Just mention the word "piano" and Emma Nissen's entire face lights up with excitement. She's 9 years old and not only does she love to play the piano, but she's also turning heads with her advanced skills.
Nissen has been playing the piano for five years with no signs of stopping in the near future. She said her dad got her involved in the Children's Music Academy, a music program in Minot. It's a three and a half year program that meets for an hour each week and children learn to play the piano, some guitar, and touch base on rhythm, explained Karen Atwood, Nissen's piano teacher. It's a parent/child class and children start the class at age 4 because that's when their ears are the most ready for music, she added. Nissen and her father, Ron, took the class together.
Nissen doesn't play any other instruments yet, but said she would like to try the cello.
Jill Hambek/MDN • Emma Nissen, 9, plays one of the songs from her recital on the piano. She just performed at her first recital June 27 and is already planning for her recital next year.
Jill Hambek/MDN • Emma Nissen, 9-year-old piano player, and her teacher, Karen Atwood, play a song that Atwood wrote when she was younger and that Nissen played at her first recital. Nissen likes everything about playing the piano and plans to continue with it for a long time.
Once a week, Nissen takes an hour-long lesson with Atwood and practices for 45 minutes every day. Her dad works with her during her practice times, Nissen said. Nissen has been taking lessons with Atwood for the past 14 months.
Nissen had her first piano recital on June 27 at Our Savior Lutheran Church, where she played numerous songs and even sang a few as well. She also played a duet with Atwood, a song written by Atwood when she was around Nissen's age. Nissen said her favorite songs to play were "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies" and "Going to the Fair," the one Atwood wrote when the fair in Montana was rained out, and she liked singing "Tell Me Why."
Some other songs Nissen played at her recital were "America the Beautiful," "Amazing Grace," "Blue Danube," "Lullaby," and "Stars and Stripes Forever." She also played a few basic songs like "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" in multiple keys in a duet with Atwood.
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Only sometimes does Nissen get nervous in front of a crowd, she said. Atwood said Nissen's nerves haven't become too bad in front of her teachers and parent, and she knows her music well. She's just fine in front of a crowd, Atwood remarked.
Nissen likes everything about playing the piano, she said, and not much of anything gives her trouble, except for accidentals. When learning "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies," she started playing with one hand and then the other and put the two together, since it's a little harder song to play, Atwood explained. Typically, though, people learn how to play with both hands at the same time, she said.
When Nissen is learning a new song, Atwood said she works on three or four measures at a time and then adds more until she learns the whole song. Sometimes Nissen will also work backward, she said.
"I just work on it little by little," Nissen added.
The next song Nissen will be learning to play will be from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, Atwood said. "We'll be learning a lot next year."
Nissen listens to modern pop songs from artists like Miranda Cosgrove in her off time, but she also gets a taste of other kinds of music, her mother Amy said. Nissen dances the jitterbug with her dad and her grandfather plays in an old time band, her mother added.
"There's so much music in her," Atwood also added.
Nissen said she's sure she will continue with the piano. "We're already planning next year's recital," Atwood noted.
There is one thing Nissen would say to someone either learning how to play the piano or to get the person to keep going. "Keep practicing and once you learn a song that you've been practicing, the hard work will pay off."