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With Training From MACSA, Young Pianist Soars

Nathan Cone
Rhiannon Bishop (left) and instructor Kenneth Thompson.

Kenneth Thompson, executive director of Musical Arts Center of San Antonio, remembers the first time he heard Rhiannon Bishop play. It was at a recital featuring area students. “I was sitting there enjoying the concert, but when Rhiannon was performing, there was something that really reached through my ears and into my heart.”

Bishop was “9 or 10 at the time,” she says. “After the recital I saw this very tall man with a booming voice walk up to my mom and me. He was impressed with how musical I was able to be at such a young age, and he offered to start coaching me.”

Now 17, Bishop is a full-time student of Thompson’s and already has some of the hardest repertoire under her fingers. On May 29, 2015, she performed a recital that included Maurice Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit.” Bishop says she instantly fell in love with the music after hearing it a few years ago, and put it on her “dream list” right away.

“It’s sort of surreal that I’m actually playing it now because I’ve loved it so much,” she says.

It took years of practice and technique to build to that point, explains Thompson. When Bishop was 11 years old, “there was one lesson that someone came and observed… that was almost two hours of pure technique. This person left, and I’m sure they thought ‘he’s torturing this girl!’”

Expanding on the need for technical study, Thompson continues, “I sometimes liken it to an airplane. You really want the airplane to work, but when you’re flying the airplane, you don’t want to be thinking about whether the wings are going to work or whether the engine is going to work. Yet you need it all to work. That’s why we focus on technique [at MACSA], but we also try not to get overly obsessed with it.”

Bishop’s May recital also featured music by Mozart, Bach and a unique work by Spanish composer Frederic Mompou. “Paisajes” was written over the course of 18 years. It’s another piece that Bishop set about learning as soon as she heard it, and brought it to her lessons with Thompson almost complete, without telling him she was working on the music. Thompson was both surprised and pleased that the music complemented the Ravel on the program so well, “by stripping away what one would consider virtuosity and having to purely work with sound and rhythm.”

Bishop says she’s looking forward to continuing her studies at college in a few years, and hopes to earn a doctoral degree one day, with the goal of teaching at the collegiate or pre-college level. She says she enjoys teaching and helping students solve their own technical problems at the piano.

When she’s not at the piano, Bishop says she enjoys playing video games and going to amusement parks. But would you believe this kind, sweet-hearted classical pianist is also a scofflaw? Bishop admits she has a habit of cutting off those “Do Not Remove” tags on pillows, mattresses, and linens and saving them. “It’s an urge that just comes over me, and I cannot control it!” she says with a laugh.

“When I was younger, I had all these cute little decorative pillows that I would put on my bed when it was made… and the tag was a fourth of the size of the pillow, and I thought it was just ridiculous!” she says. “My collection has grown over the years.”

“Is there a statute of limitations for the penalty [of removing the tags]?” I ask. “I think there is,” Thompson chimes in.

Hear Rhiannon play Bach below:

Credit Nathan Cone
Rhiannon: "I can't believe you told him about the 'Do Not Remove' tags!" Ken: "Don't worry, I'm sure you're safe from the law!"