Annapolis, Maryland, USA, July 2020
George Witte is a Year 11 student, age 17, in Annapolis, Maryland, US. This year, he is practicing Chopin and Beethoven. We asked him to share his Beethoven Scherzo with us, as it’s the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth. We also asked George a few questions about life in his east coast US town.
You’ve been playing piano since you were a young boy. When did you start, and what was the first piece you played?
I started playing about 9 years ago. I still remember the first night I touched the keys of a piano and played, somewhat haltingly, a piece called Firefly (Piano Adventures Level 1 piece, by Faber).
We decided to feature you playing Beethoven, since 2020 is the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth. What do you love about playing Beethoven?
Beethoven is an interesting composer. Some of his pieces, like the Scherzo I played, are quite vibrant… funny even. It’s as if he is joking with the audience. Yet other whole pieces and Sonatas, like the Pathétique (which I am currently learning), don’t show as much humor, but a greater depth of emotion. This is something I love about Beethoven. Not one of his pieces has a clear-cut emotion, in my opinion. There always seems to be another layer of emotion, meaning, and depth… This is true even for his work so full of life, such as the Scherzo. He is one of my favorite composers.
Who else do you like to play, and why?
Another one of my favorite composers is Chopin. I enjoy the moods he creates in his pieces, as they are formed, again, with many layers. Of the few composers I would say I know well, I have found that Chopin’s development of emotions and feelings fits for me. I’ve studied a bit of Chopin’s past, and have found connections between myself and some of the feelings presented in his pieces. He has a soft touch at times, which I enjoy. It’s a difficult sensation to describe in words… The beginning of the Raindrop Prelude is a good example. I would describe it as implying – and requiring – a soft touch.
Can you tell us a bit about practicing music during lockdown?
For the past couple years, especially my junior year, I have found myself quite busy with school…studying for my various AP exams, preparing for technology competitions (CyberPatriot, Technology Student Association…), and maintaining high scores in my schedule of AP courses. I have always made time for piano, though I can say that I appreciate practicing much more now. And I have never loved piano, and music, as much as I do now. The practicing and consistent work with something I love, despite so many uncertainties, have provided solace during this time. The music, and playing, is an opportunity to express feelings. But it has also challenged me to keep learning in the sense that I now have time to tackle pieces to a much higher level of precision than before.
What other activities help you get through these strange times?
One other point of comfort for me in difficult times has always been my academic work, especially on computers. I learned how to program just around the same time I started learning to play piano, and have been teaching myself new languages, techniques, and applications ever since. As such, consistent work on practicing computer science deep learning techniques, such as neural networks, has been an escape (a neural network is a type of algorithm in which a computer can correct itself by ‘learning’ from data). Combining that with mathematics (another favorite pursuit) has allowed me to participate in the field of data science, even publicly on websites such as Kaggle (a website for anyone to freely work on data science with open data).
And – related to the above – what are you learning these days?
On my own, I am continuing my study of physics and computer science. Namely, and I am studying the fundamental theory behind lasers (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation), and I am pursuing projects on analyzing the efficiency of different deep learning techniques (computer science), On the website I noted above (Kaggle), I have taken courses in machine learning and deep learning; I have completed basic starter projects, like predicting the survival of a given passenger on the Titanic (as practice for machine learning and deep learning); and I am currently completing projects meant to analyze the spread of the current virus in my home state (with the hope that a detailed analysis, per state, may be helpful to the inhabitants of that state).
In terms of music, I am currently studying the first movement of Beethoven’s Pathétique (Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13) and The Cat and the Mouse by Aaron Copland.
2020 has been a very uncertain time. Do you have any comments about your view from there?
This year has certainly been crazy. Disturbing, and a trial. But I think that it has brought people together, in certain instances, in ways that could not be foreseen. As has been my experience, people make the most of their situation. I think that it is genuinely heartwarming, and it’s inspiring to see other people working for and with others. I’ve seen this with some of the groups I am a part of, in my own community, and we see this on an international level as well. I hope others can find such connections heartwarming as well, and find solace, comfort, and hope.
George Witt is a rising high school senior in Annapolis, Maryland, United States. He has a strong interest in the hard sciences, but George has also played piano under the instruction of Cecelia Wyatt for the last 9 years. While maintaining high hopes of becoming a PhD professor of Physics, the study of classical music, especially piano, is and always has been one of George’s deep passions. George is currently preparing his college applications for this coming fall.