Faculty Spotlight: Can Play Piano

By Melissa Anderson

Photo: David Schmitz

Photo: David Schmitz

“It’s inevitable,” she says. “The more you learn, the more you pass on.”Gwendolyn Mok, professor and coordinator of keyboard studies in the School of Music and Dance, was destined to be a piano prodigy. As is customary in Chinese-American families, her parents gave her a Chinese name before she was born: Ko-Chin, which translates to “Can Play Piano.” She had perfect pitch as a toddler and began playing the piano at age two. Age four, she auditioned for Julliard, “but they thought I was too little and said to come back when I was six,” she says. That, she did, studying at Julliard on Saturdays for 12 years prior to attending Yale and graduate school at SUNY Stony Brook, where she discovered the music of French composer Maurice Ravel. In 1993, she received a grant from the French Ministry to study in Paris with Vlado Perlemuter, one of Ravel’s former students. Today she is a Ravel expert.

Also director of the music department’s Historic Keyboard Collection, Mok made use of two historic keyboards, housed in the School of Music and Dance and the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, to record her latest CD, Legacy: The Spirit of Beethoven. On a recent trip to Amsterdam, she happened upon an Erard piano from the time period of Ravel. Playing it, Mok found she was able to achieve nuances in the music she had been unable to create on a modern piano. The Erard now resides in a special room next to her office.

 

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