Chinese pianist Chen Wang began her piano studies at the age of five & was admitted to the middle school affiliated with the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing at the age of eleven. She continued her studies in the United States with famous pianists and educators at the New England Conservatory, the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, and Michigan State University. Chen is a multi-winner of several international piano competitions and has initiated and taken part in lots of non-profit and charitable events. Through her music, she touches the souls of people and brings joy and inspiration to them.
Her upcoming piano recital “Journey to Love and Peace” this October 23, 7:30 PM, at Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, is another brand new opportunity for Chen to influence and serve the community. Compassion toward life, the world, and the Earth is the theme of the recital. Continue ahead as she further tackles this event as well as her incredible venture to being a famous pianist.
1. What’s the most important lesson you learned from your childhood?
When I was 4 years old, I saw a teacher play the piano for us at kindergarten, then became fascinated by the piano. I really wanted to learn piano, so I asked my parents to buy one. To my surprise, instead of indulging me immediately, they told me that they are happy to hear I had a passion to learn, but I should seriously consider this thing because a piano cost a lot. If I decided to learn, I could not easily give up. As a result, I needed to think carefully before I asked them again. Since then, I still got amazed constantly by the performances my teachers gave at the kindergarten, and kept asking my parents for permission. This discussion between me and my parents went on for around one year and my parents finally bought me a piano, because I promised that I have made the decision, and I would learn it with perseverance. From this, I learned my lessons during childhood that everything I do requires persistence and a clear direction.
2. What was your first job? What did you learn from your first job?
Since I studied piano at age of 5, the support and love I experienced from my family and others had such a strong influence that I felt the need to give back to the world. During my study, I performed a lot and enjoyed the experience that people were inspired by my performance. Therefore, I was gradually involved in more and more non-profit and charity activities. When I was in middle school in 2008, I took part in the fundraising concert for the Sichuan Great Earthquake victims as an art director, the event raised approximately $220,000 for the victims. When I was in high school, that’s when my first job started, I met with 2 blind twin kids who were playing piano at my former instructor’s place. I was astonished at how fluent they were in performing difficult pieces. Subsequently, I became extremely curious about the learning processes of these students with disabilities and wanted to know what was driving them.
Therefore, 3 months later I walked into the School for the Blind and Deaf and started teaching them to play piano and performing for them. After some deeper communication with the kids there, I was genuinely touched by their stories and the smiles on their faces after hearing beautiful music. Later I found out that although these kids could not see, they have very good sensitivity to the music. Despite the darkness they were experiencing, their inner world was filled with colorful thoughts and dreams. One kid once told me that her dream now was to become a musician just like me who brought happiness to others. Another told me he had never felt so much joy before he heard me play. I also borrowed a marimba for the kids and guided them to touch and hear the sound of this instrument, which they never heard of. Toward the end of this journey, the teachers expressed how grateful they were and how much my work meant to both them and the students.
From this experience, I started to see my value in this world more clearly. Playing music can touch the souls of people and bring joy and inspiration to them. By doing this kind of work I gained more motivation for continuing my own study for piano and percussion. I then performed for children from more than 60 countries at the World’s Children Call for Peace event together with more than 100 institutions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I was invited as the first performer at virtual charity performances to fight against the coronavirus at the “Global Chinese Musicians’ Relay Concert”. I also attended and spoke at the First Metaverse Women’s Summit, and performed at the World First Metaverse Lantern Festival. In addition, I gave non-profit performances for the Boston City Hall, Omaha Summit at Warren Buffett Berkshire Hathaway Meeting, Massachusetts General Hospital, Senior Center, and Orphanage. Meanwhile, I won the China Outstanding Contributor of Public Welfare Award for two consecutive years in Beijing, and I received the Global Youth Leadership Award at the United Nations Headquarters Global Social Responsibility Summit in New York.
3. What was your biggest challenge as a pianist?
When I was 9 years old, my parents accompanied me on a 20-hour commute every week from Zhengzhou to Beijing and then back, just so I could take lessons with a prominent instructor. During those two and half years of exhausting and repetitive travels, we often stood throughout the trip because we could only get tickets for “stand room only”. When it was time to audition for my dream school after 3 years of effort, I ended up not being accepted for the piano performance major but admitted by the percussion division due to my excellent piano performance. In addition, students were not allowed to study double-performance majors simultaneously at school. I was almost defeated by this fact, but my parents said with love and encouragement: “we believe if you truly love piano, you will find a way to get over any obstacles before you reach your goal!” Thanks to my parents’ pep talk, I decided to overcome this difficulty and things worked out when I graduated and got admitted to the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign with a full scholarship.
4. What was the problem you set out to solve when you started your venture?
When I first started, the hardest thing was to use time efficiently. It was challenging for me to balance piano, percussion, general education courses, and language tests. Every single task of these needed a long time to excel. The pain of the injured hands and arms due to prolonged practice was not even the problem I had time to focus on. Often when I was still working late at night, the frustration of feeling the lack of time and failure to accomplish anything during the day was harder to deal with. Over years of effort and struggles, I learned to balance everything I was studying by grasping the philosophical principle of interconnection. I gradually noticed that as long as I could use the time efficiently and plan well ahead, I could more easily double the gain by half the effort. I finally scored the top among cohorts with good grades and did well in national competitions for both piano and percussion. I attribute all of my achievements to my thinking and exploring processes.
