Transcription of Practicing Perfection: Music & Dance #251

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Elizabeth: It surprises you sometimes to see how much physical strength that demands. I think it does attract a person who tends to be athletic and like to push their bodies in different ways.

Dr. Anastasia: The training in classical music is so intense that as you’re learning, you spend a lot of time in a room by yourself, and chamber music allows you to get out of that, and share some of what you’ve done.

Dr. Lisa: This is Dr. Lisa Belisle and you’re listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 251, Practicing Perfection Music and Dance hearing for the first time on Sunday, July 10, 2016. Artists know that their craft can be both an aesthetic and a kinesthetic experience. Our brains and bodies change as the result of time spent practicing and performing. This is especially true for children.

Today, we explore these ideas with Elizabeth Drucker, owner and director of The Ballet School inn Topsham and with Dr. Anastasia Antonacos, award winning recitalist and professor of music at the University of Southern Maine. Thank you for joining us.

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Dr. Lisa: My next guest is an individual that was introduced to the Maine Magazine group by one of our photographers, Erin Little, who we love, who really gives us beautiful photos for Maine Magazine and Old Port Magazine, and has done some wellness shoots with me, but our guest today is Elizabeth Drucker. She is the owner and director of The Ballet School in Topsham Maine She received her training from Nancy Bielski and at the School of American Ballet in New York City, and went on to dance professionally with the New York City Ballet. She has been teaching ballet in Maine and New York for 23 years, and works with all ages and abilities. When not in the studio, Elizabeth enjoys being outside raising chickens, running with her dogs, riding her bike, or gardening. She lives in Topsham with her husband, Dereck Treadwell. Thanks so much for coming in.

Elizabeth: Thanks for having me.

Dr. Lisa: Erin could not have spoken more highly. Erin Little, our photographer.

Elizabeth: That’s nice.

Dr. Lisa: I believe that you said that her daughter’s also named Elizabeth and does some training with you at your school.

Elizabeth: She does.

Dr. Lisa: Why are you here? You are doing very interesting things in Topsham.

Elizabeth: We have our studio set in a converted barn in the back of our property. I think it’s a surprise sometimes to drive down this rural road and find that there are many, many students who are training there every day and training very seriously back in our little hole in the wood back there.

Dr. Lisa: How did you first become interested in ballet yourself?

Elizabeth: I started when I was nine. I think like many young kids, jus I started with tap dancing. Within about three weeks, I think I was doing tap jazz and ballet. Then, within a year, I’d really just focused in on ballet, fell in love with it. I think I was taking lessons every day at that point. My studio was right on the corner. It was easy to take that often but I really quickly fell in love with the work in the studio.

I kept dancing. I moved to Maine after that but then, went back to New York City to start training with the School of American Ballet when I was about 12 years old and full time when I was 15. I went on to dance with New York City Ballet when I was 17. Then, it didn’t take me long to realize that I really love the work in the studio more than I love to work on the stage. That’s what made me shift from a professional performance career to a teaching career.

I came back to Maine in 1993, started teaching then, and never stopped, but I would say the first few years when I came back to Maine, I was still finding my way. it was a big adjustment stopping training at such a high level to switch to teaching, but when I started with my own school, with the ballet school, it was like I had really found home for myself and finished teaching the first day, and just couldn’t wait to get back in the studio the next day, and do it again. I still have that feeling.

Dr. Lisa: Why ballet? You’re nine and ten years old. Is there something about that particular form of dance? It’s so specific.

Elizabeth: It is very specific, and I think it attracts a specific type of person. It surprises you sometimes to see how much physical strength it demands. I think it does attract a person who tends to be athletic and like to push their bodies in different ways, but I think it also really attracts a person who likes details and is excited by little progressions. For instance, Erin’s daughter, Elizabeth, she’s now at that age where she comes a couple of times a week and her class this year really just came together in terms of loving those little details. We can spend all this time in class focusing on the intense classicism of ballet.

That’s not for everybody but when you get a group that loves that, there’s just no stopping them, I feel. I think there’s also a tremendous love of music if you love ballet because it’s such a pivotal part but I’m surprised also how many students really do find something to love in it because you’re right, it is the very specific kind of training.

Dr. Lisa: It seems as though many parents are interested in having their children do ballet, but then, at some point, it has to really be about the child, him or herself.

Elizabeth: Yes.

