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Meet Meriette Saglie

Today we’d like to introduce you to Meriette Saglie.

Hi Meriette, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I was twelve years old at the time, practicing the piano when all of a sudden I stopped and thought to myself, “What if I was there?” That’s the moment I had the sudden epiphany: I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to music. By the time I turned 13, I was finally in Vienna, Austria, where I auditioned and was accepted into the pre-college program at the University of Music and Performing Arts. The rest is living history. I was born and raised in LA. I’m the youngest child of four siblings and the only one in my family to be first-generation born in the United States. My parents immigrated to California from Chile in 1981. Growing up, music was a major part of my life for pretty much as long as I can remember. My most vivid memories are of myself as a toddler, listening attentively as my brother practiced the piano, wondering how the music I was hearing could possibly be created with just a set of ten fingers. I can recall sitting at the piano for long periods of time, without even playing, just observing the keys, contemplating how the instrument worked. Eventually, I began making up tunes by ear, on my own, and I remember feeling fascinated by the idea of creating music. It all seemed very magical to me. My very first piano lesson was at the age of four.

From then on, practicing the piano became a priority for me, but there wasn’t really ever a time when I rebelled against it or the discipline behind it. Practicing the piano felt like a natural part of my daily routine, and competing in youth competitions and performing throughout my childhood prompted me to set very high goals for myself. This is why moving to Vienna sunk in for me as a singular opportunity that I had to take in order to take my piano studies to the next level. My mom and I traveled to Vienna two years prior to our big move. We would go to visit my brother who, at the time, was studying music there. On both occasions, my mom arranged for me to have lessons with two prominent piano professors at Vienna’s most prestigious music institutions. Both of them invited me to study with them. I was too young to clearly see the value behind these invitations, and my mother didn’t expect to leave the U.S. to move halfway across the globe. But then there I was, at 12 years old, sitting at the piano, when I thought to myself, “What if I was there?” I then remember turning to my mom and saying, “Let’s do it, let’s move to Vienna.” I realized then that playing the piano was never going to be merely a hobby but something I truly needed to invest myself in, and for a lifetime. The city of Vienna, the world’s capital of classical music, was a memorable place to be as a young teenager who aspired to become a professional musician.

Coming from LA, there was so much newness to absorb. I fell in love with the European lifestyle, the culture, and the vibrant musical scene that was heavily embedded in the culture. I am humbled to say that I was able to inherit some of the most enriching musical experiences and prestigious musical guidance. I was inspired, surrounded by admirable mentors and talented peers, and I was immersed in a musical world where appreciation for the arts and caliber of musical integrity were at their highest. I attended some of the best live classical concerts in my life while living in Austria and also had many memorable experiences of my own, both performing and competing. But my quick success in Vienna came to a sudden halt when I developed an injury to my hand that inhibited me from playing the piano for six months, leading me to believe I would never play again. Being at the peak of my development, it was hard to face something that suddenly stopped me dead in my tracks. My aspirations to stay in Vienna waned. I had no desire to return back to the US at that moment in my life, and the hopes that anything would improve while staying in Vienna were fading away. There was the option to move to Santiago, Chile, where most of my extended family resides. But Chile also held a unique opportunity that would, in time, help me regain my ability to play the piano.

At the age of 16, I got accepted into the University of Chile’s Conservatory of Music in Santiago where a dedicated professor helped me to overcome the technical challenges wrought by my hand injury, and I was able to make a comeback making music at the piano again. I continued to embrace the Viennese musical and cultural influences, as well as the knowledge I had gained from studying music there. I continued performing and competing, but a very different atmosphere in Chile shifted the intensity of my focus. Compared to Austria, the opportunities to advance in a classical music career are far fewer in Chile. Therefore, I lived life through a completely different lens, where, for a period of time, I managed to balance the rigorous life of a musician, which can so easily absorb you and somewhat disconnect you, with a broader appreciation for pop culture and teen life. At the age of six, I’d set off on an intense career-focused and habitual routine, practicing two hours a day. And the hours only increased as I took it more and more seriously over the years. My time in Austria was fueled by a tradition of many generations of classical music-practice and at the same time, the demand that was required of me was high and so was the competitive environment. In Chile, I spent time immersed in a Latin lifestyle, and I had the chance to connect with my roots, something that I value greatly.

