Austin Roylance entered the stage at 7:31 p.m. wearing a dark suit, white high-top Converse and colorful socks. He took his place at the elegant Grand Piano. No sheet music.
After a deep breath in, his hands began to dance. Each puppet-like finger began bending and stretching to produce complex chords and arpeggios at will.
At times, his finger-tips leapt like spiders across the keys faster than eyes could follow. Every so often, his whole hand bounced off the keys with the speed of one who had just touched a hot stove. In moments of calm, one hand would play a simple melody, while the other rested at his side.
This was music.
Austin Roylance, a junior working on his Bachelor of Music with an emphasis in piano performance, describes himself as “out of the ordinary” when compared to the average pianist. Every summer, he works as a pest control salesman for a family business in Seattle. This will become Roylance’s humble career to support his family, but his real passion is the piano.
“I’ve already got a different career path,” Roylance said. “I am at school because I love the piano … I am going to go get my doctorate in piano because I want to, not because I have to.”
Roylance is currently a student of Stephen Thomas, a BYU-Idaho professor and accomplished pianist. Roylance’s Junior Recital is the forerunner for next years’ Senior Recital, when he will lead an entire orchestra. In December, he will send videos of himself performing to music schools across the East Coast to audition for the master’s program.
Roylance describes the art of the piano as “surreal and indescribable.” Despite the rigorous study and practice involved, there is nothing more rewarding to him than piano performance.
“I really did think it was all about playing some big, fancy piece of music and impressing people, but over the last two years my philosophy with music has definitely changed,” Roylance said. “I’ve really taken it to a deeper level and (pretended) like I’m performing for the Savior.”
Since Roylance made this paradigm shift, his concept of the audience has changed.
“When I finish a piece now, the audience really isn’t there,” Roylance said. “When I am bowing, I feel like I’m giving glory to God … bowing to Him and thanking Him for this awesome talent that I’ve been given … It’s a whole new level of connection with the Savior.”
This mindset also seems to have made all the difference in calming nerves. He has performed for campus STARecitals for the past year, but instead of focusing on overcoming nerves, his focus is projecting the beauty of his art to the listener.
“I want them to feel the Spirit,” Roylance said. “For people to come up to me afterward and say, ‘Wow! … I really felt something there,’ it gives me the chills.”
Roylance’s Junior Recital took place in the Ruth Barrus Concert Hall in the Eliza R. Snow Center. He performed for about an hour to an audience of nearly 100 students, family, friends and faculty.
The afternoon of his recital, Roylance did what he called an “insanity workout,” to relieve his pre-performance nerves.
The program consisted of four pieces chosen by Roylance.
“I am emotionally and spiritually connected to each piece,” Roylance said. “There are parts that I have spent hours and hours and hours, practicing one little measure.”
His preparation was evident in his performance. As his fingers went on auto-pilot, audience members gazed in awe.
“When I heard that piece, I thought of him when he was five years old,” said Holly Roylance, Roylance’s mother.
Roylance asked to take piano lessons at the age of 5. Soon after he began, his first teacher told his mother that Roylance was going to outgrow her soon and would need to find a new piano teacher.
Between each piece, Roylance would wipe any tears from his eyes, bow and address the audience.
“This song is me,” Roylance said to introduce Ricordanza by Franz Liszt. “If you were to choose any piece in classical music, this is me.”
Capriccio in #F Minor, op. 76, no.1 Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Sonata No.4 in E-Flat Major, K. 282 W.A. Mozart (1756-1791)
II. Menuetto I, II
Etudes d’ exécution transcendante Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Capriccio in C Major, op. 76, no.8 Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)