Passion for piano

Boston University, one of the largest private universities in the United States, high in research activity and known for its men’s hockey team, has more than 33,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 140 countries as well as 250 fields of study. Among those students roaming the urban campus and living the college life is Minot native Jasmine Percell, award-winning piano player.

At age 15, Percell, who was home-schooled, graduated from high school and is currently a freshman studying psychology at Boston University. Recently, she participated in the Nationally Federation’s Gold Cup Festival that took place at Minot State University on March 9, and was awarded the 75-point Festival Cup, the second-highest cup awarded to participants. According to Arnola Leverson, chairman of the North Central District Festival, fewer than 10 musicians participating in the festival have won the cup worth 75 points.

The Minot Piano Teachers Club sponsors the North Central District Festival by being a member of the National Federation of Music Clubs, Leverson explained, and that’s how they are able to have the North Central District Festival in Minot. Piano teachers are members of the federation and enter their students in the festival, she continued. The festival, which is not a competition, Leverson noted, features individual musicians who are rated on performances and given a written evaluation. The musicians earn points and accompanying cups ranging in size from the smallest, which is about the size of a tea cup, to the largest, which is probably about half the size of the Stanley Cup.

“I find it (the festival) motivational for students to keep going with piano and a way to strive for bigger cups,” Leverson said. It’s a challenge for the musicians trying to earn the higher point cups since they have to play both a solo piece and a concerto, she noted, and the concerto is usually complicated and lengthy. Additionally, the concerto involves the use of a second piano and both pieces of music have to be memorized, which is also difficult for some musicians, Leverson said.

Percell, who recently expressed an interest in trying to earn the 90-point cup, the highest in the festival, started playing the piano when she was 4 and has been involved in the festival since age 6. Her mother wanted her to play the piano, she said, and she liked it from the start. Before she went to college, Percell said she practiced the piano for an hour to an hour and a half each day, but now she only practices about 45 minutes each day.

Percell said she likes the musical range of the piano and its ability to convey so many tones and emotions. Classical music is her favorite type to play, she added.

When playing a piece of music that is challenging and knowing that she will eventually be able to play it keeps Percell tickling the ivories. “When it’s a tough piece to play in the beginning, but when you learn it and play it, it’s a great sense of accomplishment,” she said. Percell is no stranger to accomplishment, either, what with her experience in participating in music festivals.

Eventually, Percell said she would like to teach piano lessons. She has also thought of getting a minor in music performance, but isn’t sure at this point. “I realized I’ve been playing (piano) for 13 years and it was strange to get to the 75-point cup because I’ve been working toward it for a decade,” Percell said. “It’s strange to realize that I’ve accomplished it.”

Percell said her advice to encourage others to keep playing music is that if you love it, then keep doing it, and if you don’t love it, then don’t do it. “I see a lot of people who just play because their parents want them to play or they don’t want to disappoint them,” she remarked. “Once you get to this point (the level of playing Percell is at), it doesn’t get any easier.”