Without this move, I don’t think I would have as deep an appreciation for my background and where I come from as I do now. I also forged friendships with people who had different interests and passions, not related to classical music, and I experienced a strong united sense of family. I also learned about myself and gained new wisdom that had not been available to me in Austria. I fell in love for the first time, I had travel and hitchhiking adventures, and even became the lead singer in a reggae-rock band. Chile was the time in my life where I truly lived without hesitation. But, as my time in Chile wound down and graduation from high school approached, I knew that it was finally time to return to the professional world of piano. Now fully recharged pianistically and fueled by my newfound cultural insights and wisdom from both Europe and South America, I headed back to LA, where it all began. I sought the musical guidance of two acclaimed piano professors, both LA residents, too. That gave me all the more reason to come back “home”. I was accepted to UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music, where I completed part of my Bachelor degree before transferring to USC’s Thornton School of Music. From here, I’d go on to graduate with a Bachelor of Music, then a Master of Music and, eventually, a Doctor of Musical Arts, with distinction, in Piano Performance.

Having left LA at 13, and being away for more than seven years, made me feel detached from the LA lifestyle at first. I felt like a foreigner being back in my native town for a good year and a half. The heavy demand of both a music performance and an academic degree soon enough took over, though, and I was immersed in a very rigorous routine of constant study. Since graduating from USC in 2018, I’ve picked up a freelance performance career as both soloist and collaborative performer. I’m also a piano instructor based in the Beverly Hills area, where I currently live and run a private piano studio that I launched while I was in school. Teaching is a valuable part of my musical career and I carry with me 13 years of teaching experience. It makes me happy that I am able to maintain a constant work routine that is directly related to what I do. I seek to pass on to my students the same values and principles that I’ve been able to inherit from my own rich, global lessons in music. And, amazingly enough, through teaching, I manage to cultivate my own knowledge, albeit from the unique perspective of a listener and observer.

A music career is a lifestyle. In my case, music has been a driving force that has taken me on journeys and adventures (literally and figuratively) that have, in turn, molded me into the person I am today. I’m grateful that I left the U.S. when I did. The worldly perspective I gained because of this move impacts what I do both as an artist and as an individual everyday. I miss my time abroad, but I am very happy to be back in LA and to call the City of Angels my home base. It is a true melting pot of cultures and identities, which are the ideal assets for any artist seeking inspiration and the tools to hone their craft. The unique opportunities for growth that exist in LA, and that I myself have been so grateful to encounter, are only possible because of this diversity.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
My hand injury aside, my main challenges have revolved around adapting to and coping with the vast changes brought about my international travels and moves. My path has been vivid and dynamic, but many factors along the way did present significant obstacles for me, both personally and professionally. Though I was brought up in a Chilean household, I was molded by the LA lifestyle and culture. To this day, I still speak Spanish with a tainted Chilean accent since English is my first language. Because of my dual nationality, I faced a constant dual identity, whether I was living in LA or Chile. While living in Austria, I was a complete foreigner. Adapting to a new culture, routine and outlook on life, and having to learn a brand new language, all while seeking to excel in my musical and academic studies, was significantly challenging. I had to learn German from scratch while attending both junior high and the music university, so I eventually did become a trilingual speaker. There was a vital necessity to quickly adapt to my environment in order to keep up with everything I had to do. Once I moved back to LA, it took me more than a year to feel fully adjusted.

