piano

School of Music grads win big at OSM Manulife Piano Competition

Carter Johnson

Carter Johnson

School of Music alumnus Carter Johnson (BMus’18) has just won the grand prize in the 2018 Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal (OSM) Manulife Piano Competition, with his outstanding performance of Prokofiev's Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26.

The prize includes a $10,000 scholarship, a performance with the OSM in January 2019, a professional broadcast on Radio-Canada’s ICI Musique, and concert opportunities with the Orford Arts Center, National Arts Center, Northern Arts and Cultural Centre, Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra and YOA Orchestra of the Americas.

Nicole Linaksita

Nicole Linaksita

At the same competition, alumna Nicole Linaksita (BSc/BMus’16) won the Orford Music Prize, a scholarship covering accommodation and tuition for an advanced program at Orford Music in 2019.

During their time at UBC, Johnson studied piano with Prof. Mark Anderson, while Linaksita studied with Prof. Corey Hamm.

Congratulations, Carter and Nicole!

Calling all music lovers

Five new pianos in locations across campus are waiting to be played

By Joel Bentley

BMus student Serina Mui plays the new piano in the Music, Art and Architecture Library. The instrument is a gift from Tom Lee Music. Credit: UBC Library Communications

BMus student Serina Mui plays the new piano in the Music, Art and Architecture Library. The instrument is a gift from Tom Lee Music. Credit: UBC Library Communications

A student sits at the new grand piano in the Music, Art and Architecture Library (MAA). She has headphones on, concealing the sound, so all you hear is the tapping of keys, rhythmic patterns. It feels like a pre-concert ritual—the quiet excitement of something about to be born. Behind the piano there are rows upon rows of sheet music, the largest collection of scores in Western Canada, waiting to be played. The library is muted and subdued, but the piano calls out to music lovers—beckoning them into the world of sound.

Pianos placed across UBC for you to enjoy

“I love playing with and for others and seeing the joy it brings to everyone involved,” says BMus student Zeta Gesme. A third-year double major in Cello Performance and Economics (Honours), Zeta is one of hundreds of students who have discovered joy at the new grand piano in the MAA at the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre (IKBLC). It’s all dressed up in black and white, like a butler waiting. At your service. Zeta uses the piano to practice for her piano exams.

Music is about the creation of joy.
— Jeffrey Lee (BComm’09), Executive Director of Tom Lee Music

It’s one of five new pianos that Tom Lee Music provided to UBC this year. The pianos can be found at the Walter C. Koerner Library, David Lam Management Research Library, Woodward Library, and the Nobel Biocare Oral Health Centre—the dental clinic. Two other pianos, previously provided in 2015, are located in the Chapman Learning Commons at IKBLC and the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre. Each piano is available to students, staff, faculty and the surrounding community.

“I thought it was so great that community members could have access to a piano and a library full of music for their own edification,” Zeta says.

The library’s most popular item

Kevin Madill, Acting Head Librarian at MAA, recalls when the idea of the library hosting a piano was initially pitched in 2015. He was cautious at first. A library is a sanctuary, a place of quiet study. But when mandatory headphone use was proposed, he was convinced. Kevin assumed the pianos would primarily be used for practice and theory homework by music students, but the headphones quickly became “the busiest item in the whole library.” He estimates that approximately 4,000 patrons have used the piano in the MAA Library over the past three years, or about three to four people every day.

“What’s been fascinating is that it’s attracted more people to the library. It’s brought people in,” Kevin says.

Take a break, have a seat

Arts student Odetta Li just discovered the piano this September. She’s not a music major, but she grew up playing the piano, taking lessons into her teens. Now, she improvises songs or plays pieces she loves.

“It’s a place to chill between lectures,” she says.

The great benefit of these pianos is the ability to plug in headphones and play in private, which makes them perfect for improvising or relaxing.

“Music is very therapeutic. People have a lot of pressure in their daily lives and they often enjoy an instrument at home,” says alumnus Ron Koyanagi (BEd (Sec) ’84), General Manager of Tom Lee Music’s piano division. But not everyone has the luxury of having a piano in their home, students least of all. Tom Lee Music provided the five pianos to UBC so that students, staff and community members alike could have an avenue to release stress, to improve their mood and mental well-being, and to pursue their musical passions. “We just want them to enjoy music, experience the fun, and take a break from everything that’s going on,” says Ron.

To gain access to one of the available pianos, simply check out a headphone set from a library circulation desk and you’ll have a piano to yourself for up to two hours.


Interested in making a difference? Find out how you can support the UBC School of Music.

