Randy Ryan on Pursuing Music in Juilliard

By: Joy Harjanto

Because I grew up learning to play Beethoven’s moonlight sonatas, I always imagined pianists to be serious and somber, mimicking the notes of the esteemed composer himself.

So when I spoke with Randy Ryan, I was pleasantly surprised by how down to earth and easy going he was. The name Juilliard also carries so much weight- a school that prides itself in training the best musicians. But he spoke of his experiences so normally I for once was able to picture Juilliard as a school beyond its reputation.

It is difficult to imagine Randy, who holds a bachelors of music in piano performance from Juilliard, was introduced to piano by sibling rivalry. Randy’s journey shows passion doesn’t always have to be love at first sight, as it can flourish over time.

Randy Ryan is currently pursuing a master of music in piano performance and pedagogy at the Peabody Institute. Though he has years of my experience abroad, he wishes to return to Indonesia some day to make an impact in classical music.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity

Hi Randy! Tell me a bit about yourself: 

My name is Randy. This is my seventh year studying in the United States. I moved to the United States for my undergraduate degree at Juilliard, and I am currently in Baltimore pursuing my masters at the Peabody Institute. I am a pianist.

How and when did you discover your passion for piano playing?

Passion is a complicated subject. I started playing the piano when I was 5 years old. My parents’ influence is a big part of my music training. If they didn’t push me from the beginning, I wouldn’t have continued studying music. The last four years before I went to college was when I learned what it was like to love music.

Can you tell me more about your parents’ influence?

When you are young, you are inclined to relax and play. Music itu susah di jalanin dengan cinta (For me, loving and pursuing music was difficult). Couple times I doubted if I wanted to be a pianist when I was younger. But over time, the passion grew inside of me. Years of discipline led to loving what you do.  It came from years of discipline that led to loving what you do. Thank God that’s what happened to me. 

What was balancing life as a student and a musician like?

Balancing school and music life was really hard. You don’t have a schedule like everyone else. When you get home after school, you have to think about school work. On top of that, I had to practice 2-3 hours so it was hard.

Out of curiosity, why did your parents start enrolling you in classes?

Actually, my brother started learning the piano first. I took piano lessons because I was jealous. My teacher saw I was progressing much faster even though he started first. From that point, my mother started accompanying me to lessons. Originally, she never came along but my teacher told her I was talented. That’s when she started pushing me to be more involved in classical music.

What was the process of applying to Julliard like?

The name Juilliard was the dream. I started applying to schools in February 2013 but it was time for the national final examinations (UN). For music schools, there are two rounds of audition: Send a recording of your performance followed by a live performance. Because the application process was during final examinations, I could only be in the United States for one week. So, I only applied to two schools: Curtis and Juilliard. I was rejected from Curtis so Juilliard was my only option. I thought I was going to take a gap year after graduation and apply to more schools. Audisi disana setengah doa setengah terima nasib (When I auditioned there, I was half-praying, half-surrendering to fate). It was Juilliard or no school. When I found out I was accepted, I was so happy.

Wow! Did you apply to regular universities? 

No, because at that point I knew I wanted to study music. I didn’t know what I wanted to do apart from music. I knew I had to try Juilliard even though I was not sure of myself. I knew the standard was really high. It was a miracle I got accepted.

What was your experience at Juilliard like? Did you enjoy it?

I did! But it was tough, especially in the beginning. I was awkward at first because I grew up in Indonesia and at that time there were no other Indonesians at Juilliard. I didn’t know anyone moving to New York. I felt a little lonely at first being away, but I got used to it.

I had amazing teachers and being surrounded by talented people was eye opening. Everyone was so much better. If you got into an environment where you are the best, you will not work as hard. But being surrounded by people who are better than you, will push you to work hard and become even better. 

Why did you decide to pursue music again for graduate school?

For music, I think an undergraduate degree is not enough. Most people have a graduate degree, especially in the United States. If you want to be a faculty member, you need a doctorate degree. But I don’t plan on pursuing that route. 

While we are on that topic, what are you plans going forward?

There is always this dilemma: if you want to pursue your career internationally or return to Indonesia. In the end, I want to go back to Indonesia because saya ingin sekali musik klasik di Indonesia maju, karena saya merasa bahwa standar orang Indonesia tidak kalah dengan standar orang diluar nusantara (I really want the studies of classical music in Indonesia to improve, so that we can compete on the world stage).

In terms of what I want to pursue, I want to be a performer and a teacher. Realistically, I can’t just be a performer. I love performing it and I want to share that knowledge with others. 

What kind of impact would you like to have?

I want people who don’t understand classical music to be exposed to it. Classical music is good for your health and mind. I want to help improve the quality of classical music education in Indonesia so the music schools in Indonesia can compete globally.

Ultimately, would you say music is what you are most passionate about? 

It’s something I have known forever. I have other passions like drawing. Maybe if I didn’t do classical music I would love to learn visual arts more. But my passion for classical music overweights my love for visual arts. 


This story is part of our Finding Harmony series, where we interview Indonesians who are pursuing a career in music. Click here for the first installment.

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