Pianist Michelle Rofrano has found her place in the Music Department

Michelle RofranoMaybe Michelle Rofrano didn’t even choose the piano; maybe the piano chose her.

At age 6 Rofrano was all about the violin. But practical considerations won out: The Rofrano family received a second-hand piano, not a violin, and that was that.

“My mom said, ‘This is what we have; try piano,’ ” says the 19-year-old Rofrano, now a second-year piano-performance major at the Mason Gross School of the Arts.

Rofrano grew up listening to opera recordings with her Sicilian-born grandfather and attended her first opera, a production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, when she was only 9 or 10 years old.

“My grandfather knew more about opera than anyone I’ve ever met,” says Rofrano, a tiny, fast-talking woman with wide eyes and brown hair that reaches her waist.

Rofrano says she has found kindred spirits at the Mason Gross School. Last year she roomed with a viola student in the Mason Gross Performing Arts House on Douglass Campus, a short walk from rehearsal studios and classrooms.

“When [Mason Gross Performing Arts House residents] hang out, we listen to classical music,” she says. “…We jam in the basement ...We get opera tickets on a Saturday night. This is where I fit in: with these people who love music as much as I do.”

Despite all the good vibes, Rofrano feels her share of pressure. She has chosen to minor in English, and she tries to spend six or seven hours at the piano each day, not nearly enough time, in her estimation. Rofrano says she hopes to become a conductor.

“I personally think I’m better at English,” she says after a practice session with Professor Min Kwon, in which she plunged with gusto into Mozart’s Concerto No. 9 in E flat major, as well as two Chopin waltzes. “You write a paper, you’ll [probably] do well. Here it’s understanding the music and physically being able to perform it.”

Kwon describes Rofrano as “a performer who loves and feels the music she plays. Once in a while, in the heat of the moment, which is almost all the time when she sits down at the piano, she will get carried away and overindulge herself in…dynamic makings, etcetera. But as a teacher, I'd rather work with a student who overdoes things than with those who don’t do them at all.”

Playing the piano is “probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Rofrano says. “But I couldn’t imagine not doing it."