My Music Journey
Thanks for your interest in knowing my personal story and how I become a musician (so far).
I was born in a musician-visual artist family, my mother--associate professor--has taught accordion and keyboard instruments at the Tianjin Conservatory of Music 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!).
Like other children who learn the piano, professional or amateur, I began 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 got bored/fighting/crying during my daily practice (for some time). We did learn the piano as a goal and path to becoming a professional pianist. 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 reward 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.
I don’t remember much about playing games, watching TV, and traveling in my childhood. (That's why I am so into traveling now! ) Those "waste of time" activities are not important, and I may forget those entertainments anyway when growing up. Besides Practicing the Piano, I watched a little cartoon, played a lot of puzzles, some drawing, and some sports but no swimming (I pleaded with my mom not to send me to swimming lessons by promising to practice the piano for as many hours as I could. I was very timid and afraid of drowning and hate swimming).
Looking back, I appreciate my early musical education, thankful to my teachers, who trained me with a solid foundation so that I could still pursue music as a career after a while (I didn't go to the school affiliated with the conservatory, please continue to read). I am grateful to my parents, who supported 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 were 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 studying at Tianjin Yaohua (Huaxing) Middle School.
At the second turning point, is 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, (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 my freshman year (which we had to decide, either liberal arts or science). One year later, those questions come back again, university or conservatory? Tianjin Nankai High School attracts lots of top students from all over the city and the towns around. As in New York city, peer pressure to study 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 year, I hesitated about what major I was interested in for the college, and 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) during 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 universities and colleges either, what does the major 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.”
These words lit me up, I began my piano playing when 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 a conservatory as my undergraduate major and study abroad in the future. I did get into the first grade with honors at the Piano Audition in Tsing'hua University, and I ranked no. 2 in Nankai University’s audition.
I decided not to take advantage 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 a Chinese SAT score, of 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 to study, 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