Calling all music lovers

Five new pianos in locations across campus are waiting to be played

By Joel Bentley

BMus student Serina Mui plays the new piano in the Music, Art and Architecture Library. The instrument is a gift from Tom Lee Music. Credit: UBC Library Communications

BMus student Serina Mui plays the new piano in the Music, Art and Architecture Library. The instrument is a gift from Tom Lee Music. Credit: UBC Library Communications

A student sits at the new grand piano in the Music, Art and Architecture Library (MAA). She has headphones on, concealing the sound, so all you hear is the tapping of keys, rhythmic patterns. It feels like a pre-concert ritual—the quiet excitement of something about to be born. Behind the piano there are rows upon rows of sheet music, the largest collection of scores in Western Canada, waiting to be played. The library is muted and subdued, but the piano calls out to music lovers—beckoning them into the world of sound.

Pianos placed across UBC for you to enjoy

“I love playing with and for others and seeing the joy it brings to everyone involved,” says BMus student Zeta Gesme. A third-year double major in Cello Performance and Economics (Honours), Zeta is one of hundreds of students who have discovered joy at the new grand piano in the MAA at the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre (IKBLC). It’s all dressed up in black and white, like a butler waiting. At your service. Zeta uses the piano to practice for her piano exams.

Music is about the creation of joy.
— Jeffrey Lee (BComm’09), Executive Director of Tom Lee Music

It’s one of five new pianos that Tom Lee Music provided to UBC this year. The pianos can be found at the Walter C. Koerner Library, David Lam Management Research Library, Woodward Library, and the Nobel Biocare Oral Health Centre—the dental clinic. Two other pianos, previously provided in 2015, are located in the Chapman Learning Commons at IKBLC and the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre. Each piano is available to students, staff, faculty and the surrounding community.

“I thought it was so great that community members could have access to a piano and a library full of music for their own edification,” Zeta says.

The library’s most popular item

Kevin Madill, Acting Head Librarian at MAA, recalls when the idea of the library hosting a piano was initially pitched in 2015. He was cautious at first. A library is a sanctuary, a place of quiet study. But when mandatory headphone use was proposed, he was convinced. Kevin assumed the pianos would primarily be used for practice and theory homework by music students, but the headphones quickly became “the busiest item in the whole library.” He estimates that approximately 4,000 patrons have used the piano in the MAA Library over the past three years, or about three to four people every day.

“What’s been fascinating is that it’s attracted more people to the library. It’s brought people in,” Kevin says.

Take a break, have a seat

Arts student Odetta Li just discovered the piano this September. She’s not a music major, but she grew up playing the piano, taking lessons into her teens. Now, she improvises songs or plays pieces she loves.

“It’s a place to chill between lectures,” she says.

The great benefit of these pianos is the ability to plug in headphones and play in private, which makes them perfect for improvising or relaxing.

“Music is very therapeutic. People have a lot of pressure in their daily lives and they often enjoy an instrument at home,” says alumnus Ron Koyanagi (BEd (Sec) ’84), General Manager of Tom Lee Music’s piano division. But not everyone has the luxury of having a piano in their home, students least of all. Tom Lee Music provided the five pianos to UBC so that students, staff and community members alike could have an avenue to release stress, to improve their mood and mental well-being, and to pursue their musical passions. “We just want them to enjoy music, experience the fun, and take a break from everything that’s going on,” says Ron.

To gain access to one of the available pianos, simply check out a headphone set from a library circulation desk and you’ll have a piano to yourself for up to two hours.


Interested in making a difference? Find out how you can support the UBC School of Music.

Jazz visionary John Stetch goes back to school

Six-time Juno nominee and graduate student John Stetch talks about his restless, path-breaking career, the excitement of re-envisioning classical music through a jazz lens, and his decision to return to school 

Text by Tze Liew
Video by Colleen O’Connor

Over the past three decades, John Stetch has made a name for himself as one of Canada’s most innovative jazz pianists and composers. He has performed with contemporary greats such as Mark Turner and Chris Cheek and has recorded sixteen albums, including his most recent release, Ballads. Yet in the middle of a successful career that has earned him critical acclaim and half a dozen Juno Award nominations, he made the extraordinary decision to come to UBC to pursue an M.Mus in Composition.

Part 1: John Stetch talks about his decision to go back to school and the importance of community.

“I wanted to get a Master’s because the nature of work and teaching [in music] has changed in many places, and often requires more than just a Bachelor’s degree. I knew I was going to be living in Vancouver, and I’d heard of UBC and its beautiful campus. There wasn’t really a jazz program around, so I thought a Composition Master’s would be a great fit, since I’ve been starting to write some classical chamber music, not just jazz,” he says.

Stetch is no stranger to change. Ambitious and experimental, he has always forged his own path, inventing new techniques and musical styles — for instance, fusing classical and jazz music in his compositions. Reinterpreting well-known classical works by Mozart, Bach and Chopin through the language of jazz, he is fearless in altering the chords and rhythms, adding new textures with techniques like plucking the inside of the piano to create exciting new renditions, while still keeping the originals recognizable.