Dr. Lisa: What is that? What is that pivot point? What do you see in kids who make the decision to move forward themselves?

Elizabeth: That’s a good question. I think that they start to feel how much success they have in the studio. By success, I mean that for them, finding achievement in those small changes because it’s a small progression. It’s not like you walk in one day, and then the next day, you’re doing triple pirouette, and you’ve got your split, and it’s such a small, slow progression, but they start that aha moment that I think I see in my students is when they’ve been working at something for a period of time.

It might be something small like holding their arm at a certain level, and then, they get it. They get it that day and you see this light go on behind their eyes, the smile. Even the shy students, their smile is repressed a little bit but they can’t keep it contained because they’ve worked on something and they’ve seen the achievement in it. That’s so rewarding. That’s what I try to find from my students, and that’s why I think the ballet is something that everybody can be successful on if you look at the standards of success being broad, being about little details, as well as big details.

Dr. Lisa: You described a point in your own career where you went from performance to studio, and do teaching. Explain to me the differences between someone who might go in one direction versus another direction.

Elizabeth: I think, one thing that I saw in my fellow performers that I didn’t see in myself is that we’d be backstage getting ready for our performance and they were brimming with excitement. They were like, “I can’t wait to get on stage tonight.” Yeah, I have to go to class tomorrow, the next day, and the rehearsals, but it’s just to get on stage. That was the reward for them and that was really enjoyable for them.

For me, that was the hardest part in the day for me; whereas, that time in the studio where there’s so much discovery, so many opportunities to try something new in the studio, and see how it worked. I think that you can get that way on stage for sure. I think that there are factors that stood in my way a little bit, and some of it was being healthy, being physically and mentally healthy to have the confidence to take those risks on stage that I felt I could in the classroom. I think there are dancers that are so successful performing really find a balance in their life that they can handle the stress of performing but that the love of being on stage really pushes them through or helps them.

I see that in both. In my students, I have some students who they get through their class work during the year so that they can be rewarded at the end of the year with a spring production. Then, there’s others who I think would be happy being in class every day and not ever having to step on stage. I think that’s one of the things that in a smaller school like mine, we’re trying to find that balance for all students because it is different for each of them.

Dr. Lisa: It seems to me, as a parent that we’ve evolved into a very performance-centric world and that it’s not just the spring performance of, say, a ballet. It’s also the daily on the stage of Instagram or social media. There’s always the sense that you have to have your game face on.

Elizabeth: You’re absolutely right.

Dr. Lisa: How do you step back from that and encourage this joy that you’re describing, and just your own small accomplishments?

Elizabeth: I think I’m very lucky and that the older students in this school, it trickles down their beliefs, and their philosophy, and their work ethics trickled down to the younger students, and I think the older students really understand that everything really happens in the classroom. It also happens outside the classroom, the work that they do at home, the time that they put into thinking about class. When you see that modeled for you every day, I think that …

Then, for the parents to also see that these older dancers are doing really well, they can see the product on stage every year, but they also see that these older dancers are gaining recognition elsewhere. They audition for summer programs throughout the country and are accepted. They see that the course of ballet, in particular, more so in ballet than some other forms of dance, really is a classroom-based activity.

I think that helps. I don’t know if that answered your question but I think it’s building that culture within the school that the value happens every single day. Then, we also get to see that and celebrate that in the performance. The performances are a celebration rather than a given that’s just going to happen. It seems to flow really nicely that way. I think we have a great parent base and student base that appreciates that. I don’t have too many questions about that.

Dr. Lisa: Part of my work over the years as a physician has been in teaching medical students, teaching residents. Part of that, I taught swimming lessons and I was a camp counselor. I think there’s something very different in the teaching. I think there’s a very intricate and specific skills involved in teaching that are different than the doing of it because especially in your field, you’re trying to help kids incorporate a new muscle memory and you’re trying to talk to them and show them something that they need to pull into their own bodies and create new neural pathways. All of you got about doing that.

Elizabeth: That’s something that, I think, sometimes keep me up at night thinking of how the best ways to do that because it’s so different for every student. I think this is what you’re describing. For some students, it’s really very, very hard to even find those muscles. Ballet is such a traditional art form. There’s set combinations that we do every day and variations within those exercises that are the building blocks for progression. Relying on those building blocks really does set up each student to make those leaps but I think that some students love ballet, but it’s hard for them physically. I think that just takes times.

