Heading into her senior year at Olentangy High School, Alexandra Neverov decided it was finally time to attend a summer camp.
But there was no swimming, canoeing or hiking. Instead, she was chosen to join a dozen other students from across the world to perfect her piano skills with the help of renowned music professors and hours of daily practice.
From July 14-24, Neverov took part in Kent State University's Piano Institute.
Neverov said she was encouraged by her teacher of 12 years, Nina Polonsky, to apply for the competitive program.
"She had wanted me to go to a camp for quite a while now, and I know it's my last chance because I'll be a senior this year, so I decided to go for it," she said.
In April, Neverov submitted a video of herself playing Beethoven's Third Concerto, First Movement.
"His music has always been my favorite because it's really powerful, not romantic, which makes it really fun," said Neverov, who listens to country music when she's not playing classical tunes.
As soon as she received word in May that she had been selected for the institute, Neverov began meeting with her teacher twice a week and upping her daily practice hours in preparation to play alongside students from all over America, Russia, the Czech Republic and China.
"I like it because it's a really intensive program," Polonsky said. "When they get to the end of the camp, there really is a difference in how they play."
While at the institute, pianists spent four hours each day practicing at the Hugh A. Glauser School of Music. Following practice, students attended college-level seminars with master pianists.
On the last day of the institute, the 13 young musicians took the stage for a concert at Severance Hall's Reinberger Chamber Hall in Cleveland.
Neverov said she prefers to play for herself and not for audiences, but studying at the institute taught her some tricks to overcome that. She said she also has changed her daily practice techniques to mimic those she learned during her time at Kent State.
Aside from her musical improvement, Neverov said her favorite part of the 11-day institute was connecting with other young pianists who take the hobby seriously.
"Those relationships taught me a lot, because sometimes your friends don't understand why you have to miss things just so you can practice playing piano again," she said.
"The last day was a complete tear-fest," Neverov remembered.
Polonsky said when she typically sends students away to piano camps, they often get homesick, but she also said she's not surprised Neverov reacted differently.
"It's a pleasure to teach her and to know her," Polonsky said. "You want to be friends with her, not just her teacher, because she's a very, very sweet girl."
Neverov hasn't chosen a college yet, but as a pianist and a member of Olentangy Keynotes show choir, she said she would like to pursue a degree in music. As the bilingual daughter of Russian immigrants, she said international affairs also could be in her future.
Despite where she ends up, piano will be a major part of her life, she said. It's taught her discipline and focus, and she said it will be a lifelong pastime.
"I like playing around with songs lyrically and seeing what I can do," she said. "I think that's why I've stuck with piano so long. I try to conquer songs and I like the challenge."