Life as a Young Classical Musician


James Qian, Photojournalist

I might have started playing the piano at what is considered a later age. I started playing when I was 8. I remember when I first started, I didn’t really enjoy playing the piano, but I remember the first time I became inspired to continue with the instrument. I remember when I sat down to watch Lang Lang perform a piano concerto live on Chinese National Television. I don’t remember exactly what he was performing, but I knew from that moment that I wanted to become a professional musician when I grow up. I wanted to grow up and be even better than Lang Lang.


Now, as only high school junior, I have the potential of becoming a professional pianist. This past month, my piano teacher has been telling me that I need to practice more since I need to prepare for college auditions in the next year. I have already been practicing one to two hours a day, but he was asking for five hours a day. At three hours a day now, I am beginning to realize why he is putting so much pressure on me.


For almost an entire year, I would have to prepare for auditions for colleges and conservatories. Within forty minutes, I must impress all the judges for the audition. If I screw up, I just wasted an entire year’s worth of work. Let me tell you that it is certainly not a place where you want to be. I know that because it has pretty much happened to me already.


It is not something that I like to share with many people, but I must confess that there is always something haunting me in the back of my head whenever I am performing, whether it is just a recital or a competition. During the summer after 7th grade, I was competing in my very first solo competition performing Beethoven’s complete Moonlight Sonata. I was very confident going into the competition because I had already been working on the piece for months. My performance started, but something did not feel right. I kept on going, and then the next thing I knew, I hit a blank wall. I wasn’t able to go on with my performance because I forgot how to play the piece entirely. This is an experience that, to this day, still remains clear in my mind. Before any performance, I cannot avoid thinking about it; I know in the back of my head that the worst can actually happen, because it has actually happened.


Years after that performance, I have gotten many awards and opportunities, such as being invited to perform at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and the Musikverein in Vienna, and you might have thought that I have been able to do all so easily. You are only seeing what you think you see, but let it be known that you don’t find success until you have struggled; let this be my lesson to you.