Polish grad’s musical talent translates to success
NAME: Jessica Bieniarz
BEST KNOWN AS: Maine East High School’s top cellist
HOMETOWN: Des Plaines
Updated: June 5, 2012 11:45AM
It was music that brought Jessica Bieniarz to the United States four years ago.
Now, as a graduating senior from Park Ridge’s Maine East High School, it is music that will keep her here as she prepares for new endeavors at a prestigious Ohio music school.
Bieniarz, of Des Plaines, will be attending Oberlin College’s Conservatory of Music in the fall, an educational opportunity her parents dreamed of when the family left their native Poland in order for Bieniarz to study music in the United States.
As a young girl attending music school following a successful audition process, Bieniarz took up the cello at the suggestion of her mother.
“My mom said I should play cello so I wouldn’t have to stand,” Bieniarz recounted.
As it turned out, Bieniarz grew to love the instrument, which she has now been playing for 12 years.
“It sounds beautiful,” she said. “And you can play high and low notes, not like the violin with only the high notes.”
When Bieniarz arrived at Maine East she came knowing music, but not English. Initially, she did not think much about it.
“I came here to get a better music education, so English wasn’t that important to me,” she acknowledged. “Eventually I learned English because I tend to talk a lot. People would talk to me and I talked to them.”
Bieniarz further perfected her language skills by taking English as a Second Language courses at Maine East and through weekend study at the Music Institute of Chicago.
“There were no Polish people there so no one could talk to me in my own language,” she said of the Music Institute. “That helped a lot, actually. I had to communicate in English all the time. Plus, I talk a lot.”
Bieniarz left Maine East’s ESL program by the end of her sophomore year and now ranks in the top 20 percent of her class, according to Principal Michael Pressler, who nominated her for a District 207’s Best award earlier this school year.
“She is a Maine East success story,” said Edward Eubank, chairman of Maine East’s Fine Arts Department, who initially asked Bieniarz to play for him when she first arrived at the school. He recalled meeting Bieniarz in the ESL office, where she played the violin for him, but upon learning that she had a cello background Eubank brought her to the orchestra room, where she proceeded to wow him with a Haydn concerto.
“I realized we were dealing with a really talented woman,” Eubank said.
He added: “This is a girl who has taken seriously the opportunities she’s been given in order to expand her talent. She really has a strong potential future as a professional cellist.”
Bieniarz’s talent has earned her a spot on the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra (“That was pretty awesome,” she acknowledged) in addition to Maine East’s orchestra, in which she has taken on the role of a section leader. She has also studied music at Northwestern University under cellist Hans Jensen, who recommended she apply to Oberlin College’s Conservatory of Music.
But ask Bieniarz to share her best memory of the past four years and she will point to Maine East’s 2011 production of the quirky musical, “Hairspray,” in which she played a character she remembers only as “some blond chick.”
“That was amazing,” Bieniarz said of the experience, which put her on the acting side of a Maine East performance for a change.
The physicality of the role was also a welcome departure from sitting stationary with a cello.
“When you just play concerts you sit and people and people listen to you,” she explained. “When you do (a musical) you have to do a couple things at the same time, like dancing, moving and remembering things, changing costumes.”
Musical theater itself was also something completely new to Bieniarz.
“We don’t really have musicals in Poland so when I came here I was really amazed by that,” she said.
As for her future beyond Maine East High School, Bieniarz is waiting to see where the music takes her.
“I plan to continue with (with music) and be a musician, but let’s see what happens,” she said. “I really like chamber music, which is quartets, playing in small groups. I really like doing that. Orchestra is really fun, too. That would be a good goal.”