Athens pianist earns top award at Michigan Music Festival

By: Sarah Wright | Troy Times | Published May 24, 2024

 Saisha Srivatsan has won awards through the Michigan Music Festival.

Saisha Srivatsan has won awards through the Michigan Music Festival.

Photo provided by Saisha Srivatsan and Carole Gilman


TROY — Saisha Srivatsan, a senior at Athens High School, was awarded the 90 Point Cup at the Michigan Music Festival for her piano performance March 4 at the Rochester Conservatory of Music.

Srivatsan started playing piano when she was 6 and was inspired to learn by watching her older sister play.

“Some of my earliest memories are of her playing her songs and me dancing alongside,” Saisha said in an email. “I immediately gravitated towards the instrument and knew it was something I would want to pursue.”

She began learning to play the piano from Carole Gilman, who has also taught Srivatsan’s sister.

“My sister used to study under her, and prior to learning from Ms. Gilman, I spent lots of time listening in on lessons,” Srivatsan said in an email. “Through that experience, I became very comfortable with her and began my studies. I am very lucky to have gotten to learn the piano from her, because her enthusiasm and care for her students constantly inspires me to be a better person. She has not only helped me find a passion for music but has also given me courage to perform even when I was unsure of myself.”

Srivatsan said she generally enjoys playing classical music, and some of her favorites are “Moonlight Sonata Movement 2,” by Beethoven, and “Waltz in C# Minor,” by Chopin. She has also enjoyed playing the ragtime piece by Scott Joplin called “The Entertainer,” and a contemporary piece by Melody Bober called “Amazing Arizona.” With this in mind, her musical interests have expanded beyond the piano.

“It has been exciting to watch Saisha’s musical journey over the past 12 years. She has grown from being a playful little first-grader to a passionate, mature musician,” Nirmala Srivatsan, Saisha’s mother, said in an email. “She truly enjoys music in all forms and has a wide range of musical interests.” Nirmala Srivatsan said Saisha has played the cello for the orchestras since fifth grade; has trained as a vocalist in Carnatic music, which is an Indian classical music form; and enjoys listening to Bollywood music, pop and K-pop.

For the Michigan Music Festival, Srivatsan has been competing since she was 6. The festival holds annual events where students who are studying instruments in the strings, woodwind and brass sections, as well as those who play piano, are judged on their performances and awarded points. Elementary and middle school students are judged on their performances of solo pieces and can earn up to a maximum of 5 points per year, while high school students are judged on solo and concerto pieces and are awarded up to a maximum of 13 points per year.

“Most of the solos take many weeks to practice and the concertos take more than a couple months to perfect,” Saisha said in an email. “Ms. Gilman usually gives us the music in April or May, a couple of months after festival, to prepare for the next one. However, I do not just practice the solos and concertos but rather spend time doing finger building exercises.”

She said that, in the higher levels, they use Hanon to help with speed and accuracy of notes to increase their technicality.

“For me, even after 12 years, I still get nervous sitting and waiting for the judge to call me into the room to perform,” Srivatsan said in an email. “The judge will then listen to you perform and take notes, providing a final score out of 100 for the performance of the solos or concerto. The pieces are performed from memory and the music is handed into the judge to follow along with. After performing, the scores are not immediately released but sent out to the teacher much later in the day or week. Although performing takes some of the pressure off of my shoulders, waiting for scores still is stressful.”

Srivatsan received the 90 Point Cup, which is the highest award a young musician can receive during this portion of the festival. It is a big deal for her, as it shows the hard work Srivatsan put in throughout her 12 years of study. This was made possible due to her receiving a superior rating in all solos and concertos during her previous festival experiences.

“I was very worried while waiting for my scores and found the process extremely stressful this year because of a Science Olympiad competition happening the same day,” Saisha said in an email. She said she was elated when I found out she had received the 90 Point Cup after dreaming of it for years.

Gilman said she is proud of her student’s hard work and accomplishments.

“I feel that Saisha has done a wonderful job over the last 12 years,” Gilman said in an email. “She has received a ‘superior’ rating every year at Festival. She has completed all her ear training and has won Student of the Year awards for 5 consecutive years at Carole’s School of Music. She leads by example and encourages all my students to do well. Teaching Saisha has been a wonderful experience. She is truly a joy to work with and I will miss her when she graduates.”

Srivatsan plans to attend the University of Michigan in the fall and pursue a pre-law major. She is also considering pursuing music in some form while at college, either as a minor degree or through the campus orchestra.

“I think music has become such a big part of my life — I will never not want to play the piano or give it up altogether,” Srivatsan said in an email. “Some of my favorite music experiences have been through playing the piano, whether that is through festivals or at high school concerts. It has been such a rewarding experience for me and I do not ever plan on stopping my playing.”