By Steve Sears
West Morris Mendham High School senior, Jasmine Meyer, and partner, Gordon Li, recently won for the second consecutive year the MTNA (Music Teacher’s National Association) Senior Duet Piano Competition’s Eastern Division.
Their teacher is Dr. Julia Lam of Basking Ridge, under whose tutelage Meyer has been since her freshman year.
Meyer and Li, who competed against pianists from eight states, performed Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto, Danse macabre Opus 40 by Camille Saint-Saens, 8 Variations on a Theme by Count Waldstein by Ludwig von Beethoven, Gazebo Dances (for piano, 4-hands), movement I by John Corigliano, and Souvenir de La Russie (1 piano 4 hands) by Johannes Brahms.
Also, for the second consecutive year, the duo entered the MTNA Competition Finals – this year a virtual competition – but again fell short of a title.
The talented musician has been playing piano for 12 years, but at a point thought of quitting. While exploring other interests, she came across a fictional story of a boy who was similar in age. “This boy also had a hard time finding significance in his pursuit of piano because his parents had started him on it at a very young age, and he was good at it. But he didn’t know what it meant personally to him; he hadn’t found the reason why he was doing it. As the story progressed, he eventually discovers the beauty of music and learns to truly, truly enjoy it, and not just because someone else told him to practice. After reading that story, I became really inspired, and I started to take notice of other pianists. I think without that eureka moment, I don’t think I would be where I am today.”
Meyer feels communication is an integral part of playing duet piano with Li. “Not just musically,” she says, “but playing with my partner and getting to know him better through our rehearsals, I become really inspired. Gordon has a great work ethic, he’s really focused, you can tell he’s a very ambitious and driven person. I didn’t have as many of those qualities, and the more time I spent rehearsing with him, the more I became inspired by his concentration and his ability to assert and look at things very objectively. So, working with him as a piano duet has not only helped me as a musician, but in many ways as a person.”
And per Meyer, Dr. Lam is much different than her prior teachers. “I think what really makes the student-teacher relationship I have with her special is that she just has so much experience. She has two kids who are musicians, she’s been teaching for a really long time. So, it’s like having an elder you look up to and trust. She’s such a nice person, very kind, always very gentle. I think what helped me to improve under her tutelage is because she was so nice, always so generous, and always so free with her advice. I never really want to disappoint her because she thinks so highly of me, and I never want to let her down. I think it’s her faith in me that’s helped me push myself to get better for her sake, and for my own.”
Meyer, who is the oldest child of Bill and Pauline Meyer, is fond of many pianists, but 26-year-old Jazz performer, Jacob Collier, is someone whose skills she admires. “I wish I could play the piano like he does, because his ability to think on the spot and come up with such interesting musical ideas – that’s something that I haven’t quite figured out how to do yet. I wish I had that kind of originality and improvisation skill on the spot, and sophistication of musical ideas. I really respect that in him.”
The above being said, Meyer’s skill is praiseworthy as well, and she credits hard work for attaining it. “All audiences ever see are the final product. Behind that performance is months of hard work and hours and hours and hours of practice, so my love of piano is incorporated into every moment of that practice.” And, as she enjoys with Li and Lam, there is that friendship and respect as well with the piano. “When I’m playing piano, I think the thing that I like most about it is it’s kind of like a best friend to me, it brings me a sense of peace. Because I pursued piano and to such an extent, I don’t have too much time to hang out with friends my age. But when I’m playing piano, it’s almost as if it was a confidant, someone with whom I can really pour my feelings out into, and it’s very therapeutic. I feel it’s an incredibly worthwhile and healthy pursuit for me.”
“It’s good for my well-being.”