Student Spotlight: A UI pianist performs for the first time during the pandemic

While freshman Jason Lee is no stranger to the stage, he recalled performing his first piano recital at the University of Iowa was a unique experience.



Tatiana Plowman, Arts Reporter

A spotlight illuminates the silhouette of Jason Lee as he seats himself at a large concert grand piano inside the Voxman Recital Hall. The auditorium in Voxman Music Building, which can seat over 200 audience members, holds only 35 attendees.

For his first recital as a student at the University of Iowa, the first-year music student with an emphasis in piano performance played four pieces for his small audience, made up of friends, family, and his professor: Nocturne in C Sharp Minor by Frédéric Chopin, Sonata in C Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 4 Impromptus by Franz Schubert, and Wiegenlied by Johannes Brahms.

While recitals aren’t a major requirement until the student’s senior year, Lee is no stranger to the recital stage. He’s played on many stages, performing since age 5, from his hometown of Naperville, Illinois all the way to a recital in the southern California area. He’s also performed in Carnegie Hall in 2016, after winning second place in the American Protégé International Piano Competition.

“Every performance experience has brought a new, profound memory,” Lee said. “Getting to express my feelings and seeing the effect that my music has on people is absolutely incredible.”

The pieces Lee played at the recital, which took place on March 27, were selected by his piano professor, Réne Lecuona, who selected the music based on what she believed he would be most comfortable with. She also ensured that the pieces paired nicely together.

RELATED: Student Spotlight: UI undergrad playwright and activist delves into powerful themes

Lee decided to play a recital this year without hesitation. Amid the pandemic, he’s leaped at any opportunity to create music for others to enjoy, adding that he plans on doing a recital each year he is at the university.

Lee’s passion for piano began at age 3. His father, Brian Lee, is an acclaimed pianist who received his doctorate degree from The Juilliard School.

“I found my own path with piano,” Lee said. “My family is my support system and I am really thankful, especially for having my dad as my biggest role model.”

Lee said he had not initially considered attending the UI until visiting a Midwest college fair at Northwestern University. After talking with the representatives, he decided that he wanted to tour the school and talk more with the music department. Lee went through four rounds of auditions at the UI and then learned he had earned a slot to be a music major with an emphasis in piano.

“I just knew that after speaking with everyone and seeing Voxman that Iowa was the perfect fit for myself,” Lee said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Leading up to his recital, Lee practiced every day for at least three hours, averaging about 25 hours a week. Each piano major is provided with their own practice room to perfect their pieces for the live performance.

“When you’re in the performance zone, there’s a very rare feeling of euphoria,” Lee said. “It’s an entirely different world that you get transported to and it isn’t until the thunder of applause that you realize what just happened.”