My Music Journey
Thanks for your interests in knowing my personal story and how I become a musician (so far).
I was born in a musician-visual artist family, with my mother--associate professor--has taught accordion and keyboard instruments at conservatory for over 30 years. My father, as a visual artist in oil painting and wood-prints, graduated from Fine Arts College. I also have a younger brother, who is five years younger than me, in the field of another world of beauty: diamonds and gems. One of my mom’s dreams, which will probably not come true, is my brother and me playing duo, either piano duos, or flute and piano (he learned flute playing for three months!).
As other children who learn the piano, as a profession or amateur, I began my piano playing at an early age, 4 years and 3 months, in my hometown Tianjin, China. Luckily, my mom is a musician. Like other parents, she supervised my practice almost every day until a certain age, by the time both of us get bored/fight/crying during my daily practice (for a period of time). During that period, I remember that one day I didn't cry and it was like a celebration, something really special happened. There were different ways of our rewarding system, such as candies, nuts, chocolate, etc. If I played well throughout a piece, I would get a treat; if the next time was not good, I would return the treat.
WOW! Actually, I don’t remember much about playing games, watching TV, and traveling, that's why I am so into traveling now! (I will put a travel blog too). Those "waste time" are not important, which I may forget those entertainment anyways. Besides Practice the Piano, I did watch a little cartoon, play a lot of puzzles, some drawing, some sports but no swimming (as I pleading my mom for do NOT send me by promising practice the piano as many hours as I can).
Looking back, I appreciate my early musical education, thankful to my teachers, who trained me with solid foundation so that I can still pursue music as a career after a while (I didn't go to the school affiliated to conservatory, please continue to read). I am grateful to my parents, who support me unconditionally throughout my life and studies; especially my mom, who helped me tremendously in those practice days.
Practice routine in my elementary school: 2 hours or more during the school year (weekdays), 4-5 hours during the weekend and the summer. I rarely practice 6 hours or more, physically and mentally it is not realistic, also it's not durable for the next day, even as for now. Thankfully, my mom is not a tiger mom. OH by the way, not to mention that piano exams and competitions are usually held in the summer back then, that's why I don't have family vacations.
First Competition, 1997
First public performance, 1997
At the first turning point, elementary school to middle school
I was in one of the best elementary schools in Tianjin, and academic studies are so easy for me (compared to the piano, which is probably one of many positive results if your kids play the piano). With my learning ability and passion for liberal arts, maths and science, unlike a typical pianist’s path, I didn’t apply for the Conservatory Affiliated Middle School. My parents think it’s better for my future, as a well-rounded musician, to learn more academic knowledge. I was admitted to one of the top schools in my city, and spent three years of studying at Tianjin Yaohua (Huaxing) Middle School.
At the second turning point, Tianjin Nankai high school or Tianjin Conservatory Affiliated high school?
I got into the Conservatory Affiliated High School during my junior year of middle school (before the Chinese SSAT), but I also did well in "SSAT" exam. So I, myself (also supported by my parents), decided to further my liberal arts, maths and science education at the top Tianjin Nankai High School, where the first Chinese Premier Zhou En’lai graduated in 1913. I chose Science as my concentration at the end of the freshman year (which we had to decide, either liberal arts or science). One year later, those questions comes back again, university or conservatory? Tianjin Nankai High School attracts lots of top students all over the city and the towns around. As in New York city, peer pressure of studying in top high schools is higher than other schools in Tianjin. I did fine in my high school studies, but not as top as in my earlier education. I remember the best I scored was when I ranked 15/50 in my class, and 149 out of 450 in my year (I don't remember the worst, lol). At sophomore, I hesitated what major I am interested in for the college, what I would like to pursue as a lifetime career. Unfortunately and fortunately, in China, high school students need to form some idea of majors/career they want to study in college.
At the third turning point, university or conservatory? Pursuing music as a major or music special students admitted to a university? –It has to be determined during the last high school year.
In China, the major studied in college is mostly determined at the entrance exam (Chinese SAT), transferring major (within college) after admission is possible but it's very limited and not easy. My parents persuaded me to pursue music as a major (applying for conservatory) since my sophomore year, however, I was not confident to compete with the students from the conservatory affiliated school. Most of their time is about studying music, and practice. Most of my time in high school was about studying maths, science, liberal arts and doing exercises, although I did participate competitions during the summer and took irregular lessons through my middle and high school. Meanwhile, I was not familiar with the majors offered in general university and college either, what does the major really study? What to do after graduation? etc. That's an illusion for most high school students in China.
A significant person in my life told me, and I always give credit for him, who really awoke me,
“Have you thought that, if you don’t apply for conservatory, not pursuing the piano as your major, then the piano can only be your HOBBY.”
This words really lit me up, I have begun my piano playing since I was four. My heart leads me that I don’t want the piano becomes just a hobby. Maybe it's ok for others to play the piano as a hobby, an entertainment, but not for me. I found my real passion and love, for the piano, music, and arts. I decided to apply for conservatory as my undergraduate major and study abroad in the future. I did get into the first grade with honor at the Piano Audition in Tsing'hua University, and I ranked no. 2 in Nankai University’s audition.
I decided not to take advantages of the auditions to pursue a major and career in science at university/college. Instead, after a circle and hesitation, I began my undergraduate studies in piano performance at Tianjin Conservatory of Music, where I was the highest student with the Chinese SAT score, 566 (maths 131/150). (I will skip how I was overwhelmed in the first month...). Later, I transferred to the United States, earned my Bachelor's degree, and extended my studies at NYU, Manhattan School of Music. Currently, I am a doctorate candidate at CUNY--Graduate Center in New York city, under full scholarship.
Without the knowledge, the ability of studying, and all that I get from my early education, I wouldn’t be the same as I am now. I probably wouldn’t further my studies to the doctorate level, writing a dissertation over 100 pages. I probably will not be able to teach students with a scientific approach and explanation. I can't imagine what my life would be if I haven't pursue music as my career. One thing that I am sure, my life might be not as exciting, as colorful, as passionate, etc, as I am now.
Do what I love, Love what I do.
September 24, 2018