GREENSBORO — Back in elementary school, Audrey Puschinsky listened in awe to young pianists play at the Eastern Music Festival.
I wonder if I will ever be good enough to be one of those older college kids at EMF? Puschinsky thought back then.
"I thought they were so good," she recalled. "It would inspire me to want to go home and practice."
This summer, Puschinsky is one of those older college kids at EMF.
"Now I'm playing the same stuff that they're playing in those same recitals," she said. "It's kind of a full circle moment for me."
At 21, the High Point resident is a rising senior at Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. EMF Music Director Gerard Schwarz also directs that orchestra.
At Guilford College-based EMF, she joins 192 pre-professional musicians — most of them ages 14 to 23 — from around the country studying classical music with professionals and performing public concerts over five weeks.
Ten students are from North Carolina, four from the Triad.
Among the 192 students, 12 study piano.
This is Puschinsky's second summer at EMF. She's happy to be in what she calls "a fabulous piano program."
"The professors here, William Wolfram and Awadagin Pratt, are wonderful teachers and performers themselves," Puschinsky said. "I wanted to study with them.
"Also, with COVID still being around, I didn’t want to have to travel. It didn’t hurt that one of the country’s most renowned festivals is just a town away."
Pratt, a concert pianist, called EMF piano students "a very strong group. Everyone is playing at a high level."
Puschinsky, he said, "did a great Mendelssohn chamber trio this week, and I'm looking forward to her Mendelssohn piano sonata this weekend."
Last summer, the COVID-19 pandemic canceled EMF's in-person season, replacing it with some online programming. Puschinsky's acceptance for last summer carried over into this year.
After Puschinsky's performance in a Young Artist Chamber Recital this week, she and parents Dr. Maria Puschinsky, Dr. Richard Puschinsky and stepfather Mozi Tahmaseb talked about her love for the piano and EMF.
Puschinsky's parents owned a piano since before she was born.
She started taking piano lessons at age 3 at what is now the Music Academy of North Carolina, then added violin lessons at age 4.
"I don’t remember this, but my parents told me that when I was really little, I would have a lot of temper tantrums and the only thing that would calm me down was piano music," Puschinsky said.
Drs. Maria Puschinsky and Richard Puschinsky would play piano recordings, their daughter recalled, then added piano lessons.
"And it just worked out," Audrey said with a laugh.
She could read music before she could read, her father recalled.
Her parents began taking her to watch EMF concerts, orchestra rehearsals and master classes when she was 5, when her feet probably didn't reach the floor in Guilford College's Dana Auditorium.
"I thought they would be a great way to introduce her to world-class musicians locally," said Maria Puschinsky, a veterinarian. "It was like a game to see how many EMF concerts we could get to in a summer. One summer, we had 35."
Even though Audrey fell asleep during some concerts, "She seemed to enjoy her practice and her recitals more after she’d experienced these kinds of performances," added Richard Puschinsky, a urologist.
Although she didn't understand everything she heard, Audrey said: "It was getting embedded into my brain. ... Even if I didn’t know the name of a piece, I would hear it and think I have heard that, probably at EMF, when I was like 9."
For several years, Puschinsky played both piano and violin. That's fairly common for young people to play two instruments, particularly pianists, she said.
Many pianists have played violin before, her mother explained, adding that players of other instruments are required to play some piano.
Starting in fourth grade, Puschinsky played violin in the Winston-Salem Youth Symphonies.
At 14, just before entering high school, she studied violin at EMF.
For high school, she wanted to attend the UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. She knew she had to choose one instrument.
"I just had a feeling that piano was the right one," Puschinsky said. "I think I was always a bit better at it. I struggled with staying in tune on the violin.
"Now, I don't see myself as a violinist."
Puschinsky estimates that she practices piano close to five hours each day, in addition to lessons, classes, rehearsals and performances.
Summers have taken her to study at other music festivals, such as the Brevard Music Center Summer Institute & Festival and Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival in Vermont.
In additional to traditional classical music, Puschinsky said, she likes new music.
"That’s where classical music is going right now, to the more experimental stuff — the stuff that was written in the last 50 years," she said. "Knowing how to play that kind of stuff will get you hired."
Now, one week remains at EMF.
At 3 p.m. Sunday, Puschinsky will be among students performing in a final piano recital at Dana Auditorium.
She admits that it could be tough to leave EMF on Aug. 1.
After her senior year, Puschinsky plans to seek master's and doctorate degrees for a career in piano.
"I can't see myself doing anything else," she said.
Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at 336-373-5204 and follow @dawndkaneNR on Twitter.