Pianist Julia Tufts has a knack for award-winning concertos, a head for numbers and a penchant for punk.
On top of all this, she also has the honour of performing in the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra’s season finale concerts this weekend.
Tufts, a fourth-year student pursuing combined honours in math and music, will join the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra (NSYO) at Acadia University on April 27 and Halifax’s Saint Andrew’s United Church on April 28.
Hard work, talented playing
Originally from Kentville, Nova Scotia, Tufts first took to the piano at age seven. She later played clarinet, trombone and guitar during her high school studies at King’s-Edgehill School and performed in the Annapolis Valley Music Festival.
Currently, when she isn’t practicing with instructor Lynn Stodola, Tufts plays piano in a trio with NSYO cellist Lydia Hansen and former NSYO violinist Hua-Chu Huang. If you happen by one of the North End’s music venues, though, you might find her in a different style of ensemble, playing drums or bass guitar with local punk bands.
Although she has mastered a lengthy list of instruments, Tufts has made the piano her instrument of choice throughout her music studies at Dal.
“I decided to stick with piano because it has always been my primary instrument, and I couldn't see myself wanting to spend hours a day practicing on anything else," she says.
Her dedication to piano has been well worth it, and Tufts took home the prize for the 2012 NSYO concerto competition with her rendition of the first movement of Grieg's “Piano Concerto in A Minor.”
Her winning entry for the competition was recorded with the Dalhousie Symphony Orchestra at its 2012 Concerto Night concert, and this year the orchestra welcomed Tufts back for her second Concerto Night appearance.
“It really means a lot to me to be recognized for my musicianship and hard work,” says Tufts. “And when I say hard work, I don't just mean the hours of practice, but also the performances in lessons, in piano rep class and in recitals.”
She explains that the less-than-perfect performances are often the best motivation to work even harder.
“It can be really tiring, and discouraging at times, but if you persevere you learn the most from these experiences.”
Varied learning, great results
Her preference in performance is music from the Romantic period, particularly Chopin's works. However, her current iPod playlists reveal a diverse taste for music that reflects her full range of activities as a musician, from classical to contemporary.
“Right now I'm listening to Saint Saens violin works, Beethoven piano sonatas, Sad Boys (New York punk) and Ratface (Pittsburgh punk),” she says. “Joy Division, Maurizio Pollini's Chopin études and Claudio Arrau's Liszt études are also on my regular rotation.”
Tufts also maintains a balanced mix in her academic life, explaining that her math studies have provided her with useful tools for tackling difficult rhythms and perfecting challenging pieces.
“I believe that the creative thinking and problem solving skills I develop in math are the most useful to my musical performance.”
Next year Tufts will be completing her honours project for her undergraduate degree. Her current post-graduation plan is to pursue a master’s degree in math.
Looking ahead to the immediate future, she admits that performances can be stressful but says that the opportunity to lend her own expression to a piece is an enjoyable experience.
This weekend’s concerts will be Tufts’ first performances with the NSYO.
“To play with NSYO and work with [music director] Dinuk [Wijeratne] is a great opportunity,” she says.
Despite her success during the past couple of years, Tufts maintains a humble attitude about her musical talent.
“I wasn't a star pianist by any means growing up,” she says, “but I've learned a tremendous amount since coming to Dal and I think it's showing in my playing.”
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