Paving their path to Carnegie Hall

Abby at Carnegie

Abby, 10, performing at Carnegie Hall

By Lauren Whittaker
If anyone snapped a picture of me, I’m sure I was beaming as I watched three of my piano students perform in the Celebration of Excellence Recital at New York’s Carnegie Hall on a cold night this past February.  Dressed in their finest clothes, Abby Mercer, 10, Sophie Smith, 10, and Austin Smith, 8, had all earned the honor of performing in this historic concert venue by scoring First Class Honors with Distinction on their Royal Conservatory Music (RCM) Development Program examinations.  As they performed on stage, I reflected on the hard work it takes to land one’s self in Carnegie Hall.

Abby, for example, started down her music path at four years old, when she participated in South Shore Conservatory’s early childhood summer program, The Arts Tell a Story.  She enjoyed the experience so much that her mother enrolled her in SSC’s arts-integrated preschool program that fall.  From there, she continued her arts-based learning on through kindergarten.  While she was in kindergarten, Abby started her introduction to piano, taking a weekly Piano FUNdamentals group class for an entire year. By the time she was six, Abby knew she liked playing piano enough to start private lessons with me, and loved reading enough to join the SSC Book Club with kindergarten teacher Jill Martin.  I welcomed her addition to my studio.

By eight years old, Abby added Piano Chamber Ensemble to her list of activities. At nine, she performed in SSC’s Piano Competition, and has participated in the Summer Vocal Institute for two summers. It was thrilling to watch her thrive in the arts.

In the fall of 2017, Abby’s private piano lessons included curriculum from the Royal Conservatory of Music Development Program.  This comprehensive program of music study includes scales, arpeggios, repertoire from the Baroque to 21st century music, sight reading, ear training, and music theory, leading to regular examinations at each level of study (12 levels for pianists).  RCM, which helps track a student’s progress, is available for virtually all instruments including voice, and offered through South Shore Conservatory, one of the founding schools when the Canada-based program was introduced in the US. On her very first exam, Abby achieved the grade of First Class Honors with Distinction. She continues to grow and challenge herself in the RCM program.

So, if you ask, how a ten-year-old could possibly end up performing at Carnegie Hall, the answer is simple:  Abby and her parents seized the many opportunities to participate in music and the arts available to children at SSC.  These classes, lessons, ensembles and competitions are all part of what SSC calls a program curriculum.  From birth to 100, students may join at any ability level, and continue studying their entire life.

I don’t want to make it sound as though Abby, Sophie, and Austin spend all their days practicing piano.  They are well-rounded students, enjoying soccer, basketball, softball, baseball, ballet, and gymnastics, and few other regular activities.  Busy kids?  Yes!  Focused on what they enjoy from life?  Yes!  Supportive parents?  Yes, Yes, Yes!  That’s how one ends up at Carnegie Hall before they even reach their teen years!

Learn more about South Shore Conservatory Royal Conservatory of Music Development Program, and their classes, lessons and ensembles at, or find South Shore Conservatory on Facebook.

Piano Instructor Lauren Whittaker has been with South Shore Conservatory since 2013.

One comment

  1. Jackie · April 19, 2019

    Dear Lauren,
    I loved reading this article about how your students thrived under your musical care💫👌🏼🎶💕. Bravo to all,
    I can hear your sparkling laughters!
    Jackie Debas


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