Curiosity and passion open doors for pianist and composer John Franek


When Westminster sophomore John Franek wakes up every morning, he does two things.  “I remember just how darn lucky I am, and then I tell myself I’m ready to fail.  Because every day I branch out and ask someone new about anything.”

This attitude and approach to life have led to some wonderful opportunities.  A piano and composition double major, he’s already well on his way to his career goal of being a touring pianist and writing contemporary art music.  

The James Caldwell High School String Consort performed his work Chamber Hearts in January.  Puzzles for Mary, a short film by Temple University student Eric Burleson, for which Franek wrote the score, will be released this spring.  In July, Franek will be the pianist for the world premiere of his Concerto for Keyboard and Strings with the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey

At Westminster, Franek is a member of the Westminster Concert Bell Choir, and his curiosity about the Princeton University carillon led to a visit with Lisa Lonie, the University’s carillonneur, and the opportunity to play the mighty instrument and also to compose a work for it.  His Concerto for Carillon and Electronics will be premiered this summer. His exploration of the Princeton Pianists Ensemble has also resulted in a request for a composition for five pianos.

This winter Franek and fellow student Holden Bihl launched a website for Exordium, which is devoted to ambient piano music as well as electroacoustic works.  Franek improvises and performs his compositions and Bihl records and edits all of the pieces.  Their first album, Night Music, was released in February; it’s available on iTunes, Amazon Music, and Spotify.

“I’m a dreamer, “ he says.  “I want to write music that doesn’t have a time stamp, or an expiration date - music that will help, music that will change the world.  I want to be established by the time I graduate.”

“John is an exceptionally gifted composer, improviser, and pianist,” says Phyllis Lehrer, his piano teacher.  “His intellect, passion for music, eagerness to learn and to grow make it a joy to be his teacher.”

Jay Kawarsky, his composition teacher, says, “John has a voracious appetite, consuming music of all styles, from the most recently composed back to medieval music.  His compositions are numerous, eclectic, and demonstrate a craftsmanship of a composer far beyond his years.”

Reflecting on his experience at Westminster, Franek says, “I love how rigorous it is.  I’m here to work.  I’m studying with a professor, not a grad student.”

He enjoys the small student body and the ability to get to know the faculty as humans and as musicians, as well as Westminster’s strong sense of community that extends far beyond graduation.

“There’s that invisible string that connects all of us,” he adds.