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Finding what it takes: performance major discovers her identity through piano

When Cloie Dobias was a toddler, she would reach up and bang on the keys of her family's 1936 Steinway piano. The piano was only one of around eight of its kind, and had been passed down through her family.

"I'm sure it sounded terrible, but it was really exciting," Cloie said.

Her parents took note of her interest in the instrument at such a young age and once she was old enough, around four or five years old, they signed her up for her first piano lesson.

Now a senior piano performance major at Miami University, Cloie has continued taking lessons at least once per week since then.

Cloie also has a double major in psychology, and she wasn't always sure she wanted to study music. She wasn't sure she had what it takes.

Erika, her best friend growing up, played french horn at the Denver School of the Arts, a high school that focuses on music education and prepares students to audition for college music programs. Cloie attended a public high school.

She constantly compared herself to her friend. She didn't see herself as being on that same level, and convinced herself that studying music in college wasn't the path she should choose.

"I think I was just feeling a little bit lost," Cloie said. "I didn't know what I wanted to study because I was like, 'Well I know I shouldn't do music because I'm not ready, but I don't know what else I would do.'"

One night, Cloie went to her friend's concert. She was sitting in the audience and as soon as the orchestra began tuning their instruments, she burst into tears.

"I was like, 'there's no way I can't study music,'" Cloie said. "I love music so much and I use it to define myself. When people ask me to tell them something about myself, my go-to fun fact is that I play piano."

Soon after arriving at Miami from her home in Denver for her first year, it became clear that this would be a lot more intensive than playing recitals with 6-year-olds.

Siok Lian Tan, Cloie's piano professor at Miami, calls herself the tiger mom of her students.

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"She's really hard on us, but I really needed that, especially freshman year," Cloie said.

The piano teachers Cloie had before college would praise her despite the fact she didn't practice between lessons.

"That would not work here," Cloie said. "[Dr. Tan] would be like, 'Why are you wasting my time? Why did you even come here? You should've cancelled your lesson!'"

Though the piano studio course is only three credit hours, students are expected to practice four hours each day. Cloie tries to set aside time each day to meet this quota -- usually later at night around 9 p.m. -- but she admits that some days, she doesn't quite hit the four-hour mark.

In addition to this rigorous practice schedule, Cloie also wasn't accustomed to performing alone on stage in front of an audience. She played in an orchestra in high school and only ever belonged to one piano studio that had recitals.

Her piano teacher at that studio was a sweet lady from Ireland who was a family friend. Cloie was about 16 at the time, making her about 10 years older than the rest of the students in the studio. She didn't feel challenged, and the audience at their recitals was comprised mainly of parents videotaping their 6-year-olds.

She knew her first formal recital at Miami would be a bit more serious, so Cloie put on a nice dress and did her makeup, which she hardly ever does. She was playing in a non-degree recital, so it wasn't something that she was required to do. She thought it would be a good experience, but looking back on it, she knows she wasn't ready for it at the time.

"It was like I blacked out for the whole recital," Cloie said. "I remember going and being there and people at the end saying that it was wonderful, but I also remember playing and thinking, 'I don't know what comes next.'"

Music performance majors are required to do two recitals, one their junior year and the other their senior year. Juniors have to memorize and perform 30 minutes of music and seniors do an hour. Their music selections should include pieces from a variety of different composers and time periods, to reflect the breadth of their abilities.

Cloie remembers standing backstage before her junior recital feeling oddly calm, despite her previous performance experiences. She's not sure what came over her, but looks back on it as a turning point in her musical career.

"If I miss a note, probably no one's even going to notice as long as I keep going," Cloie said. "That's one of the things about being a performance major -- it's never going to be exactly how you want it to be, but that's one of the biggest things I've learned. Being a good performer is dealing with those things gracefully."

She began preparing for her senior recital almost the day after her junior recital. She spent this past summer in Oxford, which gave her plenty of time to learn the pieces she selected. When the semester started, she could focus on polishing the pieces, since she's learned that playing piano is more than just hitting all of the notes.

In addition to preparing for her senior recital, Cloie is the president and accompanist for the Miami University Choraliers, a women's choral group. She also works as an accompanist for Miami's music department, where she plays piano for students or faculty at recitals or other events.

Cloie also gives group and individual piano lessons to elementary and middle school students at the Oxford Music Academy.

"I didn't initially think that I wanted to teach at all...I feel like I took a chance in accepting my first teaching job and I didn't think I'd like it, but I thought I could use some money," she said. "But I don't even care if I get paid now because it's so rewarding to get to develop relationships with students."

When she's not sitting at a piano, Cloie works as a research assistant in the Trauma and Emotion Regulation Lab in Miami's Psychology Department, where she studies topics such as sexual assault and childhood maltreatment and how they affect behavior.

Her work in the lab has inspired her post-graduation goal of getting her Ph.D in clinical psychology. Her dream job is researching how music education can help children who have been deprived of a normal loving environment while also working with people and teaching them piano.

"I've seen in my own life the healing properties that music can have," she said. "In high school, I would be super angsty and I would just go sit at the piano and feel comforted by that, even if I didn't play. It gives you a sense of control and creation and I think it can really help people who have been hurt in any way."

fentermc@miamioh.edu

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