There are students that I have now that four years ago, if you said they’d be doing what they’re doing now, I would have said “We’ll see,” and they surprise me constantly. It’s just being patient and sticking with it. I love to work individually. Unfortunately, we don’t have that much time to work with each student individually. We’re working group classes. Finding ways that everybody can profit from a combination like the ones that are really working on just pulling up their quad muscle and the ones that are working on a more refined details like arms, and music, and timing. If you can find combinations that address all of that all at once, you’re going to get gains from all of your students.

Dr. Lisa: It’s interesting to hear you say that because I think when I have taught myself over the years, what I notice is there’s so many different ways to approach learning something. You might have somebody who is more visual or somebody who is more auditory. If you’re in the medical field, somebody who is more kinesthetic. Sometimes, that means they actually have to go out and do stuff which maybe isn’t the best thing if they’re brand new, but it just is what it is. You have all these different learning styles. Sometimes, you’re not even entirely sure which path to take in.

Elizabeth: No, you’re totally right. One thing that I think we spend a lot of class time doing is teaching students how to figure out how they learn. We’ll teach a combination. Then, I’ll say, “Okay, give it a try.” Then, I’ll ask them, “How did that go that first time? Did anybody get it right that first time?” Very rarely does someone say, “Oh, yes, I got it perfectly right that first time.” We talked about that you have to find the skills to figure out how to do these combinations.

For some people, it’s stopping, and thinking, and drawing a mental picture out, but for many people, it’s actually just doing that one transition from one step to another eight times in a row. If they get that eight times in a row, and then it gets engrained in them. That’s one of the parts I love about it is helping students figure out how do they learn. How do they learn in this environment? Then, remembering to do that when I am not reminding them to do that. Again, that building that culture and trickling down, watching older students do that, younger students do that, but I love that aspect of it, but it’s challenging.

Dr. Lisa: It is. Then, I think, sometimes, as a teacher, actually even as a doctor, I think about it because part of that is also teaching, there is a sense that you want people to succeed. Sometimes, it doesn’t happen quickly. There is that state of tension and that state of like “Is there something I could be doing differently?” Sometimes, it’s not about what you’re offering as a teacher. It’s more about what their receptivity is or when things start to line up.

Elizabeth: Exactly.

Dr. Lisa: I am interested in also the notion of body awareness because I think, again, another thing that has happened in our culture, my observation is that people are increasingly … It’s a dichotomy. Some people are so much more aware of their bodies that the physicality becomes their entire self. Then, other people are so disconnected from their bodies that they have no sense of awareness. As a doctor, I see both and I think there can be significant issues with those extremes. How does that impact your field?

Elizabeth: I think you’re right and especially, in this generation when there’s so many superficial ways of looking at our body, pictures, selfies, especially with our young, our preteens and our teens, that finding a way to appreciate how their bodies perform, looking at their bodies not just by their appearances but thinking of their bodies as enabling them to reach goals is really helpful.

We break things down a little bit in the studio. All the dancers come in, students come in, and they’re all wearing leotards and tights. You’re getting rid of the “How do I look today in terms of my clothes? What am I wearing?” We’re all sitting in this vulnerable position in class and getting comfortable with that. Getting, especially young women, comfortable with who they are in their bodies. Then, learning to take care of their bodies. Learning to appreciate what their preparations, how that makes them feel.

We talked a lot about long term gains. If a student has an audition on Saturday and they come in on Monday with a cold, maybe it’s more valuable to go home and, get their homework done, and go to bed early so that they’re feeling better at the end of the week. That sense of responsibility towards their bodies is what’s going to help in the long term. Fueling, and hydration, and all those things contribute to their performance physically but also mentally, their confidence level.

To me, that, and I think for my students that they would say the same thing that it gets them away from that culture of always having to look a certain way because it’s much more about feeling a certain way and having physical goals for themselves that they’re trying to meet. I think, you think of ballet sometimes as people obsessed with their bodies, and I don’t think they are. I think they are passionate about finding their skills in their bodies, finding their potential in their bodies, and that can actually be a really healthy outlet.

Dr. Lisa: I, really, am enjoying this conversation.

Elizabeth: Thank you.

Dr. Lisa: I know we could have lots of other things, directions we could go in. For people who would like to learn more about the work that you are doing in Topsham at the ballet school where you are the owner and director, where would you send them?

