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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 9, No. 1

The Education of a Virtuoso

by Réjean Beaucage / September 3, 2003

Version française...

Marika Bournaki, born in Montreal in 1991, certainly appears destined for a major career as a pianist. At the age of 12 she has already appeared at Carnegie Hall, as well as with l'Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. We met Marika and her father to discover how and when it all started.

"It began when I entered school at 5," the pianist states simply." I wanted to study music and discussed it with my father, who asked if I wanted to learn to play the piano. He first suggested violin, but I was really more interested in piano, so when school started he registered me at l'École de musique de Verdun with Yolande Gaudreau, who remained my teacher until this year."

Marika follows the regular scholastic curriculum while managing to practice three or four hours daily (depending on the time of year). Until last year she also took ballet classes, which predate even her piano lessons, but she decided to discontinue these to make time to practice since she wants to succeed in playing the works of her favourite composer. "Since the beginning this has always been Beethoven,"she admits. "I began by listening to Beethoven Lives Upstairs, a CD that tells the life story of the composer, illustrated with excerpts from his works. I liked to listen to it before falling asleep and told myself that I would like to learn those pieces. When I was in fourth grade I did a project on Beethoven, and I found it wonderful to understand his life better and see how this is reflected in his music."

Pierre Bournaki fully understands how to play a decisive role in the various aspects of Marika's studies. He explains that "it is essential for any parent to recognize their child's talent. In Marika's case it was very clear from the start that she possessed musical gifts. I could determine her interest because we would often listen to music at home. It was also important to appreciate how quickly she learns: to see her advance from simple exercises, to a Bach two-part invention, then to a prelude and fugue, followed by sonatinas and sonatas. If the ability is there this happens naturally. There is parallel work for the parent that consists of creating conditions that are favourable and motivating. You would certainly not begin with three hours of practising a day, but perhaps three quarters of an hour, and build it gradually from year to year. Travel opportunities can also be a good incentive, because after a certain level there are competitions everywhere in which children can participate. They can see how they measure up against others, and probe their interest in going further. We may or may not like competitions but they are part of a musician's life."

Marika has already participated in a number of international competitions and won several prizes. In June 2002 she won first prize at the Pro-Piano Romania International Competition in Bucharest and also received the special prize from the Association of Music Critics for a recital at the George Enescu Memorial House in Sinaia. On the same trip to Romania she was invited to give a recital at the Canadian Embassy in Bucharest. However, what particularly brings a sparkle to her eyes is not connected to the world of competitions. "We visited the birthplace of Bartok," she remembers bursting with joy, while her father adds that they even went to Dracula's castle!

Good training is clearly based on a consistent relationship with a teacher, and that is the key to steady progress. Pierre Bournaki explains that the choice of teacher is of prime importance. "As in all subjects a poor teacher can have a negative effect on even a talented child. I had inquired about Marc Durand, who teaches at the University of Montreal, and it was he who referred us to Yolande Gaudreau, who by chance was also the music teacher at Marika's school, so it worked out perfectly. To ensure ongoing advancement, parents must subsequently be attentive to their child's progress in order to determine when it is time to change teachers. This can be very difficult because student and teacher have built up a special relationship, nevertheless you must be vigilant in preventing stagnation. Marika's studies with Madame Gaudreau are now completed and in September 2003 she will attend the Pre-College Division at The Juilliard School in New York every Saturday. While researching a new teacher I came across the name of Yoheved Kaplinsky, Chair of the (Juilliard) piano department. Since then we returned to New York several times to see if Marika was comfortable with this teacher and if the chemistry worked, and following an audition last year she was accepted into the program. "

If Marika's father can guide her through the complex musical apprenticeship and seems to know the rules well, he has an advantage over most parents. "I am a musician myself," he explains. "I have a good understanding of where Marika is headed in the musical profession, and I know the obstacles she must overcome. When I began to study music I had no idea about life as a professional musician. Although it is exciting and stimulating it is still work. I think that 95% of musicians don't know what awaits them once they attain professional status. They cannot imagine what it is like to be an orchestral musician, to perform day after day, night after night, and maintain the passion."

"I attended Juilliard when I was 19, following two years in Europe, but realized too late that I did not have the necessary requisites to meet the demands of professional life as I perceived it. I was with students who had attended Juilliard for six or seven years, and who had already established names and contacts. I completed my Bachelor's and Master's degrees but eventually developed other interests because I knew that I did not want to teach violin or become an orchestral musician. I therefore changed sectors, but I understand very well what did not work in my case and believe I can help Marika avoid repeating those errors."

[Translated by Susan Spier]

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