One piano performance professor and her graduate students are working to bring the culture of their home country to the University of South Dakota.
Alessandra Feris, an assistant piano professor, and her three graduate students are all from Brazil. She said she knew them before they decided to come to USD to fulfill their graduate degrees in piano performance.
“I did lots of concerts and teaching in Brazil,” Feris said. “I visited their schools a few years ago, so I met them before. They didn’t come here by chance, I basically said ‘Hey, you, come to USD!’ They’re terrific pianists and I care about bringing well-qualified students here so they’re not here because they’re Brazilians, but because they are very good.”
Each of the graduate students said they have a strong love for piano performance.
Pedro Medeiros, from Florianopolis, Brazil, said he started playing piano after taking keyboard lessons.
“I watched a specific channel in Brazil that broadcasts piano concerts and orchestras, I thought, ‘Oh, it’s really similar, so I want to play piano in the performance way,’” Medeiros said. “So then in high school, I decided to do the piano degree in Brazil.”
Anna Oliveira, from Brasilia, Brazil, said she has been interested in playing the piano since a young age.
“For me, it’s since I was seven years I started to take piano lessons, but my mom and my uncle they played piano as well,” Oliveira said. “At home, I had always music and they encouraged me a lot to always play. When I was in high school I decided I was going to do piano performance for college.”
As for Hadassa Pacheco, also from Brasilia, Brazil, she said she didn’t get interested in piano performance until she started teaching piano. She is studying piano pedagogy, as well as piano performance.
“I actually wanted to do med school when I was in high school, I didn’t want to do music school, but my mom wouldn’t let me,” Pacheco said. “We have a technical school in Brazil and I didn’t have time to study two. In Brazil you have to take an exam to get in college so I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to do music.’ I started to work with kids and I fell in love with the piano. I’m doing my masters in piano performance because I want to learn more about performance so I can teach better.”
Feris said deciding to study piano performance is not an easy decision to make.
“That involves a life of dedication, so being a musician requires so much,” she said. “You give up so much. You don’t have weekends, you don’t have much of a personal life because you have to practice so many hours a day, just like being an athlete. We have to train and train and train and that comes along with lots of sacrifice. So it must be really a huge inner passion inside one to make you decided to do something like that, because that’s major.”
On top of being dedicated to their studies, Feris said being an international student isn’t easy either.
“This is really scary, actually, so I do my best to accommodate them as much as I can until they can manage to be on their feet,” she said. “By the time they’re there, I let them go because they need to find their own way of doing things. It’s important to have someone who will actually help along the way because this is not easy.”
Her graduate students, however, said having Feris as their mentor has really helped them with their transition. Oliveira said the helpfulness goes beyond just being from the same country.
“Her experience is very helpful in many ways,” Oliveira said. “Not just because she’s Brazilian, she knows how it is to feel living abroad.”
Feris and her students are also working on bringing the Brazilian culture to the USD campus. This Spring they will go on tour through the state that will be a part of a piano literature program. The tour will feature classical Brazilian composers.
“I think this will be a good step for people at USD to know better about classical Brazilian music,” Feris said.
Last week they hosted a guest artist from Brazil and in January they will be hosting a recital featuring Latin American composers.
Although Pacheco and Oliveira will be graduating in May and Medeiros will follow behind them next year, Feris said she has big plans for her continuing years at USD.
“I think my major, major thing is to have a huge international piano studio at USD with students from several different countries who are not only great pianists but students who can actually contribute to the life of the USD campus, the community, the state and the United States,” she said.
Feris said that as of right now there are three other students from Brazil, two from Costa Rica, one from Greece and one from Argentina applying for the piano program at USD.
“I think this exchange of cultures enriches the university so much,” she said.