Fifteen-year old Fantee Jones of Roseville, CA won First Prize in the 2009 IIYM International Piano Competition. She received First Prize in the 2008 Seattle International Piano Competition; in the Viardo International Piano Competition; and in the Los Angeles Liszt International Competition, where she won the "Best Opera Transcription" award. Fantee performed at New York’s Carnegie Hall in May 2005.
You got so many positive comments for your performance of the complete Chopin Études, Op. 25 during the competition. That’s quite a feat for a 15-year old. How long have you worked on them?
I learned my first when I was seven years old - it was Op. 25 #2. Ever since then, I’ve been collecting them. I only have three left to learn from the Op. 10 set, and then I have them all. When I was young, I was just learning them to improve my technique. Now, I understand that each etude is different from the other. It’s challenging to create a whole different mood, along with developing strength and endurance. My dream is to have a whole Chopin Étude recital.
When did you decide to become serious about the piano?
I was always serious! I grew up listening to my mother’s piano lessons five days a week. I climbed up on the piano bench and knew the piano would be my best friend. I love the sound of it. I am a shy person, and playing piano has helped me open up.
Is it hard to find time to practice, along with all the other responsibilities you have?
Piano is the top of my list of priorities, especially because I want to go into college as a music major. I always have competitions and recitals coming up, so I have to be ready. But I also have schoolwork and other responsibilities. I am very organized. When I focus, I can get a lot of work done; if I’m not focused, I play for one minute and then take a five-minute break! Focusing on my goals provides motivation to concentrate.
What advice would you give to other young people who would like to become fine pianists?
Practice, practice, practice - but make sure you are having fun. If you enjoy playing the piano, never give up and always keep your head up. There will definitely be times that you wish you could quit. But if you enjoy what you are doing, you will achieve the goals that you have set for yourself.
Click here to hear recordings of Fantee during the 2009 IIYM International Piano Competition.
Scott McBride Smith is a recognized leader in music education. As CEO of the International Institute for Young Musicians, he leads summer programs offering specialized training for gifted young performers from around the world.
International Institute for Young Musicians (IIYM) has been an integral part of many young musician's lives. What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of providing such an opportunity for students today?
I like the "people" part of it. Talking to teachers, mentoring students, and envisioning a better future for pianists is a lot of fun. I will confess, though, that the paperwork side of it gets me down sometimes. But when I see how much this opportunity means to young people, it’s all worth it.
IIYM employs some of the finest artist-teachers from around the world. How do you choose these outstanding faculty members?
For me, it's all about the teaching. I subscribe to the old-fashioned idea that the best teaching needs to take place with the youngest, most-talented students. This is different than the thinking of many people, who believe that high-quality teaching doesn't matter until the upper levels. I don't think a student can even get to the upper levels if they don't have a fine teacher in the early stages.
There are many fine summer music academies around the globe, but IIYM is renowned for its comprehensive curriculum encompassing private lessons, masterclasses, academic classes, and performing opportunities. How did you conceive this well-rounded course of study?
I have sent my own students to other summer programs. I felt that, in some cases, the educational focus wasn't as strong as I wanted it to be - it was more a festival with a few lessons and masterclasses tacked on. My goal is that every student who comes to IIYM goes home a stronger pianist and musician. That being said, there are many fine summer programs, and I'm always honored when a talented student chooses ours.
As co-author of The Well-Tempered Keyboard Teacher, you helped create a virtual manual for aspiring piano teachers. Do you have any advice for young students today looking to a teaching career?
Don't be afraid to dream. And learn as much as you can, for the rest of your life. There's so much you need to know if you are going to be a great teacher.
You studied at the Juilliard School and the University of Southern California. You are now considered one of the world's leading authorities on piano teaching, but what are your fondest memories of being a student?
For all the wonderful teachers that I had, I would say that I learned as much or more from my own teaching. Explaining concepts to students forced to me to closely examine my own ideas, and to come up with some new ones. I'd say my students were my best teachers.
Those who know you know that you are an avid reader. What are some of your favorite literary works?
I read all kinds of things. But my special interest is the Victorian-era fiction, social history, and politics. Anthony Trollope is my favorite novelist, with Dickens a close second.