October 20, 2010
By Darla Martin Tucker
From the time she was a little girl learning to play the piano in Japan, La Sierra University graduate Akane Iida dreamed of performing in the Sakai International Piano Competition.
After years of lessons and two years studying piano with La Sierra’s Dr. Elvin Rodriguez, Iida got her wish. She entered to compete in the Sakai event, held June 8-13, and embarked on an intense practice regimen: rehearse five piano compositions by Mozart, Ravel, Takemitsu and Brahms for more than six months, practicing six hours a day. After flying from California to Japan to compete, struggling to overcome jet lag and vying with dozens of accomplished pianists for an entire week, Iida found herself in a tie-breaker for first place.
“It was very long, painful and I had a lot of pressure [and] stress as well. When I was announced by the judge as one of the three finalists, I was already very, very excited and happy since the day I played a concerto in the final round was my birthday,” said Iida in an e-mail interview from Japan.
In the end, Iida placed second, and while she expressed frustration with her playing in the final round, she was also grateful to participate in the prestigious event and have the support of many people. Her placement fueled her determination to try again. “The result makes me keep going because I think I had the ability to [win] the first place,” she said.
Iida, a former full-scholarship student, graduated in June from La Sierra’s performer’s certificate program. During her tenure at LSU, she also accompanied the La Sierra University Chorale under direction of Dr. Earl Richards. This month she is taking an entrance exam for a doctoral program at a national university in Japan. She loves to teach and plans to pursue an academic career in universities and music conservatories while performing. “Hopefully I’ll send some of my students to LSU to study as international students like me in the future,” Iida said.
Iida’s roster of competitive wins includes first place in the piano division of the 2009 Rio Hondo Symphony Association’s 41st Young Artists Competition and the 2008 Sigma Alpha Iota Music Scholarship Competition.
She advises upcoming performers to avoid viewing competition as a “fight with other people. It’s actually the fight with ourselves,” she said. “Think while you are playing music how much you love music, and then show the answer in your playing.”
Iida is Rodriguez’s first student to land the Sakai piano competition. The competition, which Rodriguez described as “grueling,” involves three elimination stages that test performers’ concentration, endurance and consistency. In addition to a repertoire of solo piano works, the performer must play a complete piano concerto with an orchestra.
“In order to get in, your level of playing has to be very good and you’re surrounded with some of the best pianists in the world,” Rodriguez said. In addition to a strong work ethic and personal maturity--necessary ingredients for musical achievement--Iida possesses “a very special sense for lyric playing and nuance. Her concept of tonal color is very highly developed and her personal artistry is clearly evident when performing,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez’s methods of teaching include helping students connect to the music. “Otherwise, music becomes a senseless, mechanical exercise that is altogether meaningless. …I tell my students that they need to think as artists, have the endurance, technical agility and persistence of athletes, be cognitively aware in order to problem solve, and bring in the drama of life in order for their performance to stand out and their expressive message to be clear.”
Iida began studying the piano with her mother at age five. She came to the United States in 2006 to pursue a graduate certificate at University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music. She studied there as a music merit scholarship student with Antoinette Perry. While at USC, she met student cellist Yao Wang, a 2006 La Sierra alumnus. Wang encouraged Iida to consider furthering her piano studies at La Sierra once she completed the USC program.
Iida praised La Sierra’s performer’s certificate program and Rodriguez for his instruction and encouragement. “The program was really great for me. I could 100 percent concentrate on playing/practicing,” she said. “[Dr. Rodriguez] taught me how to create my music more than how to play. He made me grow as a professional pianist rather than just as a music major student.”
PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University