Pianist Brings Innovation, Master Class in Instrumental Expression to Groton

Serene, a pianist who merges the worlds of music and technology, performed in the Campbell Performing Arts Center on Wednesday, November 3. Earlier in the day, she worked with Groton School piano students, providing insights into how she infuses her music with emotion and spirit.
When Laurie Sales, the acting Performing Arts Department head, introduced Serene, she described the pending performance aptly—as “a collision of technology and music that is an immersive experience."
Serene was a Google engineer and senior research fellow at UC Berkeley's International Computer Science Institute before becoming a concert pianist full-time. For her performance at Groton, she wrote code to connect live audio from her piano playing to visualizations projected behind her. Abstract imagery layered on video moved along with her music.
These images correspond to Serene’s synesthesia, a condition (or perhaps a gift) that Ms. Sales described as “when your sensory experiences are cross-wired.” In Serene’s case, she not only hears music but also sees colorful structures and landscapes unfold in her mind's "eye" as she plays, which she says informs her unique approach to the piano (and everything else). The live projections were an experiment intended to help audiences experience music as she does.
Although Serene (who prefers to use one name) is considered one of today's most exciting new pianists, she was not classically trained; she did not attend conservatory and is primarily self-taught. For the Groton School audience, Serene performed a program of Ravel’s “Jeux d’eau,” Liszt’s “Mephisto Waltz,” Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit,” Bach’s “F-minor Prelude and Fugue,” Kapustin’s “Concert Etude Op. 40 No. 8,” and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” Due to pandemic protocols, in-person attendance was limited to Groton students and employees, but the concert was livestreamed.
During the afternoon, Serene held a master class for Groton piano students, who commented on the emotion that Serene achieves in her music. Max Fan ’25 said he “feels the music more” and said he learned that “with a good technique, you can incorporate more emotion into the piece.”
Sophia Deng ’22 and Benjamin Reyes ’23 also noted Serene's intense connection to the music she plays. “In her master class, I learned to feel the emotional dynamics of the piece beyond techniques,” said Sophia, “which makes a lot of difference in my understanding of the music.”
Benjamin got some specific advice. “There are very few pianists who can clearly explain what feelings to try to invoke with a certain passage in the music, or who have the technical ability to tell you how to do something when you explain what you think you want to express,” he said. “I said I wanted a nostalgic feel to the ending, and she recommended experimenting with the una corda pedal,” the left pedal of the piano's three foot pedals.
These students, and the audience in the Campbell Performing Arts Center, experienced what Serene has become known for—an unusually dynamic, spiritual, and emotional performance. “The fact that we were able to have kids exposed to that level of talent was, for me, thrilling,” said Ms. Sales.
Follow Serene's piano adventures on Instagram and YouTube.