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                                             E S S A Y S

Daniel George Dumitrescu


Paris is a remarkable city. Beyond its external beauty lies a culture of

overwhelming art and history coupled with fine cuisine.

There was only one fault with

my week-long family vacation there this summer: I didn't have my piano to play.

Ten years earlier, I stood with my parents at Burt Music in Cary speaking to a

Ukrainian piano teacher with a thick Russian accent (much to the approval of my

Eastern European parents), who accepted me as her student after hearing me play by

ear. Ms. Olga, as I call her, a former student of an international concert pianist, proved

to be no ordinary teacher while mentoring me over the next decade. I was immersed

in a musical education involving not only piano performance and complex rhythms but also extensive music theory and composer biographies. With Ms. Olga, I embarked upon a journey to master the piano. My creativity in improvisation and my own compositions was encouraged by Ms. Olga. Additionally, I learned to thrive under

pressure while performing for judges and for large audiences in recitals, essential to my high success in auditions and competitions. Most importantly, however, Ms. Olga aided my development of skills applicable in many areas of life.

Piano performance requires close attention to notes, rhythms, articulations, and

dynamics, all simultaneously. I have learned to focus intently while playing, as a single slip in concentration can ruin a performance. Memorizing pieces as long as the 19 page-1st movements of Appasionata Sonata by Beethoven for annual competitions has translated into an increased ability to recall information for subjects like the United States

History in school. And while some attributes of music came easily to me, Ms. Olga

guided me faithfully through those that did not. Extreme delicacy is required to apply just the right touch to melodic pieces like Chopin's Nocturne in B and Liszt's Un Sospiro.

What was once a weakness became one of my greatest strengths, and maybe crucial

in my career interests in medicine, particularly surgery.

Lessons under Ms. Olga have also affected my social life. Contact with fellow

piano students evolved into some of my strongest friendships, and I have been involved

in two rock bands as a result. The piano has become a part of my identity, such that Ms.

Olga's impact has gone beyond me to influence others as well. Whether playing for the

elderly at retirement homes or participating in children's music camps at Cary Alliance

Church over the summers, my musical abilities as nurtured by Ms. Olga have affected

the lives of many people. I have even had the honor of being invited to guest perform at other piano teacher's recitals to inspire other students and show them what hard work

and determination can accomplish. My passion for music provides a means for me to

express my emotions as well as communicate ideas to others.

My piano has become so integrated into my daily routine that even a week in Paris feels empty without it. Ms. Olga through her lessons has changed how I spend my

time, who I spend it with, but above all, who I am.

Daniel George Dumitrescu


Ten wonderful years of piano lessons with Olga came to a close when I began school at Duke University. I studied chemistry, biochemistry, and related natural sciences: a natural progression for someone interested in the fundamental nature of things. This immersion into science was transformative, yet throughout this time music and Olga never left me. Instead, I’ve discovered how brilliantly connected and interwoven nature and music really are. I graduated from Duke in 2017 with a B.S. in Chemistry, and I subsequently enrolled in the chemistry Ph.D. program at Yale University. I am performing research in the Hatzios Laboratory, where I am broadly studying how humans and bacteria interact with and influence each other at a molecular level. I hope to eventually launch my own university research laboratory.

My cumulative studies in music and science have resulted in amazing emergent thought-experiences. I like to zoom-out in space and time and imagine the stars and planets as if they were atoms and particles, and oppositely zoom into the quantum world and liken that realm to the cosmos. The music fits into these imaginations as well. For example, given that music derives from specific vibrational frequencies, I always wonder: can bacteria ‘hear’ molecular vibrations as music? Can galaxies rotate with speeds that emit energies sounding like a cosmic-Mozart to God? In this way, music is embedded fundamentally in nature.

Sometimes I envision the world of music to be like a vast pool. At one end might be stationed sandy white beaches and tropical green waters, while somewhere else the pool intersects a series of caves, and offshore, waves crash and turn amidst a storm. Moreover: beneath the surface of this pool, a whole other Atlantean world awaits discovery, if one is willing to venture there. Each aspect of the pool is like a distinct musical type, form, or attitudes, and through studies with Olga, the full scope of this world becomes accessible. Olga was like a guide that taught me how to swim and navigate the pool to places I would never reach alone. Ultimately it remains each person’s decision where and what to explore.

