When she was only 5 years old, Holly Jurca’s father sat her at a piano for the first time. Her feet dangled from the bench and her tiny fingers barely reached the keys, but she and the instrument connected. A decade later, Holly is among the upper echelon of pianists her age and already making connections that she believes are vital for her future.
Holly is a junior at the Nashville School of the Arts, a magnet school within Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Since 2006, she has also been a pre-college Myra Jackson Blair Honor Scholar at Blair. As an honor scholar, she takes classes at Blair in music theory, music history, accompaniment and chamber music in addition to study devoted to her instrument. In October, she was one of six finalists in the youth category of the 2009 Seattle International Piano Competition. Between her time at school, her time at Blair and her time practicing, there isn’t much time for anything else.
“I usually wake up around 6:30,” Holly says. “That’s a struggle, because I usually don’t go to bed until 12:30 or 1. It’s not that the schoolwork is all that hard, it’s just the amount of homework I have for each class.”
Holly’s day at the Nashville School of the Arts begins at 8 a.m. She takes three advanced placement classes—biology, English and American history. Piano and choir round out her class load. Her regular class work ends at 3 p.m., but her day is far from over.
“On Mondays I go straight from school to Blair, where I either have rehearsal with my duo partner, or I practice on my own until theory class, which lasts until 5:35 p.m.,” she says. “On Tuesday I have an after-school session for my Advanced Placement U.S. History class and then a performance class at Blair. Wednesdays are free, unless I have a rehearsal, and on Thursdays I have two lessons at Blair. Then on Friday, nothing.”
Holly’s weekends are spent practicing and studying for upcoming tests. For many, a schedule this full would be daunting, but Holly seems to thrive on the constant activity.
“Her first priority has been the piano and music and Blair,” says Holly’s teacher, Roland Schneller, Chancellor’s Professor of Piano at Blair. “She does it because she loves it. She has an inner drive that you find in all of the most successful students.”
Holly recounts her schedule with a precision you’d expect from an engineer, not an artist. Like all musicians, she excels at keeping time.
“I have millions of clocks,” she says, explaining the key to succeeding in both academics and music. “On my computer, my phone, at home, I’m always mindful of the clock. People think that sounds uptight, but it works for me.”
“If I do end up with a career in music, I’d love to just perform. But I’d like to teach as well. Maybe I can be kind of a touring, master class teacher.”
As a junior, Holly is also preparing for college auditions. She is considering an impressive collection of the country’s finest schools when it comes to studying music—Indiana University at Bloomington, Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College, the Peabody Institute of Music at Johns Hopkins University, the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester and the Curtis Institute of Music.
“Connections are a major part of the music world,” Holly says. “You need to have lessons with different teachers at different schools. The thought of college auditions is pretty scary, because I’m not exactly sure what happens.”
Last summer Holly attended the prestigious Indiana University Piano Academy and received instruction from an instructor who plays a large role in determining which students are awarded scholarships at the school.
“I was nervous, but I played something that I’m comfortable with,” Holly says. “Also, now I’m past the prescreening process for IU. I won’t have to send in a tape, I’ll just go there to audition.”
Even though music is her main focus, Holly is also thinking of studying English or something in the medical field. However, it’s hard to imagine that music won’t be her life’s work.
“If I do end up with a career in music, I’d love to just perform,” she says. “But I’d like to teach as well. Maybe I can be kind of a touring, master-class teacher.”
“She’s competing in the big leagues, and she hasn’t even found what she can do best yet, but that will come,” Schneller says. “A pianist has to try everything to find out who they really are.”
The Myra Jackson Blair Honor Scholarship
Awarded annually by the Blair School of Music to outstanding pre-college students who have been recommended by their teachers and who plan careers in music, the Myra Jackson Blair Honor Scholarship covers academic-year tuition for private instruction and classes in music theory, musicianship and music history and literature. Auditions adjudicated by faculty committees are held each spring. Students must maintain at least a “B” average in each subject, perform in recital and attend at least two faculty concerts each semester. Students take music theory, music history and chamber music in addition to study on their instrument. Pianists are expected to take an accompanying class each semester, and eligible instrumentalists are required to audition for the Nashville Youth Orchestra program. There are currently 39 honor scholars at Blair, and each, like Holly Jurca, is dedicated, talented and passionate about music.