Elizabeth: Probably to our website which is just and we have classes all year round, and classes for all ages. We have a wonderful adult group that probably 20 to 25 adult students who come in regularly and children who started at about five years old, started taking classes, and we go throughout the year.

Dr. Lisa: I encourage people to learn more about the work that you’re doing at The Ballet School in Topsham. We’ve been speaking with Elizabeth Drucker who, I think, I’m really enjoying the point of view you have on ballet and kids in their bodies. I appreciate your coming in today and I appreciate your working as a teacher …

Elizabeth: Thank you so much.

Dr. Lisa: … and having found that calling for yourself.

Elizabeth: Thank you. I appreciate you having me here. It’s been great to talk to you.

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Dr. Lisa: My next guest is an individual who is not only bring joy to the world through her own music but also is a teacher and bringing joy to the world through the music of others. This is Anastasia, Dr. Anastasia Antonacos who is a pianist on the faculty of the University of Southern Maine, and a frequent recitalist, chamber player, and concerto soloist. Anastasia, also called Annie, has played in Greece, Russia, France, and Belgium, as well as various places in the United States, including Washington DC where she testified for funding for the National Endowment of the Arts. Annie lives with her husband and daughter in Portland where she was named one of the 100 most influential people of Portland by a local publication. She is in the process of launching the nonprofit 240 Strings. Thanks for coming in today.

Dr. Anastasia: Thank you for having me.

Dr. Lisa: You have so many names. I can call you Dr. Antonacos. I can call you Anastasia. I call you Annie. It’s good that you have so many different identities.

Dr. Anastasia: You can call me any of those. People have used all of them. Most of my friends know me as Annie. I think on the stage often, the program will be published with Anastasia but one of the things that I’m trying to do with this nonprofit is get a little bit away from the elitism that’s been associated with classical music. I am finding that we use Annie a lot more often.

Dr. Lisa: That is a very regal name, Anastasia. Your last name, actually it’s just very, I don’t know, melodic. Is that a word?

Dr. Anastasia: Thank you. It was my grandmother’s name. There’s a tradition in Greece, I am half Greek, you name your kids after your parents. First children after the father’s parents. Next children after the mother’s parents. Then, you’re free to name them anything you want but I’m an only child so it worked out great.

Dr. Lisa: That’s good. How about your Greek heritage, how does that influence the work that you do now?

Dr. Anastasia: That’s a great question. I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about it as it applies to my profession specifically. I feel a lot of support, for sure, from all the things you see in My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding are true. I have a big extended family and the Greek community functions as an even bigger representation of that. For sure, when I play, the audience is full of Greek Americans which is great. I love Greek food. I love Greek dancing. I love Greek music. I have some played some settings of some Greek folk songs in concerts before. I did do some concerts in Greece in 2004 which was a great experience. It ended up to be aligned with the Euro Cup and that was the year that Greece won. It seemed like every town that I played a concert in, that concert lined up with either the quarter finals, or the semifinals, or the finals. There was a lot of spirit in the air.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that’s interesting because there are two very different cultural entities, I would think, the music and the sports.

Dr. Anastasia: Yeah. I think it’s a small enough country so that people are interested in everything. They had a lot of national pride so I made sure to say, “Okay, we’re going to end the concert by 8:15 or whatever so you can go see most of the game. Don’t want to miss the game.”

Dr. Lisa: How did you get into being a pianist and being interested in music as a child?

Dr. Anastasia: I think I showed a lot of interest in the piano. My dad is a very accomplished pianist. He never did it professionally but he took lessons from fifth grade through college. I think I heard him playing for fun and asked for piano lessons. When I was almost six, he sat down with me and gave me some lessons. Although we have a great relationship, otherwise it did not work very well with the piano. He sent me off to some other teachers.

There were definitely times as a kid, I did not like practicing, there are very few children who will sit down and practice productively for a long time but I love performing ever since I can remember. My parents would have friends over and say, “Annie, why don’t you play something.” There were times when I wanted to quit or take some time off but I stuck with it. By the time I was a teenager, I knew that that’s what I wanted to do.

One of the things that influenced me was seeing groups of young kids playing chamber music together and they were just having so much fun. That’s one of the things that I have in common with my cofounders of 240 Strings, Ben Noyes, cellist, and Tracey Jasas-Hardel, violinist, we all love chamber music and that’s what got us really excited about it as young people.

