Jonathan Bass, a pianist and dual-degree student in his fourth year at Lawrence University, took first place in a national piano competition organized by the National Federation of Music Clubs (NFMC).

“I had no idea how it was going to go,” Bass said, “but I decided, ‘Let’s give this a shot.’”

The NFMC Biennial Piano Competition is held every two years, drawing submissions from piano students across the country. Bass first learned of the competition from Michael Mizrahi, the Conservatory of Music’s Frank C. Shattuck Professor of Music.

“This competition required a wide variety of repertoire, which gave Jonathan a good motivation to push himself to learn a lot of music,” Mizrahi said. “And this particular competition brings tangible benefits, like a prize and some media exposure.”

“I like the idea of having a more well-rounded education, which is something that Lawrence does really well in a way I don’t think many conservatories do.”

Jonathan Bass

Participants for this competition submit recordings online. They must be NFMC members and submit five recordings—at least one by an American composer, and the five in total can’t exceed 30 minutes. All five factored into the judges’ evaluations.

Sharing in the excitement of Bass’ first-place finish was Mizrahi.

“Jonathan plays beautifully in such a variety of styles and is never afraid to ask questions when he knows there is more to learn—and there is always more to learn as a musician.” Mizrahi said.

Keys to success

Originally from Washington Island in northern Door County, piano has brought Bass all around the Great Lakes region. While studying at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Interlochen, Michigan, as a teenager, Bass met Mizrahi, who came to teach a master class. He had already been eyeing Lawrence because of its double-degree program, but Mizrahi’s visit sealed the deal.

“I played for him in that master class, and it totally just clicked for me,” Bass said. “I was like, ‘This is great, I want to study with Professor Mizrahi.’”

Bass said he loves the Lawrence Conservatory of Music’s sense of community and support amongst the students.

“I’ve been to a whole bunch of music festivals, and I spent a year at an arts boarding high school before I came to Lawrence,” he said. “I can tell you that the feeling of mutual supportiveness is not a given.”

Integrate intellectual and musical virtuosity in a supportive, creative community that will empower you to find your musical path. 

“There are two qualities that the most successful musicians have: passion and curiosity,” Mizrahi said. “Those two qualities will take you a long way toward realizing your musical dreams. Lawrence is such a wonderful place to teach because so many students are already passionate and curious.”

Bass also credits the Conservatory faculty with helping make Lawrence a welcoming environment. He said the professors are always happy to help, both in and out of classes. Bass said Mizrahi goes out of his way to help him make important connections.

“If you’re a music major, your music teacher is the most important thing,” he said.

Bass is planning two recitals near the end of Spring Term. One features a chamber music trio performing music by Reena Esmail (showcased in Lawrence’s recent Master Works concert), and the other features a sonata with piano and cello.

“I’m surrounded by so many talented, thoughtful, dedicated musicians here, and they all push me to be my best,” Bass said. “This term in particular I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really incredible people whom I admire and respect very much.”

Bass, who is majoring in music performance (piano) and French, is eyeing graduate school and further piano pursuits, including teaching. He wants to explore more nonstandard repertoire and strike a balance between standard and nonstandard.

“Most music careers end up being a mix of a bunch of different things,” Bass said. “I like the idea of having a more well-rounded education, which is something that Lawrence does really well in a way I don’t think many conservatories do.”