At 16 years old, Bridgewater's Jade Ley has already studied piano for over a decade. But no other class has given her what the Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance's (LAMP) under-18 piano academy did: a chance to learn from her idol.
Martha Argerich, the 75-year-old Argentine considered by many to be the world's greatest living pianist, is heading to LAMP for teaching sessions and a performance, capping off four weeks of programming in March, which the school has dubbed "Piano Month."
Only one of the three young Nova Scotia musicians in Ley's class will likely get a chance to play for Argerich, but she says she'd be happy just to share a room with the classical music legend.
"I think it was around last fall I heard Martha Argerich was going to come to LAMP, so one of the ways to get an opportunity to work with her was to do this piano academy," she said.
"Anyone else that participated in the program but didn't get chosen, we can still audit the master class and still get to watch it, and still get to learn things from it even though we're not participating in it directly. You can learn a lot just from watching."
Argerich is a three-time Grammy Award-winning artist who's been called "arguably the world's greatest pianist" by Classic FM, which also listed her with the likes of Beethoven, Chopin and Glenn Gould on a list of the top 25 piano players of all time.
She first earned international attention in the mid-'60s when she won the International Chopin Piano Competition at the age of 24.
LAMP artistic director Burt Wathen first saw Argerich play when he was a member of the National Orchestra of Italy in 1979. He says he was "completely blown away by her," and has been asking her to get involved in LAMP since the school was in the planning stages.
"Between me hounding her and following her around the world and asking her to come, and [LAMP pianist-in-residence] Walter [Delahunt's] friendship with her, she's finally decided to come to LAMP, which is an extraordinary event," said Wathen.
"She is the goddess of classical music, she is the number one pianist of our time for sure, and she's playing only one other date in North America, and that's in Los Angeles."
Argerich will perform alongside Delahunt at a gala fundraising concert on April 2. The event sold out within a few hours on the day it was announced in December even with the $300 ticket price.
Following the under-18 class will be a week-long master class for six pianists travelling to town from Vienna, Amsterdam, New York and elsewhere.
Wathen says due to a busy schedule they can only guarantee three of the students will play for Argerich out of the two classes, but he's hopeful they'll be able to make time for all nine.
It was Argerich's appearance that inspired the catchy label, says Wathen, but really, at LAMP every month is piano month.
Drawing attention to the school with big names is a way to introduce more people to the kind of programming LAMP offers year round.
"If I can bring in these names every once in awhile ... and if we can start having people identify LAMP as a piano place, a piano destination by having a few big names, and then they realize that Walter's here, I think we'll be a centre for great piano studies," said Wathen.
It's been about two and a half years since Wathen took a chance on a professional music school in rural Nova Scotia. But he says what once felt like a risk now has a clear path forward.
The school has garnered attention in the music world for not adhering to the established norms of classical music as a business.
"It's a different approach to the music business. Here, it's music because it's passion, because it's love and because this is a great place," Wathen explained, sitting at his desk on the third floor of the Lunenburg Academy.
By 2019, he hopes the school will have expanded on that idea and reached its full potential, with a fuller slate of overlapping classes each semester.
"When we get to the level where we want to be, we will have continuous programs ... We'll have violin cello, piano, chamber music and percussion all going on at the same time," said Wathen.
"Violinists won't just study with violinists, they'll study with a percussion player. Vocalists will study with a violinist, and that's our philosophy. That's how young musicians grow as artists, by having this exposure, which is not easy to find in the world of business music."
For Ley, a chance to study under Argerich may have been the draw, but she says class time with Delahunt and her two fellow students has helped her get out of her usual lesson routine.
"I haven't really had that many piano teachers so far, so definitely working with others, it's a really good experience to hear other suggestions and different techniques," said Ley. "Usually my lessons are one-on-one with just me and a teacher, so this is way different, because the other students are also hearing me, and I get to sit in on their lessons too."
While the chance to hear Argerich play will be a rare one for an Atlantic Canadian audience, more importantly for LAMP, the chance to catch Argerich in a classroom is rare for students worldwide.
"This could be a life-changing event for these people," said Wathen. "To be in the same room, to study with her - she doesn't teach very often - this is an extraordinary opportunity, and that's why we have these more mature pianists who are coming from all over the world to have this opportunity in Lunenburg."