June 14, 2021
Class of 2021: Young pianist who left Chicago to study at UCalgary goes home ready to take on the world
You’d be forgiven for assuming that a gifted young pianist from Chicago would have countless superlative options for continuing his musical education in his cosmopolitan hometown. Instead, Daniel Szefer, who convocates with a Bachelor of Music degree, was guided by his network of classical music teachers and mentors toward honing his formidable performance skills with world-class musician and UCalgary instructor Dr. Krzysztof Jablonski, PhD.
That advice, which started Szefer on a planned year of independent tutorial with the piano master, ended up becoming a four-year degree. It was a journey that, he says, allowed him rare opportunities to learn, compete and perform at a level he hadn’t dreamed of.
Music immersion, and then some
Szefer, now back home in Illinois with his family, is, not surprisingly, exceptionally serious about his chosen career as a pianist — but, at UCalgary, he was also able to indulge his immense joie de vivre via participation in myriad social and physical activities. Over the course of his four-year degree, Szefer made dozens of friends who supported one another, attended concerts together and nourished themselves at Mac Hall’s beloved Bake Chef (“I’ll miss the spicy beef subs”).
He also played on the intramural soccer team — an extracurricular outlet that hearkened back to the pianist’s original life plan: “My first dream was to become a professional soccer player,” says Szefer. “Playing intramurals got me moving and active after my piano sessions, which was great for me.”
Supportive arts community in Calgary
Indeed, Szefer’s music history, theory and composition classes and, in particular, his lessons with Jablonski called for an intensity of focus and determination, as did the various competitions he participated in. During his time as a student, Szefer competed with fellow UCalgary grads Andrew Park and Daniel Dastoor in the prestigious Fischoff Chamber Music Competition, made it to the live rounds of the National Chopin Piano Competition in Miami, and won the CPO Concerto competition.
He credits Jablonski’s dedicated instruction and the support of other UCalgary faculty and his fellow students with his success. “When you care a lot about music and you work hard, people tend to pay attention,” says Szefer. “But that’s true especially of a place like Calgary because it’s a very supportive performing arts community.” He says he’s found that performative music circles are often toxic and overly competitive but, at UCalgary, “everyone is so friendly and that’s rare.”
Breakdowns and victories
Szefer’s transformative education with Jablonski has resulted in a lifelong friendship. “He knows exactly what the 21st century standard needs to be and he’s been with me through the breakdowns and the victories.” Inspired and gratified by the richness of his newly minted undergraduate degree, Szefer will begin grad school at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. for a Master of Music in Piano Performance.
No matter where he lands, Szefer says, “as long as I get to play piano, I’m happy.”