When I was in the studio working on a piece with Olga, she used to always ask something to the effect of, ‘What is the story here? What do you imagine, paint me a picture…’ I was terrible at this: I didn’t know what was happening, didn’t imagine anything, didn’t have a story. But now upon hearing music, vivid narrative imagery, whether physical and literal or abstract and spiritual, automatically enters my mind to an extent that approaches synesthesia. That is what Olga cultivated in me: imagination and spirit and life. 

Willy  Lan 

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst College 


I have two sisters, Anne is four years younger and Ellen is seven years younger than me. When Anne was five years old, I was already nine. My parents brought both of us to piano lessons, mainly for Anne.

To everyone's surprise, piano keyboard and note pitches seem quite natural to me. I could quickly map notes to piano keyboards and find patterns in music scores. My memorized muscle movements help guide me to the right notes.

When I switched to Ms. Olga Urick in 2015, she auditioned me, asking me to tell the keys she pressed without looking. I answered almost all correctly. "Perfect pitch", she exclaimed. However, it was frustrating to switch to Ms. Olga's teaching style which focuses on proper

techniques and playing expressively. I felt almost like a beginner.

Sometimes she moved my fingers and forced them to press the keys in her style; sometimes she asked me to put my hand on top of hers. We both tried very hard. With my technique reaching her expectation, I started preparing for competition. Goldberg Variations by Bach was

technically challenging. Debussy's Goldfish and Griffes’ White Peacock are very expressive and I could finally be an effective translator from the score to the sound. I recorded my playing, listened carefully, reviewed Ms. Urick' notes, and corrected places I felt that were not perfect.

I repeated the process over and over until I achieved the desired result. This exhausting practice may sound boring to many kids, but many times I was so drawn into the piano that I forgot two or even three hours had already passed.

At the night before NCFMC State Royalty Competition in April 2017, I laid on the bed in a hotel room, feeling anxious about how I would play tomorrow. "I am going to compete against talented pianists across North Carolina", I talked to myself, wiggling my fingers, thinking how

I would handle the difficult parts of the piece. By the time the competition began, I played the piece beautifully with one minor hiccup. I won second place in the king category. Later on, in 2017, I won honorable mention in RPTA top-level Scholarship competition, and Highest Honors at NCMTA State Piano Performance Festival, where I was one of six state winners.

My sister quit her piano after six years while I continued. Even now at the senior year I still practice piano five to six hours per week. This past summer I attended the Krakow International Piano Summer program in Poland where I studied under professors Adam Wibrowski and William Wellborn. They helped me refine my playlist. I performed at five concerts in 18 days. My parents never pushed me for any after school academics, maybe due to my autism. I enjoy the freedom of exploring what I like.

Sophia Wu 


Although I stopped formally studying music at Stanford, the importance of details was reinforced to me time and again in all my collegiate activities. I once worked with a professor to prepare a manuscript for publication and revised the paper over fifty times before it was deemed satisfactory. I methodically recorded the minutiae of individual experiments of my bioengineering research and took copious field notes during my anthropology work. This is not to say I completed everything perfectly the first time, however. I often remember playing through a piece during lessons with Ms. Olga, only to be interrupted in the middle to fix a wrong note or dynamic and asked to start again. The music demanded details, and details required a willingness to stand corrected and do things repeatedly until I got it right. In the frustration of hitting the wrong notes, performing poorly in a competition, or even having a memory slip during a recital, I learned the resilience that helped me pick myself up through the numerous failures I sustained throughout college.

As I look forward to the next chapter of my life in medical school, I know that the skills music taught me—attention to detail and its attendant resilience—will serve me well. After all, no field is better suited for the rigors of detail than medicine, where each patient’s life literally hinges on the ability to perceive their unique situation. Yet I am also told that there is an art to practicing medicine that transcends individual symptoms and diagnoses: the humanistic aspect of medicine. As such, perhaps the last gift my experience in music lends is a reminder not to lose myself in the details of medicine. Chopin’s Fourth Ballade is more than its constituent notes, accents, and dynamics; music is what emerges out of the cacophony. Likewise, pursuing medicine is more than applying for schools, cramming for anatomy, and completing clinical rotations. Although I cannot say for sure until I have entered the field, I hope medicine is more so the care and compassion that arise in individual interactions between myself and patients. While only time can tell, I am confident that my musical training will always help me appreciate the beauty and details of medicine and beyond.

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