Sean Kennard knew he wanted to be a professional pianist when he was 10 years old. “A few months after I took my first lesson, my teacher recommended we buy a Steinway,” Kennard says. A Steinway — not a Yamaha or a Kawai, but the holiest of holies in the piano world. This teacher knew that Kennard needed an instrument to match his abilities.

Since a Steinway is not exactly something you just go out and buy, Kennard and his parents put a good deal of consideration into the idea. “My dad asked me how committed I would be,” he says, and that’s when he made his decision. A Steinway B, purchased by his grandmother, arrived at his house on Christmas Eve of that year, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Kennard’s early devotion to his instrument is perhaps even more impressive because he grew up in Hawaii. In a state where surfing is practically a required pastime, it wasn’t always easy to come inside and tie himself down to the piano. Hawaii, however, would be but a temporary distraction; after three years of lessons, Kennard moved to Philadelphia to attend the Curtis Institute. Not surprisingly, the transition was rough at first: “Leaving Hawaii … and entering a music scene like Curtis had a huge effect on my development. It wasn’t easy the first few years, because I didn’t have much experience compared to most of the other students. My teachers could be very discouraging.”

But the intensive courseload at Curtis, which trains students specifically for careers as professional musicians, had major payoffs, including helping Kennard maintain the highest of standards for his playing and performance. The expertise he developed at Curtis led him to the College of Charleston for an Artist Certificate, and he is now completing his master’s degree at the Juilliard School in New York.

In addition to pursuing his studies, he has also created a successful career that includes performances as a soloist on five continents; performances at Carnegie Hall, Warsaw’s Chopin Society, and Japan’s Tokyo Opera City Recital Hall; and winning top awards in national and international competitions, including the National Chopin Competition.

Chopin is one of Kennard’s particular favorites, and the composer has had a huge influence on his development as a pianist. “A large part of my repertoire during my first years playing was Chopin. The 24 Études were particularly important … I played a recital of the Études in Hawaii on my 13th birthday, and I used them to audition at Curtis.” Listening to Kennard’s playing of Chopin’s Preludes on his latest CD, which was just released on CofC’s Cougar Classics label, it’s easy to see how this young pianist got to where he is today. These highly technical pieces are played cleanly and with a subtlety of expression that displays a deep-seated artistic talent, with the technical chops to match.

Kennard is performing in Charleston as part of CofC’s International Piano Series, which brings eminent pianists from around the globe to the Lowcountry to give public recitals and master classes to students. Lauded as “one of the most distinguished music students” the college has produced, Kennard will be performing pieces by Scarlatti, Chopin, Debussy, and Samuel Barber.