Kiesse Nanor

Year of Graduation: 
Exeter student Kiesse Nanor

“That's the most important thing about Exeter — you make so many friends ... and you form really strong bonds."

For Kiesse Nanor ’22, playing the piano is many things: an outlet for emotional expression; a family tradition; and equal to, if not above all else, a time machine to the past. 

When the Maryland native looks down across the repeating pattern of keys and launches into a piece by Chopin or Mozart, she is not just playing music, she’s conversing with some of history’s most legendary musicians. 

As a chamber musician at Exeter and true student of the classical genre, Nanor feels that to truly be able to perform these timeless works as they are intended, first you need to understand the creators on a deeper level.

“These composers, they had extremely interesting personal lives,” she says. “Getting to know that personal experience and how it affects their musical intentions, and trying to honor that, is always something that I like to play around with.”

As the 16-year-old gets to know these larger-than-life figures, she’s found some to be more approachable than others, but relishes the challenge of playing the work of the notoriously cantankerous Beethoven, whose intensity is known to send performers careening off course.

“His work is really fun even though it's difficult to harness his emotional rawness in a performance while making sure that you're still in control of the piece,” she says.

Ask her to pick a favorite composer and before she can settle on one, she’s listed off several candidates. 

“I just really love Mendelssohn's music, and Bach is also such a staple,” she says. “I’ve started to learn some Brahms, which I think is really interesting because he's a character that I haven't really explored before.”

Starting off on the right note

Born to musically inclined parents, Nanor started on her journey at the age of 3 when she received her first piano. More of a toy than a concert-ready baby grand, the rudimentary instrument served as starting point and lives in her mind as one of her earliest memories. 

“I remember sitting and poking at the keys,” she says. “I can't actually consciously remember a time when I didn't know how to play the piano.”

At age 5 she made the transition to a full-sized keyboard, and a short while later, sensing her passion, Nanor's parents invested in an upright Steinway and professional lessons for their daughter. 

“They sat me down and talked about the cost of the piano and they wanted to make sure that I was going to take it seriously,” she says. “Even at that age I knew how much of an impact it could make on other people and the connections that I could have with other people because of it.” 

Exeter student Kiesse Nanor performing a song on the piano

Over a decade later, Nanor continues to honor the investment her parents made in her musical future. 

“I think there’s really only been a couple of days in the 11 years that I’ve been playing that I’ve gone without practicing.” 

Honing her craft

That level of dedication continues today. In addition to daily practice and rehearsals for chamber ensemble, Nanor travels to Boston every Saturday of the school year to further her studies at the New England Conservatory and Preparatory School.

The lower’s other musical pursuits have her singing with a jazz a cappella group and as a member of Exeter’s concert choir, under the tutelage of Instructors Kris Johnson and Jerome Walker. 

“There's so many different ways I feel that you can change someone's experience when they're listening to you sing, and Mr. Johnson works through the technicalities of that,” she says. “Mr. Walker has a lot of experience not only in classical music but also jazz, so he's really helpful when we have any technical or musical questions.”

On the national stage

Recently Nanor performed for a national audience as a guest on NPR's "From the Top." Hear her performance of "Widmung" by Robert Schumann as arranged by Franz Liszt:


Still a kid

Nanor’s affinity for refined compositions doesn’t preclude her from enjoying modern pop music. She cites Harry Styles and Taylor Swift as favorites.

“I feel like listening to pop music is nice because it's like I don't have to necessarily listen with an intent. I can just listen to enjoy it,” she says.

As Nanor and her Wheelwright Hall dorm mates look forward to returning to campus, they are staying connected while apart this spring by chatting via FaceTime and watching movies together virtually via Netflix Party. 

“All of us are really eager to hold onto our relationships with each other,” she says. “That's the most important thing about Exeter — you make so many friends that you wouldn't have met otherwise and you form these really strong bonds.”

Adam Loyd