Carnegie Hall? Not bad for a first solo concert
It's a considerable honor for anyone, let alone a young musician. But even though Nikka is still in Lower School, she's had a deep connection to music since she was two years old and started playing the piano. Now, Nikka plays both the flute and the piano. She'll be playing Bach's "Minuet in G Major" and "Badinerie (The Joke)," two highly technical pieces. "Badinerie" was particularly challenging for the young musician, who said that she practiced for months on the piece, a labor of love that was "really meaningful" to her.
"It's very hard and it's very fast. Sometimes you have to hold your breath for a really long time. You have to try not to pass out!" Nikka said.
"We can't believe it. We're so proud and we're really nervous. Our whole family is going, and it's Nikka's first time going to New York. It's a huge honor — it's an international competition. It's a dream for all of us," said Zhenya.
Nikka is every bit as excited as her family, particularly because of her connection to the pieces she'll be performing.
"When my teacher showed this piece to me, I loved it so much that it was my favorite piece. Bach gives you a certain feeling that no other composer can give. This piece is a fast dance, and when you play it you actually feel like you're dancing. It feels like no other piece or composer can make you feel."
It turns out that Nikka understands more than a little bit about what it's like to bring about that kind of feeling in others through composition.
"I first knew Nikka was a composer when she was five years old. We were at the Getty museum, and she turned to me and asked if I could hear the music. I was kind of scared, because I didn't hear anything. But then I realized that she was hearing the music in her own mind. And she's been composing ever since," said Zhenya.
"Sometimes you just can't express yourself with words," added Nikka. "If you're feeling a certain feeling that just can't be described, you can describe it with notes. Notes aren't directly translated into words. You just get your feelings out. And then you also feel like you're helping others, because you can help others by overcoming challenges — for example if somebody is just feeling really down about something and then you put music into their life — maybe that's exactly what they needed to help. It makes me feel good to do it for others and for myself."
Recently, Nikka played to an audience much closer to home: her Room 5 classmates. Unlike what she'll be playing at Carnegie Hall, it was her own composition that she shared. When she lost her cousin Blaze to a hate crime, she knew she had to do something, not just to deal with the sadness she was feeling, but to help his family cope as well. And, ultimately, she said, she had a larger message for the world: the importance of spreading love over hate.
"The piece, called 'New Year's March,' is in a minor key, which usually means something sad. But this minor piece is different. It doesn't follow traditional rules. Difference doesn't mean something is bad, difference can mean special, and special means good," said Nikka. "The message is love over hate. I feel like hate is really terrible, but love can overcome it. One person can change the world. If one loving person spreads the message of love over hate, then lots of people will do it. And this basically cancels the hate out."
Zhenya said that she was particularly impressed with Nikka's classmates' reception to the piece and the discussions that followed on what can be quite a difficult topic. "I've never gotten more hugs in my life," Nikka said of her classmates' reactions to her story and to the piece itself, which she composed and showcased electronically (click here to listen).