In a castle in Vienna, Baylor piano student finds inspiration

Julia Blackwood plays one of the pianos in the SUB. Katy Mae Turner | Photographer

By Olivia Turner | Staff Writer

Among the numerous music students who are set to show off their hard work during this spring recital season will be piano major and Weymouth, Mass., senior Julia Blackwood. Blackwood has been mastering the instrument throughout her entire life and has made it farther than most in the art. But the journey, she said, has been anything but easy.

Though experienced and talented, Blackwood said she doesn’t consider herself to be a prodigy. From the very first time she touched the glistening white keys as a child, to her present everyday practice, she said she has encountered obstacle after obstacle.

“Classical music isn’t natural for anyone,” Blackwood said. “For the longest time, oh my goodness, for the longest time it has always been a struggle.”

Despite the difficulties of playing, Blackwood said the sound of the piano has always been familiar to her. She said she can recall listening to a CD labeled “Mozart for Morning Coffee” every morning when she was a child, an arrangement of piano and violin sonatas. Even now, Blackwood said she holds a special place in her heart for Mozart’s music.

Blackwood said she began her first piano lessons at four years old, but she didn’t begin seriously struggling until she began to play increasingly advanced pieces in middle school. From then on, having to learn groups of pieces at a time continued to stump Blackwood into her college years. Blackwood said to cope, she didn’t let go of music, but embraced it in a different way.

“Including times that I struggled playing, I would feel so stressed out, and you know what I’d turn to?” Blackwood said. “Ballet music.”

Blackwood said her relationship with ballet, which was refreshing and fun, would often “juxtapose” her relationship with piano practice, which was sometimes discouraging. Blackwood, who has been dancing ballet since childhood, continues in the art through Baylor’s Classical Ballet Society.

During college, Blackwood said she had a professor at a previous 4-year university who was verbally abusive and discouraging towards her, despite the continuous time and effort she put in as a piano student. This eventually led Blackwood to pursue lessons elsewhere, which brought her to Baylor.

However, Blackwood was not necessarily driven by discouragement to Baylor University. She said she was drawn here — particularly by Baylor’s piano professors, including her present instructor, Dr. Terry Hudson. After taking trial lessons with Hudson, Blackwood said she knew her needs aligned with Hudson’s methods and she wanted Hudson as her professor.

“It is not unusual for students to have to adjust to this increased learning pace,” Hudson said. “We have worked a good bit on building strong practice habits in the early stages of developing a piece, and Julia also has learned additional short pieces on her own to help develop her ease and accuracy in assimilating a new score.”

Because of Hudson’s patience and encouragement towards her, Blackwood said her struggles have been lessened, taking her to new heights.

“Thanks to her, I was able to gain enough confidence to apply to summer masterclasses in Vienna,” Blackwood said.

In Vienna, Blackwood played in a concert hall in a castle in Innsbruck, one of which halls composer Johannes Brahms once played. During her performance there, Blackwood said she could feel the history of the music she was playing, making it her favorite performance of her life so far.

With Blackwood’s gratitude toward her instructor, Hudson said she has also been impressed by Blackwood’s continued improvement, mastery and commitment.

“She is 100% absorbed in the arts and has taken the initiative to attend an unusually high number of world-class performances and exhibits,” Hudson said. “This enhances her own artistic voice.”

Despite Blackwood’s potential for fame through her playing, she said it’s not what she strives for in her career. Blackwood said she actually believes fame can be negative for artists.

“I think the moment someone is focused on that, they’re already kind of losing an important part of being an artist,” Blackwood said.

Blackwood said her goal instead is to help more people to adore music in the way that she does. She said she wants to accomplish this by playing for children and showing them that classical music isn’t boring, but interesting and exciting. Blackwood also said she wants to play for elderly people in nursing and assisted living homes to bring them the joy they need.

Politics and activism are further motivators for Blackwood, which she hopes to combine with her music someday. She said she is inspired by artists such as professional cellist and humanitarian Yo-Yo Ma, as well as artists providing aid to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

“it’s important for artists to not be blind or get shy about stating their opinions,” Blackwood said.

Blackwood said one way she hopes to reach Baylor students is through performing for them. She said she wants the Baylor community to be aware of the numerous free concerts and recitals which will happening soon on campus.

“People should come out more and listen to the fantastic musicians that we have here,” she said.

Tickets for upcoming performances from the School of Music, including Blackwood’s April recital, can be found through the ticket office.