Rosa Burke is 17 years old and studies piano at Church Street School with Tereza Lee Kirkhum. She recently sat down with Director of Music Toby Wine for an informal interview.
TW: Tell me about your earliest musical experiences.
RB: My father always played Irish music in the house, and his brother gave me an Irish flute, so that was the first instrument I picked up, when I was seven. My father played lots of records but also played the guitar. His whole side of the family makes it their purpose to be musical.
TW: Were you taking lessons or just playing informally?
RB: No – the first time I took music lessons was about six months later, when I started playing violin, which I studied for about three years. Ultimately I just wanted to focus on piano. I had studied with (current Church Street School violin instructor) Rosi Hertlein when she was at the JCC (Jewish Community Center) on Staten Island. I also studied piano at Snug Harbor Cultural Center.
TW: When did you first come to Church Street School?
RB: When I was in fourth grade and at PS 150 nearby. I was still doing both piano and violin at the time. Richard Tschudy was my piano teacher.
TW: Your current teacher is Tereza Lee Kirkhum. When did you guys first meet?
RB: Last December (2014). I was taking lessons with (her husband) Danny Kirkhum, and he thought she would be a better fit for me.
TW: I remember – Danny came to me and told me how serious and advanced you were and that he thought you would get more out of working with Tereza, who could help you to focus on classical repertoire. I get the sense you two have built a great working relationship.
RB: It’s really good. She challenges me a lot, but she also recognizes that I have other things going on in my life aside from the piano. She tailors the lessons to how serious I want to be, not how serious she wants me to be.
TW: What are you musical goals at the moment? Are you considering going to conservatory or is this more of a hobby for you?
RB: I think to get into conservatory I might need more experience or have more time to prepare.
TW: I’ve heard you play! If you did want to go to conservatory I don’t think you’d have a lot of trouble getting in. No pressure, but you obviously have a lot of skill and overall commitment to music and it’s very impressive.
RB: Thank you.
TW: What are you working on with Tereza right now?
RB: She just gave me a Chopin Scherzo. I’m excited; she says it’s sarcastic…I can be too.
TW: What other things do you like to do aside from play the piano?
RB: I love taking my dogs to the beach. I have two shiba inus.
TW: What does music mean to you personally? What do you get out of it?
RB: Partially it’s just a way of being a part of my family, because we’re so musically oriented. When I went to visit them this summer (in Ireland) it was just about fitting in with them. They all love music and put it just one step below family (in terms of importance).
TW: Why do you think your family values music so much?
RB: Partially to uphold the Irish culture, but it’s also a whole way of being together. After dinner you can come together, so and so goes to the piano, the other cousin goes to the guitar. I remember my father singing and playing the guitar, playing Johnny Cash songs; that’s definitely one of my best memories.
TW: That’s a great answer and I couldn’t agree more. My dad showed me some of my first chords on guitar and we still get together and play all these years later.
My last question is a two-parter. First, what advice would you give a student at Church Street to help them get more out of their lessons?
RB: If you feel a strong interest, go for it, but pace yourself. Don’t leave yourself unable to use your arms (Rosa referring to a challenging bout of tendonitis)! Mostly though just go for it and pursue your passion.
TW: Part two of the question: what advice would you give to the parents of our students?
RB: Don’t comment on your child’s playing too much. I don’t really like being listened to when I practice. You can feel criticized or snooped on, or even like you’re being praised too much! I think it’s helpful to give them a lot of space.
TW: Those are all really great, really thoughtful answers. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.
RB: Thanks for asking!