UT music students run the Piano Project

Lauren Zimmer

The fifth floor of the Butler School of Music is flooded with children waiting with their parents before starting their 30-minute music lesson. Some kids have conversations with other music students and some are quiet. As students enter small practice rooms along the narrow hallways, the floor comes alive with music. This is the Piano Project.

Children accepted into the Piano Project take private music lessons every Tuesday from 5-7 p.m. Students currently enrolled in piano pedagogy courses lead the lessons. After a semester-long Piano Project session, each child performs a piece at the program’s recital.

Elementary school student Rosalind Meaux has been with the Piano Project for three years. In addition to Rosalind’s weekly lessons, her teacher expects her to practice piano daily.

“I’m almost on book two,” Rosalind said. “I only have five more [pieces] to finish in book one. This means I get to play new things. It’s fun.”

Rosalind said her favorite part of the Piano Project is the recital performance at the end of the semester. 

“Dressing up is fun,” Rosalind said. “Last year I got to wear a sparkly dress.”

Rosalind’s father, Mark Meaux, waits outside as she practices. Although Mark never had the opportunity to play music growing up, Rosalind has become his teacher back home.

“I am slowly learning how to play music with her,” Mark said. “She teaches me something new every day.”    

Students like Rosalind would not have the opportunity to play music at the Butler School of Music without Sophia Gilmson, director of the Piano Project and music associate professor. Gilmson, who has been teaching music for 22 years, said her love for music and passion for teaching makes the Piano Project very special to her.    

“Music has disappeared from many lives, but it is not too late to fix this,” Gilmson said.

Gilmson said children are ideal students because they can start to learn from a young age how to play music correctly. She said the Piano Project also aims to teach young music students how to have performance manners.

“Proper concert behavior is important,” Gilmson said. “I don’t think many other music programs do this enough.” 

Each semester, children audition to be part of the Piano Project. Gilmson said there are currently only 22 students because there are only 22 teachers. She said the number of teachers is often uncertain, but the small number of students in the Piano Project makes the program more personalized.

“Every child has individual prospects, and all are special,” Gilmson said. “We have 22 students, and we have 22 special projects.”

One of Gilmson’s favorite parts of the program is being able to watch her own students learn how to teach the children in the Piano Project.

“Critiquing is not hard if it’s with a good heart,” Gilmson said.    

Gilmson said it is a serious program — but an exciting one.

“We work very hard to make students into young artists,” Gilmson said. “But seeing children play music makes me feel that there is a genuine joy in this. It is a genuine joy.”