Natalie Doughty Graduate Student at Dublin International Festival

Graduate School

JMU Piano Student One Of 16 Selected To Attend Dublin International Piano Festival and Summer Academy

Posted: August 8, 2015 By Matt Gonzales Daily News-Record

Doughty at piano

Natalie Doughty, sitting at the piano, recently took part in a string of overseas festivals, including the Zodiac Music Festival, July 4-15 in Valdeblore, France, and the Dublin International Piano Festival and Summer Academy, from July 25-Aug. 2 in Dublin, Ireland. Space at the Dublin Festival is limited to just 16 students, whom officials hand-select from different corners of the world. (Courtesy Photo)

Doughty at festival

Doughty (center), at the Zodiac Music Festival in Valdeblore, France, graduated summa cum laude in May from James Madison University with a degree in piano performance. She plans to go back for a 2-year graduate assistantship to continue her piano studies. (Courtesy Photo)

Doughty at piano

Natalie Doughty, at the Dublin International Piano Festival and Summer Academy, says attending the festival ranks “pretty highly” on her list of musical accomplishments so far. (Courtesy Photo)

Natalie Doughty fell in love with the piano around the time most children learn the alphabet.

She recalls lying in her bed as a young child, eyes wide and jaw agape, attentively listening to various classical piano CDs — usually the works of Johann Sebastian Bach — that her mother would play for her each evening. She remembers the astonishment that overtook her as she wondered how it was possible for ten fingers to bring to life such colorful, spectacular sounds.

Shortly thereafter, her intentions became clear: She wanted to become a pianist. She began taking lessons from her mother — also an accomplished pianist — Svetlana Doughty.

“My earliest memory with the piano is learning the names of the lines of the treble clef,” said Doughty, noting how she would employ pedagogical methods to learn the notes E-G-B-D-F — Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge — and sound them aloud as a memorization technique.

Svetlana Doughty recalls marveling at her daughter’s progress in learning the piano at such a young age.

“She started playing when she was 4 years old, simple stuff, nothing fancy,” recalled Svetlana Doughty. “Then by the time she was 6, she would climb on stage, perform in front of a crowd and smile and bow like a seasoned performer — it was a joy to watch.”

Nearly two decades later, Natalie Doughty, 21, has forged a career out of the instrument that captured her attention as a child and is building quite the resume in the process. In May, she graduated summa cum laude from James Madison University, in Harrisonburg, with a degree in piano performance.

She recently concluded a month long musical voyage overseas, showing off her piano chops at a string of prestigious festivals, including the Zodiac Music Festival, July 4-15 in Valdeblore, France, and the Dublin International Piano Festival and Summer Academy, from July 25-Aug. 2 in Dublin, Ireland.

Her attendance at the latter event, which she attended as a solo study, caught her by surprise. The space is limited to just 16 students, whom festival officials hand-select from different corners of the world. They are “the next generation of pianists,” as described by an event press release.

“I was completely astonished,” said Doughty, of her invite. “I couldn’t believe it at all.”

The Dublin International Piano Festival and Summer Academy is a classical music program made up of concerts and masterclasses for both students and lovers of piano. Selected students have the opportunity to learn from international master pianists, attend seminars with accomplished performance psychologists and world-renowned composers, and perform the works of Claude Debussy, Frederic Chopin, Alexander Scriabin and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in private and group masterclass sessions.

Natalie Doughty said the event was “an absolute joy,” while noting the high levels of performance, intellect and friendliness from each of the participants and instructors on hand.

The concentrated seminars, masterclasses and lessons she participated in helped foster her skills, supporting Doughty on her path.

“I will always consider the Dublin Festival as one of the most precious pianistic experiences I have had,” she said.

‘On The Right Track’

While the Dublin International Piano Festival may have been a foreign experience for the Harrisonburg native, she is no stranger to local, regional and statewide piano competitions. Since she was 7 years old, she has competed in piano competitions, such as the International Young Artist’s Competition, Virginia Music Teachers Association Competitions, Bland Festival and the Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival.

At many of these events, as well as the host of others at which she’s performed over the years, she recalls her pieces being “very well received” by audiences.

But while her talents have garnered her local acclaim and various awards, recognitions and brass along the way, she also knows what it’s like to experience defeat. On countless occasions, she has stood on the sidelines only to watch another pianist realize victory.

According to her father, John Doughty, she hasn’t let defeat define her. If anything, it pushes her, serving as the fuel to ignite her desire to improve.

“The beautiful thing is that there’s always a learning experience that comes with losing,” said John Doughty. “In many ways, those defeats were more beneficial than the victories.”

Svetlana Doughty echoed this sentiment, adding how her daughter has responded well to criticism, both constructive and crass, over the years and perpetually identifies avenues of improvement.

“She’s had some setbacks in life, but she’s never given up,” she said. “She has a unique disposition in that she doesn’t crumble under pressure.”

Natalie Doughty attributes this temperament to a discipline born from Biblical texts Zechariah 4:10 and Matthew 25:23, which emphasize the importance of focusing on and working out the “little things” of life, from which great things are made.

“Every morning, every day, you’re in the practice room doing the little things — singing, counting, working out tricky passages, drilling in rhythms, and slow practicing,” she said. “When people are focused on a finished product or result, it is easy for them to get discouraged when things don’t work out as quickly or positively as they had imagined.”

She added, “Being accepted into these festivals validates that approach to me and basically means ‘you’re on the right track.’”

‘What Lies Ahead’

While Doughty may have been flabbergasted by her admission into the Dublin Festival, her piano instructor at JMU, Lori Piitz, was far from it. She couldn’t hold back her laughter when admitting she wasn’t in the least surprised by Doughty’s acceptance into the program.

“When she plays, you’re wrapped up in her world and many people are engaged by that,” said Piitz, before calling her a “model student” in the classroom studio.

She also referred to Doughty as a dedicated pianist who is constantly absorbing information in order to improve as a performer.
“She has great aspirations for making this her career,” added Piitz. “And she’s been a pleasure to have in the studio.”

Doughty says her experience in Dublin ranks “pretty highly” on her list of musical accomplishments so far, noting the unique chance to work with some of the world’s most accomplished faculty and pianists and foster relationships with her peers on an international level.

John and Svetlana Doughty are continually amazed at their daughter’s journey, and how she continues to add to her repository of achievements.

“She’s had some amazing help [from piano instructors] over the years, and we’re just thankful for those opportunities,” said John Doughty, referring to Piitz, Svetlana Doughty and local piano instructor Maurita Eberly, who tutored Natalie Doughty during high school.

While many parents may be proud of their children’s accomplishments, when John Doughty speaks on his oldest daughter’s journey, you can’t help but feel the elation in his words.

After pausing to collect his thoughts and steady his emotions, John Doughty continued.

“My daughter has a great future ahead of her,” he said, in nearly a whisper. “And we’re very proud of her.”

What’s next for Natalie Doughty upon returning to the Valley? More learning, more performing and a touch of teaching.

Shortly before graduation, she accepted a 2-year graduate assistantship to continue her piano studies at JMU. She also plans to continue playing at various local events and teach a few students in the art of her most cherished instrument.

“I am not sure what the future holds for me beyond that,” she explained, “but I am excited to see what lies ahead.”

Contact Matt Gonzales at (540) 574-6265 or

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Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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