Take Three: Pianist Nathan Rayens Engineered Just the Right Major

Nathan Rayens at piano. At right, closeup of his hands on the keys

by Karen O'Hara, university communications and marketing

It's entirely possible that senior Nathan Rayens has figured out how to bend time. Completing a triple major in music performance, manufacturing engineering, and mechanical engineering, plus a minor in supply chain management within four years...? That's got to break at least a few of the laws of physics.

Rayens grew up in Lexington, KY. When he was six, his parents got him started on piano. His school years also included stints in the band, youth orchestra, and choir.

He admits that he wasn't always interested in practicing, but he stuck with it. Over time, his dedication increased.

As he neared the end of high school, Rayens weighed many options for college. "My mom was suggesting various ideas, my piano teacher wanted me to attend a music conservatory. Ultimately, I decided on Miami because their liberal arts core made it possible to double major," he said.

With the help of professors Siok Lian Tan (music) and Tim Cameron (mechanical & manufacturing engineering), Rayens crafted his schedule. "You have to arrive with a plan for all four years. Know when to take certain classes. Match easier or low credit classes against the more challenging ones," he said.

Bending time was not an option. The true secret to his success was his commitment to the plan and to the piano. "Piano is the best part of being at Miami," he said.

Mindfulness and Mentoring

Being a triple major meant that he carried 23-26 credit hours most semesters. To graduate on time, he picked up winter and summer term courses, and combined online study with face-to-face classes. To fit in piano practice, he sometimes headed to the CPA at two in the morning or squeezed in 45 quick minutes between meetings. Glee Club rehearsals were also in there...somewhere. And he occasionally found time to accompany soloists and ensembles in the music department.

Although his campus social life often played second fiddle, Rayens didn't spend all four years in a practice room. He used his summers and winters to travel with the Glee Club to Sweden, and to study abroad in Puerto Rico and Germany.

Nathan Rayens is seated at the piano as Dr. Tan instructs him in her studio

Nathan Rayens and Siok Lian Tan

His piano professor, Siok Lian Tan, credits Rayens' accomplishments to his passion for music and his sense of focus. "When students double major, one major often becomes secondary to the other. But I am impressed with Nathan's ability to balance both music and engineering so well," she said.

There's also a little bit of peer pressure. At Miami, piano students study both individually and in studio groups. Dr. Tan's studio currently consists of 14 undergraduate and graduate level students. Every Thursday, the students perform some of their current repertoire in studio class and discuss their playing with one another. But they also play for up to two hours on Sundays without their teacher, just to gain additional practice opportunities and feedback.

"When you're surrounded by highly-focused people, you are driven to do better. If you don't know something, it's very clear. You have to do your best at all times," Rayens says.

His current repertoire includes some of his favorite composers: Chopin, Schubert, and Rachmaninoff. When studying a new piece, he first listens to recordings to develop overall concepts about the music and to guide his approach. He focuses on a single piece at a time, simultaneously learning new ones and maintaining earlier repertoire. He might be polishing a piece for a recital while making a quick spot check on another to keep it fresh.

"It's like solving a puzzle when you learn music," he said. "Studying piano has changed my mentality and made a difference in engineering, too."

The Grandest of Finales

Nathan Rayens plays a Steinway grand in Souers Recital HallRayens' time at Miami has been marked with achievement. Besides being named an Astronaut Scholar last summer, he also received the 2018 Provost's Student Academic Achievement Award. He recently won the Miami University Concerto Competition for the second time, as well as the 2019 Geoffrey P. Hall Undergraduate Artist Concerto Competition

Rayens' final semester at Miami is surprisingly light on credit hours—only 13!—but loaded with piano performances. Coming up are senior recital, studio recitals, and a performance with the Miami University Symphony Orchestra for the winners of the Concerto Competition (see sidebar). He will be performing the third movement of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto.

After commencement, Rayens looks forward to touring Italy with the Glee Club and then to pursuing a doctorate in engineering. He expects to stick to just one major this time, but it will have to be a program that lets him take piano lessons.

Upcoming Performances

Tuesday, April 2: Geoffrey P. Hall Undergraduate Artist Competition Winners Recital and Departmental Convocation
11:40 a.m. | Souers Recital Hall

April 3: Tickling the Ivories: Dr. Tan's Studio Piano Recital and Lecture Series
5:30–6:30 p.m. | Oxford Community Arts Center Ballroom

April 7: Recital at Holy Trinity Church, Oxford

April 14: Senior Recital
5 p.m. | Souers Recital Hall

May 1: Miami University Symphony Orchestra, Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto 2, III.
7:30 p.m. | Hall Auditorium

May 4 and 5: Miami University Men's Glee Club Spring Concert
7:30 p.m. | Hall Auditorium

3 More Things...

  1. During his first semester at Miami, Rayens was recovering from a broken hip while carrying 25 credit hours.
  2. In his 'spare time' he listens to a lot of piano and orchestral music. But he also likes early R&B and soul music.
  3. He initially pursued a tuba performance major before settling on piano performance in his first semester.