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Meet Füreya Ünal of Opus 1 Piano Studio in Fullerton

Today we’d like to introduce you to Füreya Ünal.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I was born in Istanbul where I started playing the piano at the age of 3 1/2. My formal music education began at five years of age at Istanbul University State Conservatory with Sibel Kudatgobilik. In 1996, I was granted my bachelor’s degree from Istanbul Conservatory. I have been awarded two masters degrees. My first masters was granted from Istanbul Conservatory, my second from the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Frankfurt am Main.

During my education, I have studied with world renowned pianists like Irina Zaritskaya, Mikhail Voskresenski, Anatol Ugorski and Leontina Margulis. Throughout 1995 and 1996, I studied in Monaco with State Artist Hüseyin Sermet at the Monaco Music Academy. In 1999, I was granted a full scholarship by the Turkish Educational Foundation to study in Frankfurt, Germany with Catherine Vickers, a student of Paul Badura-Skoda and Alfred Brendel. After completing my studies in Germany, I was a member of faculty at Yildiz Technical University in Istanbul. In 2003, I performed a recital at the Spectral Music Festival in Istanbul, performing works by Jonathan Harvey, Messiaen and Walicki. A recording of this concert can be found in various libraries throughout Europe.

Being an avid chamber musician, I have collaborated with many musicians from around the globe. As a part of the Unal Korkmaz flute-piano duo, I gave concerts and master classes in Istanbul as well as the United States, premiering works by contemporary composers. I have performed at the New Music Festival at California State University Fullerton numerous times, sharing the stage with famous composer Fred Rzewski, and pianists Gloria Cheng, Ursula Oppens and Kathie Supove. Since 2013, Taiwanese pianist Judy Huang and I have given numerous concerts throughout Orange County and Los Angeles area as a piano duo.

I am a member of faculty at California State University Fullerton. I have been teaching for over 20 years at schools in Istanbul, Germany and United States. I have started Opus 1 Piano Studio, after I relocated to California in 2003, where I teach students of ages 4 and up. My students have won numerous competitions and festivals in Orange County area. I am a member of Music Teachers Association of California Orange County North branch, and I co-chair the Bach Festival. I am an adjudicator of competitions throughout Orange County and Los Angeles area. I have given a number of concerts, recitals and master classes in Turkey, Germany, Monaco, France, Bulgaria, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland and the United States, both as a solo artist, accompanist and ensemble player. I was a recipient of Cultural Exchange Fellowship in 2012 given by Turkish Cultural Foundation to give concerts and master classes in The People’s Republic of China. I have been awarded as the Woman of Distinction 2013 from 65th District of California by the Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva. I am the founder, artistic director and pianist of the new music ensemble Divan Consort. My ensemble has given numerous concerts and master classes since their beginning in 2009 in US and Europe. My group has released their first album, “Refuge” on Albany Records which has been awarded with Gold Medal in Album category, and Silver Medal in composition category by Global Music Awards. My theory book Building Blocks is going to be published with Cognella Publishing. Since January 2017, I am the president of Turkish American Artist Bridge organization. Established in April 2015, this is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting, supporting, and representing Turkish artists from all fields in both the USA and Turkey.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Starting my music education from a very young age, I had to make so many sacrifices. I do not remember going on vacations since I had to make sure I practice piano every day. I missed so many school picnics, birthday parties, etc. because I had a concert or exam that I had to practice for. In order to protect my hands from any kind of injury, I was extremely careful not to do demanding physical activities. I learned how to ride a bike when I was 26, and I am still not very good at it.

Although I was accepted to Manhattan School of Music in 1999, I couldn’t go to New York to study with the teacher I had been so looking forward to work with because the foundation I got my scholarship couldn’t afford it. They told me this, after I went to New York, auditioned in person and got accepted. So, it was a really hard time for me, when I had to tell Manhattan School of Music that I couldn’t come to NY, after I got so many letters from them with orientation dates, and all the information for the incoming students. After declining MSM, within weeks, I had to start applying to schools in Germany. Since I didn’t know German at that time, I had a friend write all my application letters. After sending in all my material, this time in German, I went and auditioned in Germany and got accepted in Hochshule für Musik Frankfurt am Main. In the meantime, before my audition, I took intensive German classes, and learned German. After my audition in Germany, I came back to Istanbul to pack my bags and start my studies in Frankfurt. Since my visa had expired, I applied for a new one, but the German Consulate denied my visa application. Because of this delay, I missed an entire semester and had to start my studies late.

There has been many instances like these throughout my life.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
After I came to California in 2003, I started teaching in music schools. It didn’t take me very long to start my own studio. I have been teaching kids from ages 4 and up as well as adults. My oldest student was a 70 year old retired history professor. I am comfortable teaching students of any age and any level, since I have been doing this for over 20 years. Since I had my education in Europe, I have a solid background and make sure that my students get the high-quality piano education, like they would if they studied in a music conservatory. I have been teaching at California State University, Fullerton for 10 years where I teach theory and musicianship. I have created my own method to help the students with ear training, sight-singing, melodic and rhythmic dictation with practice sheets, rhythmic exercises, and sight-singing exercises which have proven to be very effective. I use these methods in my studio teaching as well.

The lessons are always tailored to the students’ needs and level. However, I make sure to always give them the proper technique in order to get the best results in performance, regardless of their skill level. My goal is to ensure that the student is exposed to stylistic differences and know exactly which interpretation technique is appropriate for the
piece.

As an active performer, I stay in touch with the latest movements in music and pass my knowledge onto my students.

What were you like growing up?
I started playing the piano at a very young age, so I do not remember doing anything else except for practicing piano. I also liked to draw a lot. I took some drawing courses and was chosen to participate in exhibitions in Turkey. History of Art was my favorite class in high school, along with drawing classes. My teacher in high school insisted that I go to the Academy, and be a painter, but I chose music. To this day, I keep in touch with my teacher.

I was a quite calm child growing up. So sitting in front of the piano for hours every day, didn’t bother me much.

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