Getting the full experience: Pianist Kristin Stephenson hopes concert will draw kids to musical arts

Piano virtuoso Kristin Stephenson recognizes the importance of engaging children in the arts. As part of her personal mission to foster a love of music in children, Stephenson will host a concert aimed at sparking an early appreciation of music in children.

Her performance will include works by Chopin, Liszt, Poulence, Griffes, Dutilleux and Saint-Saens. As part of the program, children in the audience will be encouraged to share which performances were their favorites from what they heard that night.

“We designed this event to engage audiences, especially children,” said event coordinator Fang-Mei Chu. “Studies have shown that classical music plays an important role in children’s development. However, there are usually very few children attending classical concerts. ... We recognize the fact that it’s difficult for children to attend a classical concert without guidance. That’s why we put in all these efforts to engage the children. We believe this will help them stay focused and learn through the concert.”

Originally from Concord, N.H., Stephenson is pursuing her Doctor of Musical Arts degree in piano performance at Penn State, where she studies with Christopher Guzman, as a recipient of a university graduate fellowship. As part of her studies, she said she teaches undergrads and to individuals in other departments.

“One of the reasons I came to school here was to get the degree to teach at the college level,” Stephenson said. “I also enrolled in the program because it gives me the opportunity to perform. ... I’ve had many excellent opportunities (to perform).”

She said that while she prefers to teach students who are serious about their own studies, “The young kids have a real enthusiasm ... they take it very seriously.”

Having earned her undergraduate degree from The Juilliard School, she continues to push her own musical abilities by studying intensive performance and technical studies. Stephenson has won numerous awards, including first prize in the International Young Artist Piano Competition in Washington, D.C., and has become an acclaimed teacher herself. On top of performing her duties as a teaching assistant at Penn State, she also maintains a private teaching studio, where she has guided many of her students to win prestigious awards.

Stephenson said she will introduce each composition.

“I’m going to be talking about each piece (so the audience) will be able to make a more personal connection to the music,” she said.

“Musicians at her level usually don’t want to be bothered with children, but she is different,” Chu said. “She cares about children and works so well with them that ... several parents pooled together to fly her in once a month all through the following year to work with their children.”

Her teaching methods go beyond the actual compositions “so they understand the meaning behind the music,” Stephenson said. “They really respond to that, it gives them the motivation to practice.”

“For the very beginner, I would teach the proper sitting position, how to use the entire body, how to produce a good tone at the piano, all sorts of reading and rhythm skills. I put all of these elements together to make for an expressive musical experience. They get to learn what a real musical experience is,” she added.

Presented by the Central Pennsylvania Music Teachers Association, along with several donations from many local business, Stephenson’s concert will include a collaboration with Hyun Ju Curtin for a two-piano performance.

She said she hopes the concert will encourage kids to find an appreciation of classical music.

“I’m hoping they will enjoy hearing the music and it inspires them to work harder in their studies,” she said.