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Piano virtuoso has sights set for Vienna

FALL CITY - Seventeen-year-old Rachel LaFond has been playing the piano since she could sit up in her mother's lap.

Last Friday, she extended her audience a bit.

Her mother, Sandra LaFond, describes Rachel as a concert-caliber pianist. She has perfected 10 works during her 12 years of playing piano, and can perform a long list of classical greats by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Rachmaninoff. She played those pieces Aug. 10 at an invitation-only concert at the Sherman Clay music studio in Bellevue.

Rachel has studied at her mother's LaFond Conservatory in Fall City since the age of 4. She said music consumes her and all of her time. It doesn't seem to matter that she only has 45 minutes of free time a day - she hardly uses it - nor does it matter that she only sees her friends for a few hours each week.

"It's nice to have friends, but I have my really good friend right here," she said, while pointing to the 25-year-old custom-designed piano that sits in her mother's teaching studio. The cabinet is made of French mahogany, and the fallboard bears the name "LaFonde" on a brass plaque. It was modeled after pianos Sandra has played in the past, and she uses it to teach.

"It's like a part of me. It forms my world," Rachel said of the piano.

She said her world is colored by the music she plays, and she loves to perform.

"Performing is a rush. It's like putting yourself on the line; you're completely at risk," she said.

Rachel completed the pedagogy course in 1996 at her mother's conservatory and is certified as a student piano teacher. She has worked with 17 students under the supervision of her mother, whom she refers to in the studio as "madame." Rachel calls her that, she said, because she doesn't want her motherOs role as teacher to be discounted.

Rachel has been working hard to build up her musical , which, according to her mother, should include a concerto competition - something that can take one to two years to prepare.

She has attended Mount Si High School for the past three years, but will earn her diploma through the American College of Musicians, where her mother is a certified teacher and was recently inducted into its hall of fame.

By playing a program of 15 memorized pieces at an audition for the National Guild of Piano Teachers, for which her mother is an area chairperson, Rachel will have fulfilled one of the requirements that is needed for entrance into the college of her choice, the University of Vienna in Austria.

Her class schedule at Mount Si will be light so she can pursue master lessons with a variety of master teachers and professors. She will begin temporary studies with Dr. Peter Mack at Cornish in September. The master teachers are certified by the Music Teachers National Association and the American College of Musicians. She plans to take entrance exams in the fall of 2002 in hopes of studying in Vienna.

One of her most unique experiences was spent last summer studying under Professor Manfred Wagner-Artzt at the University of Vienna.

"I would not have developed as I have if not under his tutelage," Rachel said.

After attending the University of Vienna and earning a doctorate in music, Rachel would like to have a concert career, then start a family. Eventually, she also wants to teach in countries that have not had much exposure to music, such as in Tanzania or Somalia.

That way, her love of music can be given to others.

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