“I have this instinct to want to play a little differently every day,” he says. “There are so many interesting possibilities. What if you double up the octaves? What if you play the scale down instead of up? Or change the ending completely?”

Stetch was inspired to play classical music, especially after listening to Glenn Gould playing Bach. Gould’s daring, percussive style pointed to interesting possibilities within the classical canon. But Stetch, a jazz musician, wasn’t sure how to approach the material at first.  

Part 2: Stetch demonstrates his unique approach to piano, performing a reinterpretation of Mozart K 333, Third Movement.

“It was too strange to play Chopin in a jazz club,” he says. “So I ended up rearranging the classical pieces, making them my own style, and treating them as homages to the original composers. Now I can perform them in both jazz and classical contexts.”

Stetch has reworked pieces such as Mozart’s Sonata No. 13 in B-Flat, Chopin’s A-Flat Major Polonaise and Bach’s Italian Concerto, which he recently performed in a Wednesday Noon Hours concert. The Mozart Sonata is a bluegrass arrangement, inspired by a banjo concert he attended. The Chopin and Bach arrangements are jazz-influenced – in Chopin, he plays with odd rhythms to vary and contrast with the original; in Bach, he mixes time signatures to elongate or shorten the theme.

“Mozart and bluegrass were a perfect match. Bluegrass usually has a lot of fast notes, an obvious pulse, and the kind of tonic-dominant-subdominant chord progression that Mozart’s pieces [also] have,” he says.

For Stetch, the interaction between jazz and classical is a two-way street. While bringing jazz improvisation techniques to classical pieces, he also admires classical music for its emphasis on organisation, and tries to bring that into his jazz playing. “I’ve often heard complaints that jazz rambles on too much, that it’s too complicated and random. I don’t like that myself, so I try to keep my playing organized like classical pieces.”

Part 3: Stetch talks about the appeal of experimentation and how he combines classical and jazz music in his compositions.

For such an accomplished pianist, Stetch started piano relatively late, at age 18. He grew up learning clarinet and saxophone, and originally pursued studies in saxophone at the University of Alberta. There he was introduced to figures such as Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarett and Wynton Marsalis, and was struck by the beauty and the rhythmic and harmonic possibilities of the piano.

“I stopped saxophone and switched to piano. I was addicted to it, obsessed with the harmonies and sounds that can be gotten from chords.”

He went on to study piano at McGill University, and later moved to New York, where, with the help of a grant, he sustained himself as a musician for two years and became a pianist for Rufus Reid’s band.

“I worked really hard and even felt behind when I first arrived at NYC, playing with people my age who had been playing all their lives. But at age 26 I found a classical teacher who changed my life. Burton Hatheway, who is now 86, had to get me to forget everything I knew and start from the beginning. It was one of the hardest things I've ever been through — it took about five years to make progress and 10 for it to really sink in.” 

While in New York, Stetch threw himself into the scene. He did so many gigs that he learned to be quick-minded and versatile – playing through unfamiliar standards, figuring out keys, working with singers and making sure the phrases flowed beautifully, all on the go. His improvisations didn’t always work out the way he wanted, though – there were always ups and downs.

Part 4: Stetch demonstrates his reinterpretation of Chopin's Polonaise in A-flat.

“Sometimes they were magical performances, and sometimes I really disliked my own music. You’re your own worst critic, after all. But through the repeated formative experience of trying to improvise and having it fail so many times, the desire to make it better pushes you to find ways to improve.”

It was these heady experiences of failure and growth that made John the improvisational, forward-looking musician he is today — always changing, always evolving. Counterintuitive though it may seem, his decision to uproot and move across the country to study at UBC made perfect sense.

“It’s been a long time since I got feedback on my compositions, so I thought it’d be really neat to get honest feedback and criticism from people like Stephen Chatman, Dorothy Chang, and Keith Hamel, who’ve been listening critically to new music for decades,” he says. “It’s a special introduction to Vancouver, having this instant community of composers to work with.”

At the School of Music, Stetch is challenging himself to compose for instruments he has never worked with before, such as strings and brass.

“John is one of the most naturally and innately talented musicians I have worked with,” says Hamel. “He seems to have the ability to quickly absorb diverse musical styles, to understand the musical materials that comprise each style and to construct new works, which contain elements of the model but are uniquely personal. He understands composition as an act of communication between musicians and an audience, and he always writes with this foremost in his mind.”

Most recently, Stetch composed a piece for brass quintet for the ChanFare series performed by Thunderbird Brass this October at UBC’s Chan Centre. He will tour New York with his band Vulneraville in January.

Banner image by Takumi Hayashi/UBC School of Music


BONUS FOOTAGE: John Stetch on how to play the piano like a string instrument

Video: Tze Liew/UBC