Visitors get a special treat when they attend presidential events at the University Residence. For each event, Illinois State President Larry Dietz and his wife, Marlene, invite a student pianist from the School of Music to play their baby grand piano.
“We feel that having students play at events held in the residence is another great way to showcase the University and our very talented students,” President Dietz said. “It also allows the students to make a few dollars in the process.”
Dietz began hosting undergraduate and graduate student pianists in fall 2014, a semester after he was named president. Senior Lauren Koszyk has performed at six of the events.
“I really enjoy it,” said Koszyk, a piano performance and German major from Bloomington-Normal. “I come in and get to share my music with everyone. I start playing when the guests arrive, and throughout dinner and drinks and whatever event they have for the evening.
“The president and his wife are always very accommodating and very personable. They have been very great to work with.”
Playing at the events is less pressure-packed than performing in a concert hall, under the watchful eyes of her professors, Koszyk said. Fellow pianist James Carl Osorio, who is only a freshman, found it a little more daunting the first time.
“I was nervous because you are playing for the president of the University,” said Osorio, a piano performance major from Manila, Philippines. “At first I was nervous, but after he approached me and talked to me I calmed down a bit.”
The students usually perform for about 30 to 40 people, some of whom stop by to chat with the musicians. One of Koszyk’s favorite moments was at a Friends of the Arts dinner when three people came up to sing a song with her. Osorio loves interacting with the crowd.
“I think that is the most beautiful experience,” Osorio said. “You feel your importance in that particular event.”
The events give the students an opportunity to stretch out a bit and play a variety of music. Koszyk chooses a mix of classical music, jazz, Broadway, and even popular music, including the occasional Michael Jackson song.
The Dietzes’ piano does not sit idle outside of these events. President Dietz took piano lessons as a child and still plays occasionally for his wife. While his tastes run to classic rock—The Beatles, Eagles, and Doobie Brothers—his repertoire includes songs like the faith-based “He,” “Boogie Woogie,” and a mean version of “Chopsticks.”
Both Koszyk and Osorio are training to be professional musicians. Osorio would love to play with a chamber group someday and dreams of performing in Paris’ Salle Cortot. Koszyk wants to be an opera coach and has already gained experience by working for two Illinois State-sponsored programs: the Midwest Institute of Opera and Illinois Festival Opera.
“Those are great opportunities—and one of the reasons that I came to ISU actually—for young and emerging artists to get a foot in the door and start those experiences,” she said.
Music Professor Tuyen Tonnu schedules the musicians for the presidential events. She makes sure the students have a tasteful and varied repertoire and gives them some advice.
“Dress appropriately. Bring the music with you; it does not have to be memorized. Prepare and play well because you are playing for a distinguished audience.”
Kevin Bersett can be reached at kdberse@IllinoisState.edu.