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There is No Stopping at Piano; Talented Musician Nabil Hetman Excels on Violin, Too

Story By:
Paul Miller | Director of Strategic Communications and Community Relations
Nabil Hetman piano
Nabil Hetman ‘24

At the piano, one of his favorite places, Nabil Hetman’s creative side emerges like so much sunlight, his intensity subtle yet palpable.

He is an artist in every sense. He is talented beyond a lot of measures.

“I don’t think about it much,” the 21-year-old Keene State student says of playing piano. “I sit down, I clear my mind, I put my hands on the keys and I see where the music takes me.”

That inner sense of journey and self-effacing nature, coupled with out-of-the-ordinary talent and growth potential, is attention-getting, said Dr. Christina Wright-Ivanova, a professor and mentor to Nabil, who transferred from SUNY-Potsdam’s Crane School of Music, where he studied for two years.

Nabil said he found the intimacy he was looking for in the smaller Keene State program, and the mentorship he wanted in the college’s accomplished and renowned music faculty. He said he will spend two years at Keene State, perfecting his craft, earning a degree, and imagining the possibilities of his future as a musician.

“I wanted something smaller, and I wanted people who were willing to work as hard as they could with me and to find opportunities for me. I’ve found that,” Nabil said.

A liberal arts college, Keene State offers a nationally accredited conservatory-level music program. Professors, many performance artists themselves, work with several hundred students who take music classes and lessons, and who play in ensembles.

He’s brought me an ice block and we are chipping away at it like a sculpture. He has the talent and the ideas; it’s that final polish that we will work through to allow him to sound even more mature.”

– Dr. Christina Wright-Ivanova on Nabil Hetman

Keene State is in the final stage of earning distinction as an All-Steinway institution, a process that began in 2018. It is one piano away from joining more than 200 colleges, universities, and music conservatories worldwide to receive this elite status from Steinway & Sons.

The program will result in a new inventory of Steinway-designed pianos for instruction, practice and performance.

All-Steinway, All Together: A Gala Concert and Celebration on October 29 is a performance fundraiser to support the final phase of the ongoing initiative.

Hopefully, Nabil will be just one of many music department students to be honing their craft on a Keene State Steinway.

Wright-Ivanova said the good fortune of having Nabil in the music program is all Keene State’s.

“He’s a rare kind of student and musician,” she said. “In my six years here, the most talented student and strongest pianist we’ve had here. Most likely, he’s the most advanced piano performance major we’ve ever had in the music department.”

Here is the kicker: Piano is but one of two instruments on which Nabil shines. He also plays violin, also at an exceptionally high level.

“I’ve been encouraged by a lot of people to choose one (instrument), but I can’t pick between the two,” Nabil said.

Wright-Ivanova, who directs keyboard studies at Keene State, spends two one-on-one practice sessions a week with Nabil.

“He has a fast mind, he’s a creative thinker, and he has an ear for color and architecture at the piano. He’s also an incredibly hard worker with a foundation of training since a very young age that not all our students have had the privilege of having.”

She said Nabil’s dual-instrument interest is embraced, and the college will help him to excel at both while exploring graduate opportunities, conservatories, even study-abroad graduate programs in Europe.

“He’s brought me an ice block,” the professor said, “and we are chipping away at it like a sculpture. He has the talent and the ideas; it’s that final polish that we will work through to allow him to sound even more mature.”

Nabil is all in.

“I am motivated, more than ever,” he said from a piano studio at Redfern, where he was adding to his countless hours of quiet practice, in this case playing Rachmaninoff and working to conquer some of the challenging chordal configurations that define his pieces.

Nabil, of Lyon Mountain, N.Y., said he loves to share music with others, and to collaborate, calling a music improv class he is taking this semester as especially fun.

“Music, like most any art, can make you feel constantly uncomfortable,” Nabil explained. “It’s about breaking down that next barrier. When I play, it’s not about me but about the composer, and following that work as much as possible. Playing Beethoven is so much fun. His music has so much depth, and it gives you something unpredictable every time you play it.”

At the Steinway Gala, Nabil will break down another barrier, trying something that has been done just once previously, at least that Wright-Ivanova is aware of. On a high-tech Steinway Spirio | r, a high-resolution player piano capable of live capture and playback, and on violin, Nabil will play two movements of a sonata by César Franck, a Belgian-French composer and organist.

The first movement will be played on the Spirio, recorded. At the live performance, Nabil will then play violin live on top of the piano piece. “Playing it in time, so that it does not sound metronomic, that will be a challenge,” he notes.

His two loves – piano and violin – co-mingled in one performance. “New sounds, new textures … that’s music,” Nabil said. “That’s why I love what I do.”

Nabil Hetman with a Keene State Steinway
Nabil Hetman with a Keene State Steinway.

All-Steinway Program

Keene State accepted 18 Steinway pianos on loan four years ago as part of the Steinway Festival Placement Program. Before arriving on loan, the pianos spent the summer in service to major music festivals, including Tanglewood and the Berkshire Choral Festival. Students, faculty, and performers booked at the Redfern Arts Center used the pianos for rehearsals and performances throughout that academic year.

KSC purchased four Steinway pianos that first year. At the start of the 2020 academic year, the College again “borrowed” Festival Pianos – 14 that time – committing to more purchases in 2020. The process has repeated so that by this year, with the purchase of a concert grand, the college will have replaced its entire inventory.

The college has raised more than $550,000 for 17 Steinways it has purchased, said Marilyn Shriver, the college’s director of development, and needs another $225,000 for a concert grand and a 9-foot Spirio of its own to complete the project.

Wright-Ivanova has worked closely with Shriver on the project, and said the effort over its five-year trajectory, surviving Covid obstacles along the way, “is truly impactful to the music program, the college’s ability to recruit and keep students, and the broader reputation of Keene State a center for the arts.”

Learn more about the Music Department at Keene State College

Learn More about the All-Steinway Program

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