Playing the piano since the age of seven, Jenny Grace Woodson, a junior majoring in piano pedagogy, said she just now realized how important the instrument is in her life.
"This recital that I just gave last week was definitely the marking point where I knew piano was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life," Woodson said. "I guess everybody kind of hits these walls sometimes as they're going through their undergraduate or graduate degrees, but there was a point and time when I was wondering if I should continue in music or in another field."
oodson performed her junior recital last week in front of a jury composed of UT School of Music faculty. Playing pieces from different time periods of music, from baroque and romantic, for at least 30 minutes and by memory, Woodson played for the jury to be graded ahead of time as either pass or fail, and performed for an audience including the jury last week.
"It's kind of just a showing of what you've learned over the past three years and you're actually not graded for that performance so that ... really frees your mind to really express yourself and have a good time on the stage," she said.
For 15 years, Woodson has been performing and practicing the piano on a daily basis. Woodson said that her initial passion for piano is drawn from her love of creativity and expressing herself through music.
"I love that I can communicate to others through my music and touch others and inspire their imagination or just make them be like, wow that was an incredible piece that composer wrote. I always say my job is done when someone was touched by my music," Woodson said.
Woodson has been taking private piano classes from Fay Adams since her junior year in high school before she attended UT. Adams, who is associate professor of music and coordinator of keyboard studies, inspired Woodson to pursue an education in piano at UT.
"I really discourage anyone who wants to be a music major who doesn't really love it because that's what it takes," Adams said. "Piano is what she loves to do, music is her thing. Grace is just so enthusiastic; you love to see a student who is really enjoying what they're doing."
Woodson, whose favorite composers include Beethoven, Liszt and Debussy, currently teaches young elementary-aged students at the Knox Music Studio, collaborates with different music students on campus, and plays for her local church, all while taking classes regularly. Woodson said that there are ups and downs to her piano pedagogy major.
"We should practice three hours a day, when some people practice almost eight, it just depends on the time and the season," Woodson said. "It's such a physical, full-bodied experience. There (are) some players that can make it look so easy and that's kind of one of our goals. The music is so emotional, and that's just the best way to describe it."
Planning on furthering her education in graduate school to earn a master's degree in piano studies, Woodson is not worried about how her career will turn out in the current economy.
"I feel like sometimes it's a hit or miss and it can be scary," Woodson said. "But at the same time I feel like in any field jobs are on the line right now and I think with hard work and faith the Lord will lead me to the right place I need to be to touch somebody else's life and to share my passion."
Adams said that she noticed fellow piano teachers have seen a drop in students due to the economy's state in the past few years. However, Adams said current students who want to pursue teaching music in the future are diversifying in different parts of music.
"Piano lessons are an extra, it is not as important as food and heat," Adams said. "It's key to diversify and to be able to do different things. Being able to conduct, being able to conduct a choir, and I also urge people to take organ lessons because it's really hard to find an organist."
Woodson said she enjoys working with students and plans on creating her own music studio to teach all kinds of people interested in learning to play the piano.
"At least as a private piano instructor, there's always someone willing to learn the piano. So even if I set up my studio in my house or in my building (that) I can finance, and I'll have that opportunity," she said. "As long as I can eat and pay my bills and be a good citizen of this country, that's all that matters to me."
Explaining how weekend practices are often impossible during game days on campus, Woodson said that there should be more focus on the School of Music at UT.
"I do understand how much funding ... sports bring to the university itself, so of course I wish there could be a happy medium — a good balance," Woodson said.
The School of Music will be relocated to a new building named the Natalie L. Haslam Music Center come fall of 2013. The new building will feature a recital hall, rehearsal rooms, music labs and studios, and practice rooms, which Woodson said she is looking forward to.
"At Melrose (Hall) there's the occasional cockroach that will run across my foot," she said of the current location of practice rooms available for students. "The new practice facilities will be a plus and also the fact that everyone will have one place to communicate and share their music stories. I think it will definitely bring the music community together as a whole more."
Adams said that the school has been very supportive of the School of Music, especially with the new facilities.
"I love sports. I have basketball and football tickets. Our band is very helpful to the sports arena, playing at the games, but I think music is a very important part of the culture here at UT," Adams said.
Described as a "friend for life" from her advisors in the School of Music, Woodson said that without the encouragement she was given by family and friends, her passion for piano would not be as strong as it is today.
"I am a big supporter in what anybody wants to do because that means so much to me and because I've had so much support in my life from parents and teachers and I just always wanted to give that back," Woodson said. "My greatest achievement is discovering this path and being able to continue on with it for the rest of my life, and I'm thrilled and happy to do it."