Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music offers Bachelors, Masters, and Doctor of Musical Arts programs in piano performance. Additionally, a Masters degree is offered in piano chamber music/accompanying and a post graduate diploma in piano performance. The department is by design limited in numbers to a select group of students chosen from an international pool of applicants on the basis of outstanding pianistic, musical, academic and human qualities – the kind that argue for a successful future as professionals in the field of music. There are typically no more than 30-35 students enrolled at any given time, equally balanced between undergraduate and graduate students. The very favorable ratio of students to faculty allows a high level of individual attention for each student. The atmosphere in the department is professional while supportive and as non-political as possible. There is an easy and genuine collegiality between faculty as well as among the piano classes which we feel is special to our school and very important in providing a proper learning atmosphere.
Our emphasis is on developing the whole personality and musical temperament. We promote the development of a professional level of pianistic technique and solo performance skills but stress that this is only the beginning of a young artist’s growth. We have an active chamber music program that allows the students important collaborative experience with equally talented students from other areas of the Shepherd School. Our students frequently attend the numerous Shepherd School concerts featuring faculty, students, visiting musicians from the Houston area, and world-class touring ensembles. The music performance scene in the city of Houston outside of Shepherd is both prolific and fertile, with the finest of visiting artists, concert series, as well as world-class symphony, opera, ballet and chamber music ensembles. The experience of all of this, in addition to the all-important lessons with our faculty, will aid in the expansion of the young pianist’s musical imagination and leave its mark in the development of each student’s own unique artistic voice.
The Piano Chamber Music and Accompanying program is designed for very accomplished pianists who desire a program with widely expanded performance opportunities—solo, duo, chamber, orchestral—across a broad spectrum of historical and modern repertoires. Pianists in this program are expected to prepare and perform a large amount of music, and to work flexibly in a variety of situations. Unlike traditional Collaborative programs, this program is not designed to provide routine accompanying for other student performers at the Shepherd School. Repertoire is tailored to the pianist’s needs and interests, and solo playing is an important and continuing element of the student’s work and recitals. Beyond the weekly piano lessons with Mr. Connelly, students are coached in chamber music, duo, and contemporary ensemble by him and many other faculty members. Students may be considered for orchestral keyboard performances with the Shepherd School's orchestras. This program is best suited for pianists who wish to further their pianistic abilities, who are eager for a broadened outlook, and who enjoy the challenge of an intense performance-oriented program.
Performance opportunities abound for our students. We understand that in a musician’s life there is a constant fluctuation between the inner sanctum of the practice room and the excitement of the public event. We offer weekly masterclasses in all the studios, studio recitals in each class several times a year, chamber concerts for the students revolving around a specific theme every semester, and in recent years an annual Kennedy Center concert featuring our most outstanding students. In the city as a whole, there are churches, private homes, retirement communities, as well as schools at all levels, including community colleges – many of these supportive of student performances.
Additionally, we are cognizant of the importance of understanding historical performance practice of earlier music and have the instruments and courses to support this endeavor. There is a collaboration of the Shepherd School with the Library of Congress which gives our students potential access to their fine collection of historical instruments. Our Syzygy concerts are an important series that promotes the performance of the music of the 20th century and beyond; Shepherd School students and faculty participate in these concerts.
The performance of concertos is also a centrally important part of the pianist’s repertoire and career; we have an annual concerto competition, the winner of which performs with the Shepherd School Symphony, one of the marquee university orchestras in the country. Our students have proven unusually creative over the years in forming their own ensembles with other Shepherd School students for concerto performances, sometimes even conducting from the keyboard. In addition, there are many competitive opportunities, easily within driving distance, in this general area of the country. The large number of piano competitions in the area typically provide as part of the prizewinner package performances with orchestra as well as cash prizes. Our students have been frequent soloists with these orchestras, including the Houston Symphony. We are exceedingly proud of the accomplishment of our many students, past and present, who have been prizewinners in competitions at the regional, national, and international levels.
The facilities at the Shepherd School are second to none. This is especially important for pianists who generally will be relying on school instruments for practicing and performing. We have a superior collection of pianos, the vast majority of which are Steinways, which grace our teaching studios, practice rooms and concert halls.There is a generous ratio of practice grand pianos to students and we give the piano majors priority for the rooms containing grand pianos. No practice signups are needed. Duncan and Stude Concert Halls feature four exceptional Steinway concert grands, all of which have drawn high accolades from the world famous guest artists who have performed here over the years. Our oldest Steinway concert grand, affectionately nicknamed “Volodya,” was used by Vladimir Horowitz in at least two of his 1966 New York recitals. A number of other major artists, including John Browning, Shura Cherkassky, Alicia De Larrocha, Daniel Pollack, Menahem Pressler, Arthur Rubinstein, and Andre Watts have performed on this instrument and autographed it.
We realize that no piano department, however excellent, can exist in a vacuum. There must be contact with the best that the outside world has to offer both for self-evaluation and for perspective. We have brought famous pianists from all over the world to our school both for judging our concerto competition and for giving masterclasses. The list of major visiting artists is a long one, and it includes such stellar pianists as Richard Goode, John Perry, Yefim Bronfman, Andre Watts, Emmanuel Ax, Anton Nel, Nelita True, Sergei Babayan, Santiago Rodriguez, Philippe Bianconi, Nelson Della-Vigne, Eugene Pridonoff, Ian Hobson and Abbey Simon among others.
Our faculty are internationally distinguished performers as well as dedicated teachers. Together, they provide a balanced collection of temperaments, viewpoints, emphases and personalities.