicians for over 20 years in the subject of vision therapy and stress point learning, and he will be amid the festival musicians this year.

If sitting in on classes doesn’t pique your interest, there’s plenty more where that came from.

These early afternoon classes will only be a precursor for the evening performance classes and soirees, featuring talented and practiced performers — some of which are Penneys own alumni. Performers include Eunmi Ko, Omri Shimron, Johnandrew Slominski and Father Sean Duggan.

On these nights, the infamous melodies of Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms will echo through Barness Hall beginning at 7:30, and though also with limited seating, everyone’s invited to try and snatch a chair.

I know what you’re thinking — we need more of Rebecca Penneys. This is the Rebecca Penneys Piano Festival after all. See Penneys in action during her solo recital on Sun., July 28 at 2 p.m. — just as a spoiler, our good friends Mozart and Chopin will be making appearances during the recital.

Sat., Aug. 3, will mark the finale of festival classes and performances, but not without the 2 Piano 8 Hand concert; a lighthearted concert featuring four pianists (Penneys included), highlighting just how fun piano can be. See a sample of the type of music to expect here.

“Music expresses more than words to me,” Penneys said. “I can’t think of anything better to do. My passion is to share that so people can get this enormous high and love."

And share she does.

In fact, Penneys is so dedicated to the festival that she has launched Friends of Piano — a nonprofit created in support of the event.

Donations are the sole source of support for Friends of Piano and they are tax-deductible, Penneys adds. To make a donation visit rebeccapenneyspianofestival.org.

“I think when you devote yourself whole-heartedly to a piece, it lives inside of you all the way up until the concert,” Rebecca Penneys said. “You’re on a journey with that piece.”

As a practiced pianist, myself, for the past… I don’t know, 13 years or so, I inevitably understand what Penneys means.

When there's a gig coming up, those melodies are temporarily ingrained in your mind until you can unleash them into the world using your own interpretation.

Even if you’re not the one behind the piano, but rather an audience member, you can feel the emotion and power that’s going into every keystroke — it’s an incredible and inspiring thing to witness.

Well, Penneys invites us to do just that; to bear witness to a journey. One in which she tests the limits of various musicians that, according to her, are the best of the best.

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