Dr. Lisa: Tell me what is the definition of chamber music?

Dr. Anastasia: Chamber music is a small ensemble. It doesn’t need a conductor. Us as a piano trio, violin, cello, piano. A string quartet comes as chamber music. Piano quintet. Anything that’s probably under seven or eight players. A duo, I also count as chamber music. People disagree about that. Is violin and a piano a chamber music or is it a pianist accompanying a violinist? I would define it as anything between two and seven or eight players without a conductor.

Dr. Lisa: What is it about chamber music specifically that you and the cofounders of 240 Strings love so much?

Dr. Anastasia: I think it’s mostly the exchange of ideas. You can play something one way and somebody else can react to it or vice versa. The training in classical music is so intense that as you’re learning, you spend a lot of time in a room by yourself. Chamber music allows you to get out of that and share some of what you’ve done.

Dr. Lisa: That’s an interesting idea that there is a certain amount of both that you need to actually be very dedicated to your own practice and your own practice time in order to be a good member of a group but you also have to be able to be a good member of the group.

Dr. Anastasia: Right. It is not too common to find people that you can work with openly, and get inspiration from, and stick with it for a long time. I’m always in of the great string quartets who stayed together for 25-50 years. Sometimes that’s like another marriage. That’s being married in three people.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, which sometimes, for some people, being married to one person is hard enough as it is. To have that ongoing exchange of ideas in music, I would think it would be both extremely sometimes very difficult but also extremely rewarding.

Dr. Anastasia: Yes, exactly. You work on your part by yourself. You bring it together and you just see this piece grow over the weeks or months that you’re rehearsing it. Your concept of the piece can change. Everybody else’s can change. It’s just more of, I was going to say a final production, but nothing has ever final. You perform it once and then, it changes more, and you perform it again.

Dr. Lisa: I like what you said about enjoying the performance itself and knowing when you were very young that you like to perform because I don’t think everybody has that love, has that love of performance. I absolutely understand that and not everybody gets it.

Dr. Anastasia: Right. I have some adult students who will only play by themselves. They don’t want anybody to listen to them. That’s fine too. That feeds some of their part of their spirit. I don’t know that I was aware of it as a kid that I loved it but when I realized it, it had been there all along, I think. It’s a neat thing to share with people. People always like to hear music in any stage. I see it now with my daughter who’s almost seven and taking violin. We think, “Are people are going to want to support the squeaky sounds coming out of this little violin?” but they love watching people to share their skill, I guess.

Dr. Lisa: Again, and having sat through a number of children’s concerts all the way from young and squeaky to high school and college, there’s a wanting for the people that are performing to do well for most of us, at least. I guess, it depends if you’re paying a $200 ticket for a squeaky violin. Maybe that doesn’t work out but there is a buy-in. There is there’s an investment. We’re there. We want the performer to, I guess, create for us.

Dr. Anastasia: Right. That’s what I tell my students that everybody out there is on your side. Nobody is coming to watch you get nervous or mess up. They all want you to do as well as you want to do.

Dr. Lisa: Is it the sharing for you, the sharing of music? What is it about the performance itself that really appeals to you?

Dr. Anastasia: I think a big part of it is the sharing, and hearing people’s reactions afterwards, and knowing that I made a difference for those people in that day. It’s also the process of getting to know that repertoire so well over the course of those months, or that year, or whatever. This is the culmination. This is my art exhibit that’s not tangible. We can record it but it’s the culmination of not only what the composer has indicated but how it makes sense in my own head and the work that I’ve done with it.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that’s an interesting idea because when we see a score, a musical score, and we think, “There’s certain notes that are going to sound a certain way because it was written in a certain way,” but there is that interpretative aspect that maybe we don’t think about.

Dr. Anastasia: Right. Yeah, you can hear the same piece played by ten different people ten very different ways which is great. Even for the composers who are very, very specific like Bartok who is an early 20th Century composer who wrote almost everything. This measure has to be this loud or this soft. This note has to be halfway between short and long. Even for a composer like that, there are many, many different ways that each person make sense of it.

Dr. Lisa: How has this shifted do you think in the last, I don’t know, say 40 years when recorded music, digital music, has really become so much readily available than it ever was.

