Posted on March 12, 2013 by Tia Lalani

After she graduates in June, the University of Alberta’s Wirth Institute is sending Elizabeth Clarke to study piano in a Baroque castle on the outskirts of Vienna.

By Christopher Thrall

Elizabeth-Clarke-at-Piano-webElizabeth Clarke might have been young when she graduated from high school in Fort McMurray, but only a trace of that quiet, reserved student remains in the strong, confident young woman these days. After she graduates in June, the Wirth Institute is sending Elizabeth to study piano in a Baroque castle on the outskirts of Vienna.

“I was only 17 for my entire first semester here,” Elizabeth says, “and I wanted to go to a smaller school where I would feel welcome – not lost.”

An exceptional student, Elizabeth was awarded several fine arts and academic scholarships when she began at Augustana, plus the distinguished University of Alberta President’s Entrance Citation.

“I found the transition quite hard,” Elizabeth admits. “It took a long time for me to feel like I belonged here, but what probably helped me the most was knowing that I could contribute to the community. Somehow, people needed me – to play piano in chapel or take leadership in the choir.”

Elizabeth has sung in Augustana’s choir all four years of her studies, and has enjoyed some terrific opportunities in the last year alone: she went to Hungary with the choir in May 2012, accompanies the male chorus Mannskor, and completed a unique cross-faculty directed reading course where she worked with both a music and physiotherapy professor. She is also acting as teaching and research assistant for piano professor Dr. Milton Schlosser, which gives her a glimpse into what being a university professor is like.

Elizabeth-Clarke-across-Piano-webNow she’s looking forward to graduation and her next big challenge: studying with pianist Martin Hughes, who teaches at the Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien in Vienna. Elizabeth applied with the program she wanted and proposed budget, then auditioned for the Wirth Institute at the end of January. The Wirth Institute for Austrian and Central European Studies was originally established in 1998 to raise the profile of Central Europe and Central European Studies in Canada and to cooperate in this field with other Canadian universities.

“Hughes is known for his scholarly approaches to Beethoven and Schubert,” she says, “and I am very excited for what I can learn from him. I hope to also attend some concerts in Vienna, as they can be great learning opportunities as well. It’s so important for musicians to have these kinds of opportunities, but traveling and paying for summer programs gets very expensive very fast. Having a scholarship lets me do a lot more and means I can spend more time practicing and less time working. It’s also a really nice feeling to know that an organization believes in you and trusts you enough to think you are a good investment.”

“As a musician, it’s great to have as many different experiences as you can so you can blend the ideas together and develop your own personal artistic opinions,” Elizabeth explains. “I look forward to being exposed to new ideas that I can incorporate into what I already do in my playing.”

When she thinks about her experiences at Augustana, the young woman destined for the start of her masters degree in piano come September has advice for young musicians.

Elizabeth-Clarke-at-Piano-2-web“I think Augustana is a great place to study if you want a supportive environment,” she says, “one that lets you develop at your own pace.” Augustana’s smaller campus allows students to achieve the same things as larger schools, but with the flexibility to explore whatever a student wants, with opportunities normally only given to graduate students.

“I think there is a place for everyone at Augustana,” says Elizabeth, “but you have to be brave and put yourself out there to find it. My piano class was a big help – I was with other people with the same interests, and over the years I have become very close with the other pianists and our teacher.”

Hear Elizabeth Clarke at her graduating recital on Saturday, April 6, at 7:00 pm in the Faith & Life Chapel on Augustana Campus.

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