2012 First Prize Recipient
What is your first memory of playing the piano?
There are photos of my mother trying valiantly to play through books of jazz standards while my sister and I (both toddlers) stand on tip-toes on either side of the piano bench and bang on the keys, but I would be lying if I said I actually remembered this. My first memory of playing involves my first few lessons, when I was five. I had begged my mother to give me piano lessons for months, and she finally relented, telling me that she would give me a few lessons to make me realize that it was too hard and that I was too young. As I was highly stubborn and wanted to prove her wrong, I made it through five or six lessons before I got bored and decided to quit. But stubbornness runs on either side of the generational gap, and when I informed her of my intent, she sat me down sternly and told me that I wasn't allowed to quit when learning became hard, because anyone could quit then. She informed me that now that I had started, she would not let me quit until I was in eighth-grade and could make an informed decision about quitting. At the time, it seemed like an eternity to me. But she was right.
What (or whom) would you say is your biggest inspiration when playing the piano?
My biggest inspiration for playing is the power of music to express raw emotion and spirituality in a language that's at once highly structured and analyzable but at the same time totally mysterious and intangible. And of all musicians, we pianists get the most ability to direct multiple voices at once, which lends a level of depth to our control of music's ability to speak emotion.
Why do you think competitions are useful for young pianists such as yourself?
I didn't compete in any competitions until half a year ago, midway through my junior year of high school. This competition was my third competition of four so far. I began competing with the preconceived notion that competitions were a necessary evil, and that it was time that I throw myself into a bigger pool of pianists to meet others and be judged. But I've fully enjoyed every competition I've been in. I think they're excellent for young pianists: not only have they given me incentive and pressure to practice (deadlines have always been my friend), but they've allowed me to meet peers with whom I've become friends and elders from whom I've gotten great advice. All the competitions I've been in have been highly friendly and nurturing. So I think they're excellent, provided competitors never take the actual competing part (i.e. being judged, receiving a ranking) too seriously.
What are your career aspirations or plans for the future?
I don't yet know if I want to be a pianist. I'm looking at conservatory/college double degree programs, as my other main interests are math/physics and theater. Music will be a powerful force in my life no matter what, but I'm still holding out hope that I can link my interests all together somehow. It's possible: lately I've been spending sleepless nights with a calculator and microtonal playback software messing with standing waves, the overtone series, and just intonation systems which approximate harmonics better than our equal division of the octave into 12 parts. And last spring, I played Hamlet in a high school production for which I wrote original rock music for the soliloquies (I rolled my eyes when I heard of the director's conception for the production, but it worked wonderfully: Hamlet is the quintessential rebellious, adolescent poet and artist) and played Beethoven op. 111 in a two-piano duel which replaced the climactic sword fight between Hamlet and Laertes. So hopefully I can keep following my interests and be somewhat bohemian while still being payed.