Skip to main content
School of Music

Piano Major CJ Madsen Finds Connection with Fellow Musicians

Madsen will perform at the Department of Art and Department of Design Convocation at 12 p.m. on April 26

CJ Madsen started learning piano from his mom when he was three years old. By the time he was 10, he was playing songs by ear and making up his own arrangements. “My mom asked where I was learning them, but I was just playing what I heard,” said Madsen. “That was one of the first indicators that there was a unique talent that I seemed to have that didn’t necessarily come entirely from practicing.” Madsen knew that music would always be a part of his life, but he wasn’t initially sure that piano performance would be his major. “I pondered if this was the right choice,” he said. “Every time I would pray about it and seek inspiration and counsel with my parents and from friends, everyone was in accord that music was where I needed to go. It’s brought me so much joy. I could go into business school or law school, but I feel like it wouldn’t match the talents I’ve been given.” One of Madsen’s earliest memories in the School of Music forever changed the way he saw his fellow musicians. He decided to audition for the annual first and second-year concerto competition with a difficult Rachmaninoff piece that he had worked on extensively. Going into the competition, he realized he had to make a choice: he could look on his peers with envy and hope their performances didn’t measure up to their potential, or he could hope and pray for them as he did for himself. “I made the right decision in really trying to cheer them on,” said Madsen. “I still remember being backstage; the first performer did such a great job and I thought, ‘Yes! Go! Keep going!’ Making that choice has really influenced how I view people and my career. These aren’t people vying for my spot, they’re people with hopes and dreams, and the more I can do to help and encourage them as much as they help and encourage me the better.” Madsen’s investment in his fellow performers contributed to an additional interest in choral conducting, an avenue that he will pursue in graduate school. With the help of a BYU ORCA grant, he was able to write a choral piece titled “One Fold, One Shepherd,” which is based on passages from the Book of Mormon.

“It has changed my life,” said Madsen of the piece. “I feel like what I had been learning in my classes helped me to be able to take on this project independently. The whole experience has helped me remember that true learning is self-motivated and self-initiated.” The original intent of the ORCA grant was for Madsen to write the piece in German in anticipation of his study abroad to Austria, but it didn’t end there. He later translated the work into English with the help of choir faculty Rosalind Hall and debuted it to a packed Madsen Recital Hall. Madsen’s desire to reach people through music and encourage others to do the same has only grown in the years since his concerto competition audition. He hopes that his own education and experience never discourage others from sharing their music with him. “There’s a misconception I’ve felt from people who aren’t music majors that we’re judging them when they play,” he said. “I know that’s not the case with me, and it’s not the case with most of the musicians I meet. We encourage music of all shapes and sizes. No one should feel abashed or ashamed — we really just want to lift people up and help them. I personally enjoy sitting back and listening to a community group or a performance in sacrament meeting. I’ve felt the Spirit in a lot of musical numbers at church because the effort and intention was there.” “Music has a healing power, a rejuvenative power that transcends languages and cultures,” he continued. “Music really connects with people and breaks down barriers. Music can bring a lot of joy as well — I’ve found that it really helps brighten every day.”

Q&A with CJ Madsen, BM ‘19 Music | Music Performance: Piano

What did you want to be when you grew up? “When I was five, I thought I was going to be a weatherman. I had this entire weather sticker system where I would put the weather for the day. As I grew up, I thought I would be something in sports, probably some sort of broadcaster or sports analyst. I just ate up all the sports stats and facts. That’s actually turned out really well in music history classes, knowing a lot of dates. I still love sports. I love following the BYU football and basketball teams.” Where do you find inspiration? “My wife Samm. I love her. She’s a theatre major here, and she has so much patience and vivacity for life. She won me over with how kind and sweet she is. She has an incredible testimony, and I admire her faith. I would also say my mom. She was my piano teacher for 15 years and has been my musical mentor and life mentor ever since. Without her, I wouldn’t have gotten into BYU. She taught me to love learning for the sake of learning, which has really impacted how I see a college education in general.” What was the hardest challenge you had to overcome at BYU? “To not be hard on myself and to accept failure and disappointments in life in an OK way. I was what people would call either an overachiever or a perfectionist. In a way, I still feel like I can be an overachiever. On my mission, I felt my weaknesses very strongly, and it was so easy to see all the things that I could have improved on. I learned through struggling that it was OK and that the Savior forgave me. That was a game changer. As I learned to think less about myself and my own problems and more about others and how I could help them, I found so much joy in my mission. That experience prepared me for disappointments and freed me up to perform better because I’m not as worried about what I’m doing wrong; I’m learning. Have fun with the music that you’re doing and enjoy the progress!” What is your favorite snack? “Peanut butter and jelly sandwich. For most people, that’s their lunch, but I’ll just get home at nine at night, pop open the peanut butter and make a sandwich.”