Dr. Anastasia: Yeah, it’s changing so fast. I know that decades ago, it was part of conservatory classes or even people would talk about it in lessons, “Why don’t you go home and listen to … Compare an hour of recording of this Beethoven Sonata with Gilleleje’s recording,” or something. It seems there was less to keep track of, I guess. Now, you can call up anything, any performer playing any piece of music from a four-year-old to a professional and it’s just so readily available.

There are positives and negatives, I think. I’m just going through this for myself, I recorded a solo CD a couple of years ago with Bob Ludwig from Gateway Mastering Studios. I was very happy with it. We’ve been shopping it around to some labels. It’s very difficult now to get any agreement that works for everybody. There were some labels interested but they wanted me to pay them. It’s just easier to go self-publishing route, I think, but that’s all. I think part of everything being more easily accessible online and it’s not good for record companies, it’s not good for performers, maybe not good for listeners. It’s great that there’s more available but it’s also sensory overload sometimes.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that’s a good point. I also think that there is something about doing the practice and about the refining of whatever it is. In this day and age, it’s like you can put your rough draft out there and say, “I did it and now, it’s done,” as opposed to the time that it takes, the hours and hours that it takes to actually bring something to some place of semi-completion, I would think.

Dr. Anastasia: Right. For me it’s more about this is at a stage of completion. I’d like to show it. I’d like to get it out there. It doesn’t matter how much money it makes or any of that other stuff.

Dr. Lisa: Why Portland? What is your connection to Portland?

Dr. Anastasia: I grew up in Saco from age seven on. My daughter was born in Bideford. My mom is from Oregon. It was a comeback to one of those two places. We came back to Saco. Almost everything musical for me happened in Portland as a kid. Then, I tried to leave a couple of times but the quality of life here is so great that I just kept getting pulled back. I think my cellist, Ben Noyes, would say the same thing. He grew up in Portland and I don’t think either of us imagined ourselves back here but here we are, and we love, it and I don’t think anybody has any plans to leave anytime soon. I love the cultural diversity. I love the landscape. There’s just so much to enjoy around here.

Dr. Lisa: What is it about the teaching for you that is so important? You’re doing this nonprofit. You’re in the process of launching this nonprofit, 240 Strings, and this is to make available lessons for children. Why is that so important to you?

Dr. Anastasia: I’ve always loved teaching. Another thing that took me a little bit by surprise, I thought that I wanted to be a performer, and travel around the world, and do only solo piano music. I came back to Maine for a semester to teach for Laura Kargul at University of Southern Maine and fell in love with teaching. I’ve been teaching all ages ever since.

This specific project, I think, was about nine or ten years ago, I was teaching up at Bay Chamber Concerts in Rockport, and I met some people from the Providence String Quartet who started the pilot program. Now, there are many programs like this around the country but they started community music works with a $10,000 grant. They have ten violin students. Now, it’s about 20 years later, they’ve got, I think, a million dollar budget, a MacArthur award. They’ve got so many students. They needed to hire more musicians. They’ve got a bunch of students testifying that this is the program that made the difference in our lives between being stuck in the ghetto, and coming out, and being able to attend the Ivy Leagues School.

I think classical music is so good for the brain. There’s more and more research that shows that musicians have brains that communicate really well between left and right side. There are some little videos you can see online about how that works. It’s great for brand development. I thought, “Why not Portland?” Portland has such a diverse population. There’s a high poverty rate. There are families coming here trying to get settled in a new country, can’t afford any extra activities for their kids. This is a great way to give back to the community.

Dr. Lisa: Growing up in Saco, did you have a sense of the greater world? When I look at your very extensive bio, you won first place at the International Young Music Artist Competition in Bulgaria. You hold prizes from Capdepera International Piano Competition in Mallorca in the Indianapolis Matinee Musicale Competition. In 2004, the Greek Women’s University Club of Chicago awarded you the Kanellos Award. Did you have any sense that the world was this big and that you would be out there doing this type of work all over the place?

Dr. Anastasia: Some of those things, like when I testified before Congress, I was about 15, I think. That was also because of my association with Bay Chamber. They had gotten some funding from the NEA, and wanted to show somebody who had made a difference in their life. That opened some doors for me. As well as playing at Lincoln Center in a piano trio when I was a teenager. I guess, I also attended Bowdoin International Music Festival as a kid. I guess I did. I would go through my academic year in Saco, and just be practicing piano, and doing my homework, and the normal things that kids do. Then, these other opportunities would open up in the summer. I think summer is when I got a glimpse of how the rest of the world works.

