In her blue jeans and ballet flats, Alice Burla looks like your typical Westchester preteen, nestled on the couch with her parents, Nely and Marat, a Winnie-the-Pooh bear on her lap. The 11-year-old delights in showing her two guinea pigs, the framed jigsaw puzzles she’s completed, her origami and beaded-jewelry kits in her typical girlie-pink bedroom, with piles of books stacked everywhere. She loves swimming, dance, and music—emphasis on music (mostly classical with some jazz). Indeed, two Yamaha grand pianos duel for space in the living room, lined with bookcases filled with sheet music, LPs, and CDs.
She comes from a musical family: her parents and older brother are pianists, her grandfather a concert violinist. Originally from the Ukraine, the family immigrated to Toronto, where Alice was born. “I started hearing music before I was born,” she says, “but didn’t start playing until I was two, just repeating what I heard.” Formal lessons started at age four.
Three years later, Alice made her New York debut at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall after winning first place in the Eighth Annual New York Music Competition and first place in the National Finals of the Canadian Music Competition in 2002. She is one of the youngest students ever to be accepted to the Juilliard School Pre-College Division.
So how did Alice get to Carnegie Hall in just seven short years? By practicing at least four hours a day. “But it isn’t the amount of hours you spend practicing that matters,” she points out. “As I’m drifting off to sleep, I can hear the music in my head. It is always with me. I can still be learning without ever touching the piano keys.”
// Nancy L. Claus