They’re different as daylight and dark — she loves soccer and history, he loves math and science. She hails from Flower Mound, he from Malaysia. She is bubbly, outgoing and excited; he is a bit shy, somewhat reserved.
But when their plane lands in Vienna, Austria, Reilly Fetzko and Jie “Jeff” Fang Goh will be two Navarro College students in a sea of international students, all there for one thing — the piano.
The Vienna International Piano Academy is a prestigious honor, and the fortunate few students who get to participate are treated to private lessons, master classes, and a final concert. Also included are tours of composer’s homes, famous museums, Baroque castles, gardens, and other historic sites.
Michelle Lassiter, piano instructor at Navarro College, studied under world renowned artist in residence at Baylor University, Dr. Krassimira Jordan. While still judging some top piano competitions, Dr. Jordan is the director and coordinator of Vienna International Piano Academy. It is an invitation only, summer academy, and she contacted Lassiter to see if she had any students who were worthwhile.
Lassiter herself had been to Vienna the last four summers, but this summer, will be performing in England and France during that period. So, she selected two top piano students she knew would make Navarro College proud in this environment.
“This is probably the first time students from a school this small will go,” Lassiter said. “I was the first and only American to go the first time I went. The times after that, there were a few other Americans, but mostly the pianists are from places like Hong Kong, Croatia, Germany, Japan and Korea.”
Another first for this Vienna International Piano Academy is that two American instructors will be there to teach lessons, one from Stephen F. Austin University and one from Southern Methodist University.
During the period of June 8 to 24, not only will the Academy be going on in Vienna, but the International Beethoven Contest will have other top pianists in town for that competition, as well.
“I was thrilled,” said piano instructor Christina Mims of Navarro College. “This is such a unique, great opportunity for these students. Dr. Jordan is not known for choosing outside her circle.”
Dr. Tommy Stringer of Navarro College pointed out that some funding for Fetzko and Goh’s trip comes from a scholarship in memory of Oliver Albritton, and administered by his wife, Helen. He wanted the money to go for student travel opportunities abroad, and the money will aid with their airfare, tuition and more, just as he wished.
“This trip might not be possible otherwise,” Mims said. “This will be a cultural experience which will mature them, and open their eyes to a new way of thinking, which is what college is all about. It is also a high level of ability in the pianists around them, which will inspire them to reach higher goals.”
Goh, who just graduated from Navarro College in May with a 4.0 every semester he attended, is scheduled to begin classes at Baylor University in the fall.
“I think this is a golden opportunity for me,” Goh said. “It is my first time traveling to Europe, and the first time to attend the musical academy, and my first time to learn from a renowned musician, and visit the world’s greatest musical capitol — an experience to behold!
“Coming to America has opened so many doors for me. Where I came from, music was my hobby. I was a math major, taking calculus, physics. Ms. Mims really encouraged me with my music.”
In Malaysia, “Jeff” was geared more toward engineering through math and science, and had never played on anything other than an upright piano. He wasn’t exposed to much music, and considered his more of a hobby than anything.
“I got lots of first-hand experience here,” he said. “The first time I played a grand piano ... to hear such a beautiful sound coming from my hands. I also joined the choir, and have made lots of friends. I really enjoy it.
“I thank Ms. Lassiter for giving me this opportunity.”
Mims pointed out that Goh will study with Jordan when he starts Baylor in the fall. He believes himself to be fortunate in that he has parents who supported him in his individuality, and in exploring all his gifts.
On the other hand, Reilly Fetzko is a soccer player who loves history just as much, and aspires to become a history teacher with a private music studio one day. She said juggling soccer, history and music is challenging, but rewarding and fulfilling.
Hailing from Flower Mound, the Marcus High School graduate began taking piano in the second grade, and continued her lessons with Lisa Johnson until she reached 10th grade, when her teacher moved away. She admits to being confused about the path her music would take after that.
“I got with a UNT grad student, and their program is different,” Fetzko said. “She stopped teaching and I stopped playing, but my mom was upset with me for not using my gift.”
Fetzko came to Navarro College to play soccer for Coach Debbie Bonner, who had no idea what to do with a soccer player with interest in piano, so she sent her to Nancy Harwell, who introduced her to Lassiter.
“We clicked from the start,” said Fetzko of Lassiter. “She’s a huge blessing to me. And this scholarship from Mr. Albritton is a blessing. I never anticipated taking my music this far. I am playing difficult pieces I never knew I would play.”
Fetzko said one day Lassiter came in positively giddy, and asked her if she wanted to go to Vienna. Though Fetzko had been to Greece, Italy, Spain, London and Germany on a three-month history trip, she has never been so excited in her life as she is about the Vienna trip.
“I love history, music and English!” she bubbled. “I’ve always wanted to go to Vienna, Austria. I have family roots there, my Dad speaks fluent German. I’m most excited about learning, and even though the people will be speaking other languages, we will be able to communicate through the universal language of music, which is phenomenal.”
A tour of Mozart’s home in Salzburg is high on Fetzko’s agenda, and she’s prepared to make a video journal of their trip to share with other music students at Navarro and with Mrs. Albritton upon their return.
“I’m excited for the food!” Fetzko exclaimed. “I’ve eaten octopus in Europe before, it tastes just like chicken! And the shopping! The museums! And there is a huge theme park in Vienna where the first Ferris Wheel is!”
“I’m containing my excitement until I get there,” Goh said, drolly.
Lassiter said the students will have a lesson every other day, as well as master lessons, and they will sit in on other masters classes.
“I really wish our teachers were going,” Fetzko said. “I thank Dr. Stringer, Mrs. Albritton, Dr. Jordan, and Navarro College.”
(two photos, one from Jeremy Pereira, one by DKirk)