The Pianists of Princeton

Photos and text by Contributing Photographer Julian Gottfried, with assistance from Matthew Pickering

The Princeton Pianists Ensemble (PPE) — everyone's heard about it. And how could they not? The group is self-described as "one of the only performing groups on the planet where you’ll ever see five pianos on a stage," and they certainly live up to this, with their concerts for not quite dozens of hands. That is, they do in a normal year. But what happens during a pandemic? In the following photos, we'll catch up (visually) with some of PPE's members, and we'll explore how the group is managing these unprecedented times.

Jessica Pan ’21, Vice President Emeritus
The concert season is the crux of PPE's activities, and the pre-concert practicing season is the second main event. The problem? Princeton has locked down every last publically-playable piano on campus. Pictured is the piano in Butler College's 1942 lounge. Also locked are pianos in Frist Campus Center, the other residential colleges, and more.
Yende Mangum ’24
Some pianists have gotten around the practicing problem by securing access to Princeton's practice rooms. While the rooms have recently been opened to the public, pianists only get a limited amount of time each week to use them. Mangum is shown here playing in Effron, Princeton's premier musical building. Each room is hung from the ceiling to ensure acoustical isolation.
Konstantinos Konstantinou ’22
Joy Quan ’23, Vice President
The other option for piano practice: the digital piano. Many of the on-campus PPE members are using keyboards this semester to work on pieces in their rooms, wearing headphones to avoid getting noise complaints. Keyboards don't have the depth of a real piano, but they suffice for most (non-performance) purposes.
Hannah To ’22
Alex Luo ’23, Webmaster
But PPE members don't just practice 24/7. In a normal semester, the group would be chock-full of actual, in-person activities. This year, the most they can do is arrange informal (non-PPE-related) meetups to recapture some of that social spirit that used to come with being a pianist – at least, with being a pianist at Princeton.
Xiaorun Wu ’23, Treasurer
Matthew Pickering ’24, Publicist
PPE has obligatory Zoom meetings as well. Shown here is a PPE officer meeting, screenshot courtesy of Matthew Pickering '24. It hasn't been a normal semester, nor a normal year, but PPE has managed to keep on going. Members have arranged the pieces for this year's (virtual) concert and are busy working on them. Even if everyone's lives have been put on hold, one way or the other, we can always count on good music, classical or otherwise, to keep on lifting our spirits.
Ruben Ascoli ’23, President

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