Posting Date: May 8, 2009
Steven Bicknell: Master of his music craft
By Gina Gareri-Watkins
Fresh from his master class performance at the 2009 Music Teachers National Association’s conference, KSU sophomore piano performance major, Steven Bicknell, took time to discuss his recent experience. MTNA is a nonprofit organization of nearly 24,000 high school, collegiate and independent music teachers who promote the art of music through teaching, performance, composition and scholarly research. This year’s national conference featured nearly 100 showcases, recitals, national competitions and master classes.
Performance pieces are those higher in the hierarchy of music, according to Bicknell, and he was working on one when KSU Professor of Music David Watkins approached him with information about the MTNA conference. “I was working on the ballad, and Mr. Watkins asked me if I wanted to play in a master class and I said ‘yes,’” said Bicknell.
He performed Chopin’s Ballade No. 2 in F major, Op. 38 in the advanced master piano class with award-winning Russian classical pianist, Olga Kern. Bicknell was one of only three pianists selected, and the only undergraduate music student to perform with Kern. Master classes offer an unparalleled educational opportunity for music students, and this was the third class for Bicknell. “It’s a great experience just to have someone else give you an opinion, other than your teacher,” he said.
During the master class, the students played for each other, with Bicknell playing his seven-and-a-half-minute ballad first. Afterwards, each was given 30 minutes of instruction with Kern. “Usually you play the piece all the way first,” explained Bicknell, “and then the instructor will take a part where you can make it smoother or louder, or whatever element she wants to work on. There’s a lot of back and forth until you get it right. Especially from a student perspective, you trust them to know what they’re doing. When the piece is already learned, the instructor generally works on interpretation, and when Kern talked about technique, it was about the musicality of my piece. She says that when playing Chopin, Chopin is always saying something in his music. He was very improvisational, and I should try to play my music the way I speak.”
Bicknell was born and raised in Pennsylvania, the youngest of three brothers, and he began to play the viola in third grade. “My family is musical. My oldest brother played piano, and my middle brother played trumpet, so I continued in that fashion.” Bicknell continued studying the viola, even after moving to Virginia and then Georgia and starting piano studies at Harrison High School in Kennesaw.
Bicknell was recommended to take lessons with Watkins after his sophomore year and, except for his freshman year at Columbus State, has been studying with him ever since. “Honest to goodness, Mr. Watkins is the reason I’m here at KSU. He is somebody who sees potential. Mr. Watkins is very, very smart. He knows his music, and plays it very, very well. He helps his students to get technically free to focus on the music, so he’s good at getting students to that next level. He helps you learn to get your music down and then focus on the expressiveness of the music.”
Bicknell plays the viola in the KSU Orchestra, but his passion is with the piano. “I enjoy what I play on viola, and that pretty much started everything, but my journey through music started with piano. I really enjoy playing the piano.” As for Bicknell’s career plans, “I would like to teach. Because music is so important to me, I would like to share it with other students. I would like to be someone who can start students on the right direction. I want them to be exposed to music early, as I probably would not have my appreciation for music if not for my early experience.”