Dr. Lisa: Do you think that with your 240 String nonprofit, are you hoping that these types of doors will be open for the children that will be impacted?

Dr. Anastasia: Yeah, absolutely. I hope that they will be able to perform often for people locally. If we can set up some other exchange opportunities, that would be great. I think all of the experiences that we can bring to them will burn their horizons, for sure.

Dr. Lisa: 240 Strings is the number of strings that collectively equals your instrument and the instruments of your two cofounders of this organization?

Dr. Anastasia: That’s right.

Dr. Lisa: Are lot of people are surprised to learn that pianos have strings?

Dr. Anastasia: Probably. I haven’t heard anybody express surprise. We actually had to debate about the number because the number varies depending on whether it’s a nine-foot Steinway, or whatever. 240 Strings, we thought, sounds better than 238 or 242. I don’t know. Basically, a piano works is there’s a set of wooden hammers inside that come up and hit the strings. In the middle of the piano, there’s two strings. In a high register, there’s three. Then, the base, that is really thick, just sets of one string. It’s been called a string instrument. It’s been called a percussion instrument. It’s on its own keyboard family.

Dr. Lisa: Do you play other instruments as well?

Dr. Anastasia: As a kid, I played flute for a few years and cello. I’m glad that I got that experience to see a little bit more how a wind instrument works and a string instrument, but I don’t call myself proficient in anything other than piano.

Dr. Lisa: We have the opportunity to hear some of your work. Tell me about the piece that we will be listening to?

Dr. Anastasia: The CD that I recorded includes a premier of some work by Cecilia McDowall who’s a British Composer. She’s composed a lot of choral works. Also on the CD is a lot of other new music. Some Messiaen, some Rautavaara who’s a living Finnish composer, and some older stuff. Cecilia has been great. It’s always nice to be able to be in touch with a living composer. We’ve email back and forth about her music. She wrote a set of pieces. The CD opens with a set of pieces based on experiences she’s had. One is called Vespers in Venice. The CD closes with a piece called Color is the Keyboard which I’m naming the album for. That is the piece you’re going to hear. It is based on Kandinsky painting, and she’s thinking of all the colors that you can get out of the tamper of the instrument.

Dr. Lisa: If you’re listening to this interview, make sure that you wait until the very end because that’s where we’re going to be playing Anastasia Antoncacos’ piece. At some point in the future, you can also purchase. Make sure that you stay tuned. In the meantime, how can people find out about 240 Strings or the music that you do?

Dr. Anastasia: We have a website. That’s We post any concerts that we have coming up. We’ve gotten enough donation so far to start three students in the fall, not just recently happening. We’ll have to work very quickly to set that up. We’re really excited about that. I’m meeting later with a woman who’s been donating instruments to children all around the country. Hopefully, we can do some partnering with her. I have my own personal website which is just my full name, I try to list my upcoming concerts there too.

Dr. Lisa: We’ve been speaking with Dr. Anastasia Antonacos, also known as Annie, who is a pianist on the faculty of the University of Southern Maine, and a frequent recitalist, chamber player, and concerto soloist. Also, the cofounder of a new nonprofit in the Portland area, 240 Strings which will be educating young students in music. You’re a busy lady so I really appreciate your coming in and my having the chance to talk with you today about all of this. Thank you.

Dr. Anastasia: Thanks so much for having me.

Dr. Lisa: You have been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 251, Practicing Perfection, Music and Dance. Our guests had included Elizabeth Drucker and Anastasia Antonacos. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit

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This is Dr. Lisa Belisle. I hope that you have enjoyed our Practicing Perfection, Music and Dance show. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your day. May you have a bountiful life.

Announcer: Love Maine Radio is made possible with the support of Berlin City Honda, The Rooms by Harding Lee Smith, Maine Magazine, Portland Art Gallery, and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music have been provided by Spencer Albee. Our editorial producer is Kelly Chase. Our assistant producer is Shelbi Wassick. Our community development manager is Casey Lovejoy, and our executive producers are Kevin Thomas, Susan Grisanti, and Dr. Lisa Belisle. For more information on our hosts, production team, Maine Magazine, or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at

Here’s a recording of this week’s guests, Annie Antonacos, playing The Color is the Keyboard.

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