In College of Fine Arts and Communications, School of Music, Students

Leaving the uniformity of school and experiencing international learning was life-changing for pianist Kaden Larson

After overcoming the odds of a childhood diagnosis, Kaden Larson’s profound talent as a pianist earned him a spot in the prestigious Dublin International Piano Festival (DIPF) this past July.

Larson learned about the festival from his musical mentor, Professor Scott Holden. When he received an email there were only a few spots left in the festival, he felt prompted to apply for experiential learning funding as well. Although both applications were last minute, Larson received both funding and entry to the piano festival. 

Larson after a performance in the Hugh Lane Gallery. He called his performance the product of the education he received at the festival.

BYU School of Music funding made Larson’s participation at the festival possible. His application to the DIPF included submitting two videos, a repertoire list, and a short bio. Only 18 were selected out of approximately 90 international applicants. Larson felt privileged to represent BYU. 

“I don’t normally go after these types of opportunities, but I felt I had to do this one. I was surprised to get accepted. It took a little priming from my professor and then receiving the scholarship money. The DIPF staff said they loved my audition video. Everything lined up perfectly,” Larson said.

“Kaden learns repertoire very fast, and because of his acumen he has a large repertoire. He has pushed himself to constantly perform recitals. Most students graduate from BYU having played two recitals,” said Holden. “Kaden will graduate having learned and performed more like five to six different solo recitals, presenting very difficult and ambitious repertoire.”

Holden has been Larson’s teacher since he was 14 years old. He shared that “one of the most intriguing things about Kaden is that as a toddler he was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. This caused his hands to become terribly disfigured, and as a toddler, he regressed to crawling because of the pain in his joints. A doctor suggested that he should try piano lessons as soon as he was able, just to keep the joints moving in his fingers.

“Little did they know that Kaden had a huge talent just waiting to be discovered. It’s possible that he may not have had piano lessons had he not had this difficult experience. Today Kaden shows no signs of this condition in his fingers, which have laser precision and lightning agility. With a lot of medical intervention, he has been able to keep this cruel disease well under control. He has spent many thousands of hours at the piano since that doctor made that wise suggestion.”

Larson poses with fellow festival students in Dublin. Students pictured represent six countries ranging from Korea to Canada.

Larson calls the festival a life-changing experience. During the festival, Larson had the opportunity to meet and work with piano students and teachers from around the world. He attended daily masterclasses by professionals who helped him observe and learn about pedagogical techniques.

“I had private lessons with world class pianists Dr. Evelyne Brancart, Frederic Chiu, and Dr. Archie Chen,” Larson said. “I also played in a public masterclass for Dr. Orla McDonagh, and had the opportunity to perform in a concert at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.”

A big highlight for Larson was attending concerts given by some of the world’s top-recognized concert artists, such as Frederic Chiu, Francesco Tristano, and Gabriele Baldocci. The festival also involved many seminars on topics such as piano technician work, improvisation, mental practice, advanced piano techniques, and dealing with performance anxiety. 

Larson playing in company with pianist Frank McNamara in an improvisation workshop.

“This was an extraordinarily valuable opportunity for me to develop skills and confidence as a musician, connect with future colleagues and associates, and learn about potential programs as I plan to audition for a master’s in piano performance and/or pedagogy within the next six months.” said Larson. 

“Before I left, I had been going through a funk as a musician. Feeling inadequate and wondering what I was doing with my life, that sort of mentality. The biggest thing was getting to work one-on-one with these world class teachers. One teacher really helped me solve technical issues I had been dealing with. Another helped me with psychological and emotional obstacles. This experience totally changed my perspective.” 

Holden said Larson “has always had this perfect blend of quiet determination, huge natural talent, and generous humility. He has been a joy to teach and is one of our top students in the piano program.”

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