Because of the constant moving, it has led me to have a total of seven primary piano mentors, all of whom have given me valuable guidance, but having to adapt to several different schools of piano playing took a great deal of adjusting, conforming and internalizing. In time, I learned to integrate all my influences into what is my own musical expression — a never-ending endeavor, nevertheless. In the end, music, just as any art, is a form of self-expression through emotions. This is what I consistently strive to do as a musician. Emotions are constantly changing, though, and after a lifetime of being tied to music I have not stopped learning, not one bit. I am continuously learning, with the help of my past experiences and with every new experience I come across in my musical path.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I am a performer. But much goes into putting together a performance. Learning any piece of music requires its own process, depending on the demands of the piece and the deadlines that come with an impending concert. Prior to a performance, an increased number of hours are spent daily at the piano and, most importantly, the process of building a relationship with the piece I’m playing and with the composer her/himself comes into play— it’s all about the search for what the composer of the piece intended to express. Some pieces stay with you a lifetime, and each performance is a new journey of discovery. No performance is ever the same. There are several pieces I have played that have remained in my current repertoire since I was very young. One of the pieces that is most dear to my heart is Brahms’ Piano Sonata No. 1 in C Major. It’s a piece that reflects Brahms at the young age of 19, the age at which he began composing this amazing work. It was his first published work and one of the main works to garner him acclaim. It’s vibrant, with a wide range of emotions that really resonate with me. I first learned this piece when I was 14 and living in Vienna, and it’s the piece that opened up my passion for Brahms’ music and gives me a good dose of “Vienna nostalgia”. He remains one of my favorite composers.

While in school back in LA, my focus on performing and competing took a slight turn. The demand of my degrees required a lot of dedication and responsibility, all while also maintaining a work schedule, both as a part-time teaching assistant in the piano department at USC and as a private piano instructor outside of school. However, since completing my studies in 2018, the connections and networks I have cultivated along the way have led me to some wonderful opportunities, which is humbling to me. In 2019, I took on the role of championing the solo piano repertoire of my brother, Luis, an established composer, through two international solo tours in Japan and Spain. I’m also happy to be able to contribute to the LA music community by performing for benefit concerts for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In 2020, I had my first on-screen experience as performer/actress in a short film for Zeiss, one of the world’s leading companies for optic lenses, where I perform an excerpt of the Brahms first piano sonata. I headed into the studio, too, to record my first single set for release this year.

Is there something surprising that you feel even people who know you might not know about?
I love to sing. I grew up listening to different genres of music ranging from opera to musical theater, and I found it entertaining as a little girl to replicate different styles of voices. One of my favorite things to sing was the excerpt from Mozart’s “The Queen of the Night” aria, from the opera The Magic Flute, which features characteristic leaping notes at an extremely high register. My dad loved the idea of my becoming a singer. I remember him taking me to a voice teacher once when I was around seven or eight, who was ready to take me on as a student. But I turned it down because I didn’t want to sing. At least not in a serious manner. I thought, “How can I learn to sing if I am learning how to play the piano?” I’ve never been the type of musician to take on more than one musical focus. But that didn’t stop me from wanting to sing for fun.

Like I mentioned previously, I used to sing and play keys in a reggae-rock band while living in Chile. I usually don’t share this part of my story with people in the classical music industry, but when I do, it never fails to surprise them, given that it is such a drastic shift of style. It was a rebellious period in my life, and I enjoyed it a lot. I became very involved with the band and considered taking it further. For a moment, I contemplated the idea of leaving the professional classical piano field and becoming a professional pop/jazz singer. But ultimately, my love for the piano fostered an unwavering loyalty to it, and my path forward soon became clear. I believe that having a wide range of musical influences helps any musician within their own genre. I have never had the opportunity, since leaving Chile, to sing nearly as much, but I do incorporate the art of singing in my playing. I actually sing a lot while I practice. It inspires me to recreate the natural timbre and conversational feel of the human voice through the instrument.

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Image Credits:

Main photo: Thaïs Castralli Relative photos from left to right: Photo 1: Jeff Lorch Photo 2: Jeff Lorch Photo 3: Jeff Lorch Photo 4: Jake Bottiglieri Photo 5: Karl White Photo 6: Karl White

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