Jay Sherman Pushes Himself (And His Piano Keys) To The Limit
Posted 03/20/2018 09:45AM

by Arnav Rajdev/Lion Staff


Two years ago, then sophomore Jay Sherman shocked the Upper School when he brought his musical talents on the piano to light during chapel. I still remember observing students slightly zoned out, but then jolting up as soon as he started playing.

Jay has this effect on his audiences, and over the past couple years, he has continued to hone his talents by joining the Ellington Jazz Band. Now, in his senior year, there are high expectations every time his fingers hit the keys. Such was the case prior to his senior recital.

When I walked into the Black Box Theater there were roughly 60 people, all already aware of Jay’s talent. So when the lights dimmed, and Jay walked out and sat down, we were all ready. Or so we thought. Much like chapel two years ago, when Jay finally started playing we were all shocked. His body movements were more animated, and his music was increasingly complicated yet just as incredible.

He exceeded expectations yet again.

I had the chance to sit down with Jay a few days after his recital and talk to him about his thoughts on the performance, and his journey with music in general.

Arnav Rajdev:  How long have you been playing piano?

Jay Sherman: I have been playing piano for close to 11 years now. I was in second grade when I started to have lessons.

AR: Why did you start?

JS: I don't know what made me interested exactly. I asked my parents if I could start having lessons and the rest is history. I still wonder what exactly inspired me to get started, but I guess I'll never know.

AR:  When did you realize piano was for you?

JS: The day I began to learn the instrument.

AR:  You said you had a family tree of your instructors; talk about that a little.

JS: My teacher brought this up to me recently, and it's a very interesting thought. Ludwig Van Beethoven taught Carl Czerny, who taught Franz Liszt, who taught Alexander Siloti, who taught Earle Voorhies, who taught my teacher, who has taught me. I think that's a cool progression of pianists and it's an honor to be a part of such a talented line of musicians.

AR: You said music is a lot like athletics. Athletes stretch their muscles before their practice to get the most out of their training session. How do you musically stretch before you practice?

JS: Being a musician is similar to being an athlete in a few ways. You have to be really self-disciplined, practice and warm up daily, and take care of your body both physically and mentally in order to be successful. In terms of warming up, practicing scales and arpeggios daily really improves not only your technique, but also your understanding of all the key signatures and how they work together. That's something a lot of pianists don't take advantage of when first learning the instrument. So it's been great how my teachers have motivated me to instill this knowledge.

AR: There is a visual component to your performances. Why do you move around the way you do when you play?

JS: People sometimes ask me if my visual expressions are a part of some act to make my performances more engaging. This is not true. The way I play is just a part of who I am, and how I like to interpret and feel the music. Every time I perform, I give it my all, because I love this music and I'm proud to display that.

AR: Do you think more people should play like that?  

JS: Yes, I think it's important for any musician, no matter what instrument or music they play, to really find a way to connect with the music they play instead of worrying about correct notes or small details when performing. Dr. Pitchford has told me to "Express, don't impress," and I try to live by that every time I perform.

AR:  How long have you been performing?

JS: I have been performing ever since I began playing.

AR:  When was your first true Lovett performance?

JS: While I played a lot during chapel throughout middle school, I would say my first big performance at Lovett was in 10th grade when I played Chopin's Grande Valse Brillante in a chapel service. It can be very nerve-racking to play in front of your peers like that. So I was really happy that I finally took a risk and did that.

AR: How was your mindset going into your first Lovett performance different than your mindset going into your senior recital?

JS: Obviously, my experience as a pianist and performer has changed a lot since that 10th grade experience. I think it also changed significantly after my recital performance last year with Ben Rau. This senior recital, however, brought forth some interesting challenges. It was very exciting yet challenging performance, because I had to carry the whole recital by myself, which is something I had never done before. Ultimately though, it was a very rewarding experience, and I'm so thankful to have been able to do it.

AR: How do you choose the music you played for your senior recital?

JS: I began working on the repertoire over this past summer. While most of the pieces chosen were based on requirements for college auditions, I picked pieces that I not only really enjoyed hearing, but were also a bit unique and not as commonly heard. For example, the Franz Liszt piece I played, titled Vallèe d'Obermann, has such an interesting story behind it that not many people know about. It turned out to be one of the more memorable parts of the program for those who came. So I was really happy to see that people enjoyed what is, in my mind, a very underrated piece.

AR: What’s your favorite piece of music and why?

JS: That is such a difficult question to answer, as I like so many pieces for so many different reasons. I would say my favorite piece of music to have learned so far would be Liszt's Vallèe d'Obermann like I mentioned earlier. It was so fascinating to learn about, both from the musical and historical perspective. It's a very long piece, close to 15 minutes. So every time I play it, I feel like I'm going on some epic journey of epic proportions. It's truly a unique experience, and I always hope to take those who listen on this journey with me.  

AR:  What kind of instructor do you prefer, a tough yet encouraging one, or someone like Fletcher from Whiplash?

JS: My teacher is someone who is always giving me constructive criticism to improve my playing, as well as always being incredibly kind and very honest with me. That has always been the case, and that is what I like in a teacher: someone who is willing to push you to your limit, while still maintaining a sense of care and support for your endeavors.  

AR:  How do you intend to pursue your musical endeavors at SMU?

JS: That's a great question. I will be attending SMU's Meadows School of the Arts this fall, which is a very cool program not only for musicians, but also for other artists. While I do not plan, as of now, to pursue music as a career path, I do plan to continue studying and playing music to the best of my ability throughout college. It's what I love to do, and I'm excited to see where it may take me in the future.

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