The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

Practice Makes Perfect

Junior Zarin Mehta Performs at Ravinia
Photo credit: Zarin Mehta
Zarin Mehta performs at Ravinia’s Martin Theater.

The concert began with a G that descended into a melodic sequence of sixteenth notes played one after the other. Scattered with trills and dense with rhythm, Bach’s Toccata in G minor was the first of four pieces that junior Zarin Mehta performed on August 20 at the Ravinia Festival. Despite his worries about not having performed the piece in a year, Mehta was pleased with his performance. 

After 11 years of learning, practicing, and perfecting the art of classical piano, Mehta has gained a multitude of musical accolades, including the opportunity to open for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Ravinia.

Following the lead of his older sister who was learning piano at the time, Mehta began studying the instrument at four years old. He didn’t enjoy practicing piano, and his mother sat with him while he practiced to help. Mehta describes himself as a “naturally competitive person.” Early on, he participated in many competitions but never won any of them. “That made me feel bummed out,” he said. 

When Mehta was eight, practicing began to feel more enjoyable for him. He switched piano teachers, then switched again, then began taking lessons from a teacher he still works with today. Mehta owes his passion for piano to these teachers. 

“My technique was not always as strong as some of the others my age,” he said, “but because I had this really deep foundation and appreciation for music at a young age, even though I wasn’t doing as well at competitions, I was excelling at artistry.”

During COVID-19, Mehta had a lot of time on his hands to spend practicing piano, which was exactly what he did. He noticed that when he increased the amount of time spent practicing, he progressed faster. In his freshman year, Mehta switched to a new piano teacher, Winston Choi, who currently teaches Mehta at the New Music School. Choi helped Mehta to improve his technique to the level required for more prestigious competitions. “Now I have both the sense of technique and artistry,” Mehta said. With both of these elements, Zarin began to win competitions and develop an ever-growing list of musical achievements.

On August 20, Mehta performed four piano pieces in Ravinia’s Martin Theatre. After he played a 45 minute program consisting of pieces by Bach, Scriabin, Ravel, and a composition of his own, titled “Glimpses,” the Chicago Symphony Orchestra took to the stage to perform works by Tchaikovsky. According to the Ravinia website, Mehta’s performance “serves as the perfect precursor” to the CSO’s concert.

When Mehta heard in April that he would be opening for the CSO at Ravinia, he wasn’t yet aware of the grand scale of the opportunity. However, he’d been to numerous CSO concerts and was excited by the prospect of opening for them. “It’s always been my dream to play with them, but opening for them is also pretty good,” Mehta said. 

In the weeks leading up to the concert, Mehta grew increasingly nervous, especially the night before and the morning of the concert. However, in the one and a half hour period after the sound check and before the performance, Mehta felt confident. Likewise, he wasn’t as nervous as he’d anticipated while he was performing. Choi, who was unable to attend the concert, said “Zarin is remarkably grounded, unflappably calm in the face of pressure.” 

According to junior Beckett Nikitas who attended the concert, there were about 250 to 300 people in the audience. Mehta said he tends to “build off the energy of the audience,” which explains why he often feels more comfortable playing in front of large crowds as opposed to small ones. 

He had his head up tall,” Nikitas said. “I think he was really well prepared for this performance. He seemed at ease on stage.”  

Earlier this year, Mehta won DePaul’s Concerto Competition with a piece by Schumann. Piano concertos are typically written with a piano part and an orchestra part. However, the parts that the orchestra is supposed to play often get re-written as a secondary piano part. This is why many concertos are practiced and performed by two pianists. 

After winning this competition, Mehta had the opportunity to perform the concerto with the Oistrakh Symphony. “Playing with an orchestra is a really fulfilling experience,” Mehta said. “There are just so many more colors and textures that are really brought out.” Mehta noted that playing piano can be lonely because pianists mostly play solos or in small groups. That’s why playing with the Oistrakh Symphony has been Mehta’s “favorite experience as a pianist,” he said.

According to Mehta, one of his biggest accomplishments has been winning the Music Teachers National Association competition, where he competed with musicians from all across the country. The competition had three rounds, and the final round, nationals, was held in Reno, Nevada. 

In terms of competitions, Mehta holds the opinion that they can be biased against a certain person, piece, or performance. “Winning a competition doesn’t mean that you’re a better pianist than somebody else, but if you do win a competition, it gives you merit,” Mehta said. For example, Mehta believes that the “merit” he gained from winning the MTNA competition gave him the opportunity to perform at Ravinia.

Choi acknowledges that competitions can be subjective and influenced by the individuality of the judges, but disagrees with Mehta about the legitimacy of a competition winner. “A competitor with a unique and compelling voice who manages to grab a hold of a listener can consistently rise to the top in a variety of settings and competitions,” Choi said. He also believes that competitions can motivate students to achieve a goal through healthy competition with peers.

Even though Mehta has had many successes in both competitions and performances, he remains “humble,” as Nikitas put it. Nikitas wasn’t aware that Mehta would be performing at Ravinia until it was brought up in a group chat. Nevertheless, it is evident to Nikitas that Mehta has put in a lot of hard work and effort. 

“In addition to the astounding natural talent he has, he is also very open-minded, curious, driven and extremely hardworking,” Choi said.

Mehta has a busy schedule, as piano isn’t the only thing that he participates in. He does all of his schoolwork, which, for him, must always come first. He also plays ice hockey, and its schedule isn’t flexible. That leaves Mehta to carve out whatever time is leftover to practice piano, even if that means practicing at midnight with his piano on quiet mode. 

This summer, he practiced for an average of three hours each day, while during the school year, he practices for about two hours per day. And if he is too busy, he may not even practice at all. 

In the future, Mehta hopes to continue playing piano in college but is unsure whether he wants to pursue it professionally. Even if he doesn’t, he’d like to keep playing the instrument and challenging himself with new music and competitions. “I want to take piano as far as I can,” Mehta said. 

Over time, Mehta has gained an appreciation for the piano and the music he can make with it. He often hears the criticism of classical music that it’s difficult to find a meaning in the music when there are no lyrics, but he argues that the absence of lyrics leaves space for interpretation. “The true part of classical music is searching for the meaning,” Mehta said, “especially when the meaning isn’t always obvious.”

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Uma Morris
Uma Morris, Features Editor
For her Junior year, Uma Morris is thrilled to be this year's Features Editor on "The Weekly." After publishing her first article at the start of her sophomore year, she fell in love with pitching, interviewing, and writing for "The Weekly," and she looks forward to being a part of the editorial process! When she isn't grinding out articles at 1:00 in the morning, you can find Uma reciting her poetry (on stage as well as in front of her bathroom mirror), singing in grape jam, or sitting on the soccer bench :)