W ith the touch of his fingers, Diego Ribeiro Caetano brings the piano to life. Harmony fills the room. Caetano’s hands slide across the keyboard, his fingers striking the black and white keys with the precision and confidence of a dentist who has filled hundreds of cavities. Sweet sounds echo off the walls.
Through the glasses perched on his nose, Caetano peers at the sheet music before him as he continues to unleash a beauty of sound. Crescendos pierce the air.
His hands work feverishly but efficiently. His feet stimulate the pedals. He plays with conviction.
After several minutes, Caetano’s fingers finally stop. The last chords fade into the air as the steel strings come to rest inside the Steinway & Sons piano.
To the untrained ear, Caetano’s playing of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue is brilliant, sparkling, thrilling. But, Theresa Bogard hears differently than you and I.
As Bogard slides her chair nearer to him, Caetano’s ears perk. “This was technically fabulous,” she says, pointing to the sheet, “but there’s no shape.”
At another spot in the music, Bogard offers, “Be careful here.”
“This note,” she says, pointing again, “not so loud.”
Each time, Caetano nods his head in approval. He is not upset; rather, he is grateful. This is why Caetano has come from his homeland of Brazil to the University of Wyoming: To learn the art of playing the piano from Bogard, who is as celebrated a teacher as she is a pianist.
“She helps me figure what I don’t hear. Sometimes I play and I’m not listening, so she’ll say, ‘You’re not listening.’ She’ll tell me, ‘Try this touch, or try this movement, or try this articulation,’” he says. “She helps me open my mind.
“At the master’s level, you already know how to read notes and everything. We have to work on how the notes speak and how we can make the notes speak to send a message—the correct message.”
He smiles, glances at Bogard and adds, “Because we can send any message.” Bogard cackles and Caetano laughs.
He is already learning.
As a few of her students share stories at a nearby table, Bogard leans back in the chair behind her desk and gazes out across her humble studio.
It seems remarkable that this somewhat cramped and unspectacular space, tucked away in a non-descript building on Wyoming’s high plains, has been a magnet for aspiring pianists for the past 20 years. There’s no stage in the room. The slab walls don’t allow for much character.
The ventilation is complicated, too. The windows only open from the bottom, at ground level.
“We have to hope the squirrels don’t get in here,” Bogard says with a smile. A few of them have before, taking up residence inside a piano or leaving unwelcomed proof of their visits on the floor. It’s possible that not even the squirrels can resist the joyful noises that fill this room.
The students who come to UW—from Asia and Europe, from South America to Russia—are here for the music, not the ambiance. They may never have heard of Wyoming, but they’ve heard of Bogard, and her reputation alone is reason enough for culture shock.
Glancing toward Bogard, “I am here because of her,” says Jun Guo, a second-year student from China who won UW’s Dorothy Jacoby Student Soloist Competition last February. He is pursuing his performer’s certificate in piano performance under Bogard’s tutelage.
Another Chinese student, Yang Hong, also uprooted her life to learn from Bogard.
When working with the Chinese Embassy on her visa application, Yang remembers being asked why she was going to Wyoming. “I say, ‘I just want to study with Dr. Bogard.’”
An acclaimed pianist who performs numerous solo and chamber music recitals each year across the United States and who has played to rave reviews in many countries—including Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and New Zealand—Bogard has a lifetime of knowledge to teach.
She began playing piano at 4, an age when most girls are typically infatuated with dolls, and fell in love with the elegant sounds of what she calls “the complete instrument.” Later, Bogard studied at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in Australia, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the Eastman School of Music in New York.
In 1988, Bogard received a Fulbright grant to study fortepiano at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague in The Netherlands and was a top-prize winner the following year in the International Mozart Fortepiano Competition in Belgium.
“I love my job, absolutely love it,” says Bogard, who joined the UW faculty in 1992 and was recently promoted to head of the Department of Music. “I get to do the two things I enjoy most in the world every day.”
She adds, “I’m very hard on my students, but they adore me and I adore them. It’s not because we’ve become friends, it’s because I’ve helped them. I take a lot of pride in providing a supportive environment to help them find what’s missing in their music. And everybody is missing something different.”
Whatever they are missing, whether in technique or musical structure, Bogard’s students faithfully believe she will help them find it.
“She is the first real teacher I’ve had,” says Jessica Pacheco, a second-year piano performance student from Brazil who has been playing for 20 years. “All the rest, I didn’t learn much. Dr. Bogard is just awesome!”
Caetano echoes Pacheco, a former classmate whom he recruited to UW.
“Nobody ever taught me some of the things I’ve learned from Dr. Bogard, so I just thought, ‘Oh, I’m great!’” he says with a laugh. “She would say, ‘You’re doing this!’ and I would say, ‘No, I’m not,’ and she would say, ‘Yes, you are. Look and listen.’ She has opened my eyes to what’s missing in my playing.”
He smiles and says, “If she was not here, I would not be here.”
Bogard’s students are greatly rewarded for putting their faith in UW.
Nona Zakharyan, an Armenian student who once told Bogard to “not be so nice” in the critique of her playing, is co-owner of the Royal Academy of Music in the Los Angeles suburb of Montebello. The school, for pre-college students, offers lessons in a wide variety of instruments and employs eight teachers in addition to Zakharyan and her husband, Davit, a violinist.
Another student, Yu “Dean” Zhang of China, is working on his doctorate at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
Others have been accepted to graduate and undergraduate programs at prominent schools such as Eastman, the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, the Manhattan School of Music and Peabody Conservatory of Music.
Inside Room 258A of the Fine Arts Center, Bogard isn’t simply teaching piano. She’s mentoring some of the world’s most exceptional young pianists, many of whom have already performed before large and paying crowds but who continue to strive for perfection.
“I am more mature,” says Jun, the soloist competition winner. “When I play piano now, I think more about every note—and that’s a good thing.” Caetano says he’s “like a million times” better now than the not-so-long-ago day he arrived in Laramie.
Another of Bogard’s students, Brock Tjosvold, a junior piano performance major from the tiny Nebraska border town of Kimball, struggles to put his improvement into words.
“Growing up in little Kimball, I don’t think I ever really knew how good I was or wasn’t. I knew I was good, at least for the area, because I would win a lot of awards,” he says. “But I remember my first studio class here. I was listening to everybody play and I just said to myself, ‘What did I get myself into?’”
The smile fades from Tjosvold’s face and he adds, “I still have a lot to do, but I feel a lot better about my playing. There are amazing pianists here, plus Dr. Bogard is here. It’s impossible not to learn.”
Even the best need to learn from somebody.
It’s Yang’s turn. She takes her place on the bench, then brushes her black hair away from her bespectacled face.
“What are you going to play?” Bogard asks the student.
After deciding on the first movement of Chopin’s Sonata No. 2, Yang is a flurry of movement, her body gliding to and fro as her slender fingers jump from one key to the next. Bogard’s studio is again a place of wondrous sound.
If you close your eyes, you could easily imagine yourself inside a grand auditorium, cradled in a plush seat that cost you more than a few dollars. Yang, who blends near-flawless technique with innate talent and an emotional connectedness to her music, plays beautifully. When Yang finishes, she leans away from the piano, swipes again at her flowing hair and then places her hands in her lap.
With music sheet in hand, Bogard scoots her chair closer to the student. “I don’t love the timing here,” she says, pointing. “It feels weird.”
Immediately, Yang tries again and Bogard nods along in approval.
“Yes!” the teacher says. “Exactly, yes!”