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SEPF sparks a passion for development, organization and growth of festivals

Students, faculty and South Carolinians are treated to extraordinary musical experiences

Alumna Susan Zhang participated in the Southeastern Piano Festival (SEPF) for three years as a teenager, then came to the University of South Carolina as an undergraduate and later, as a graduate student. "As a participant, SEPF was a life-changing week for me. It was one of my first experiences being surrounded by pianists of such a high level who came together to celebrate their deep love of music,” said Zhang. “SEPF continues to be my favorite week of the year and a great wellspring of inspiration in my musical life." Zhang is still actively involved in SEPF, serving as executive producer of the Piano Extravaganza.

As UofSC students, Zhang and Nick Luby won a 2015 SPARK Creativity in Music Award for their initiative, The Concert Truck. A mobile concert hall that brings live classical piano concerts to unexpected locations, takes the experience to people from all walks of life, bringing them together through a shared experience. This year she’s bringing The Concert Truck to SEPF. The Concert Truck has toured the country and collaborated with organizations like the Smithsonian Institute, Minnesota Public Radio, Boulanger Initiative and Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival. It’s been featured on Voice of America, Minnesota Public Radio, the Baltimore Sun, WYPR Maryland and SCETV. For her work with The Concert Truck, Zhang was also the recipient of the Most Original Idea Award in the 2018 Johns Hopkins University Business Plan Competition, and the 2018 Warnock Fellowship for Social Innovation.

For music students interested in going into arts leadership, arts administration, event production, or simply gaining experience to diversify their professional background, the SEPF provides a professional training environment in which to hone valuable skills. For many non-music students, the festival is an opportunity to gain important skills and benefits as well. Each year, 20 University of South Carolina students help run the acclaimed festival.

This year, UofSC’s Caryn Reed, working towards a master’s degree in piano performance, is taking on the role of assistant director of the festival. Networking with world-renowned pianists is a highlight for Reed. “The satisfaction and pride in seeing a year’s worth of work, investment and attention to detail culminating in a musically inspiring week that affects and motivates everyone involved, is difficult to explain,” Reed says. “All these experiences and opportunities have been vital to the enhancement of my education, personal growth and professional career. It has also sparked a passion for the development, organization and growth of music festivals, and I hope to incorporate these ideas in the future.”

The festival, under the artistic direction of Marina Lomazov and Joseph Rackers, has become one of the premier piano experiences for performance and young talent. “It’s an extraordinary experience and a privilege for the School of Music to offer the highest caliber learning and performance opportunities available to young pianists,” Lomazov says. “Equally exciting is what this festival brings to Columbia. People would have to travel to concert halls in New York, Paris, Milan and Shanghai to see these pianists perform. For one week each year, Columbia becomes the world’s greatest concert stage.”

Through the festival, 25 participants have come to UofSC to study as music majors. Catherine Black, a freshman in Professor Charles Fugo’s studio, had been considering UofSC for a while before she came to the Southeastern Piano Festival. “SEPF was the perfect opportunity to check things out. The activities throughout the festival allowed me to establish a relationship with the faculty members. I experienced an amazing atmosphere of professionalism and teamwork between the teachers and the students. I knew that I had to attend USC!”

School of Music’s Dean Tayloe Harding said, “The Southeastern Piano Festival has for years been a signature program of the School of Music at Carolina. It not only showcases up-and-coming young solo piano performing talent, it also features great established artists in recital, and a great deal of meaningful piano teaching and refined pedagogy for an enthusiastic and loyal following to witness. It has become a signature week of activity for the arts and for great-music making in Columbia every June, and will continue to be this for many, many more years to come.”