5. What has been your biggest success or failure in recent memory? How did that make you feel?
The exhaustive experience of a “double performance major” has turned out to be an advantage for me in the long run. There are many successes each time that surprised me. In the years of studying percussion and piano concurrently, I slowly grasped the philosophy of “everything is connected”. At the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, I finished double credit hours for two performance majors while excelling in all my classes and hence being on the Dean’s List. During my master’s study at the New England Conservatory of Music and doctorate study at Michigan State University, I further utilized the concepts of Zen and I Ching in the composition of the western music genre and discovered that some physical movements of playing percussion can be applied in playing piano for solving technical problems and producing the good sound. After all these practices and influences, I eventually developed a distinctive music style. I won International Competitions in both piano and percussion areas. I have also been invited to give performances at concert halls in different cities. And my performances and interviews have been broadcasted and reported on hundreds of media outlets, e.g China Central TV, Hong Kong TV, Peace Ever Celebrity TV, Boston Asian Radio and TV, China Daily, and the Australian ABC media. I was filmed as a leading actress and real-life musician in a documentary film Return to the Red Flag Canal, in which I also played and transcribed music. The documentary received the Best History Documentary Award at Golden Tree International Documentary Film Festival in Paris. (The book that narrates my life story BianZhiYaoLan(Woven Cradle) was published by China Radio Broadcast and Television Press.) My new piano solo album Love Journey will be released by the American classical music record label Ivory Classics. Each time I felt the success I mentioned above was the biggest success, it turned out that next time I could do better. I am excited to challenge myself, explore new things, and try my best to do more things for people and society in the future.
6. You mentioned the book that narrates your life story Woven Cradle, would you like to introduce more details for us?
It was written by my mother, and it recorded the stories and dairies between her and me from an early age until I went to college. It narrates how to be an effective parent, how parents can be friends with their children, how to build good character in children, and how to help children get through obstacles and build strong character. She thinks that educating a child is like planting a tree, her education ideas and theories are also presented in the book.
7. What has been your biggest win in recent years?
During the pandemic, I participated in various events for nonprofits and charities. I was invited as the first performer at virtual charity performances to fight against the coronavirus at the “Global Chinese Musicians’ Relay Concert”. I also attended and spoke at the First Metaverse Women’s Summit, and performed at the World First Metaverse Lantern Festival. By performing for people who needed care, I recognized that my music brought light to those lonely eyes and smiles to those wrinkled faces, which deepened my sense of social responsibility as an artist. This is also the motivation for me to initiate and give a recital-themed “Love and Peace”–to comfort people’s uneasiness caused by these adversities and bring support, hope, and encouragement to the community. From Chinese poetry in the Tang Dynasty to Italian Renaissance literature, I will present music works originating from distinct cultural backgrounds, such as Liebesträume, Three Petrarch Sonnets from Années de pèlerinage, Second Year and Chinese traditional music such as A Moonlit Night on the Spring River, Autumn Moon Over the Calm Lake and Ode to the Yellow River, in which I’ll explore the topic of love, peace and hence the connections among nations, people, and nature. Now the preparation for the recital is in the final stage. During this process, we gathered lots of family and friends from different fields and areas who have brought us vitality and love. This makes me believe that I have already gained the “biggest win” by just going through such experiences.
8. What’re you most excited about for your venture in the next few years?
The purpose of the “Journey to Love and Peace” piano recital is to influence and help people and serve the community through the power of music. The theme of the recital reflected my compassion toward life, the world, and the Earth. Our world is suffering from serious problems such as population explosion, global warming, environmental degradation, virus spread, and frequent wars. As the vice president of the Arts of Young Global Leadership Foundation and the vice president of the Australian International Culture Industries Association, I feel a strong sense of social responsibility and I am hoping to promote cultural exchanges between countries and foster the power and influence of music to provide positive impacts to people. I hope to incorporate the spirit and content of this recital to other fields, create more forms of expression and introduce the involvement of other performers, showing the exchange and integration of technology and culture via music.
9. In what ways do you give back to the community? Why is it important for you?
Music is a unique form of communication between human beings. I believe the deepest way of communication should not necessarily involve text-based languages but more like a form of energy and aura transmission. During the process of playing and listening to music, people are aware and open to sensations and hence feel the music whenever and wherever just like a beam of light shining on a corner in the heart. This is why I like to play music and give non-profit and charity performances. From China to the United States, I performed for seniors, orphans, special children, people with disabilities, hospitals, and various universities and communities, where I saw smiley faces from people who gained support from my music. I could see stories through their eyes and each of them was colorful in its own way. I have also witnessed the recovery of a child with autism under the power of music. As a leader of an orchestra in Illinois for years, I directed the orchestra to hold non-profit and charity performances. During this process, I experienced the beauty of music and my social responsibility. In 2018, I received the Global Youth Leadership Award at the United Nations Headquarters Global Social Responsibility Summit in New York, which has also encouraged me to be a global youth leader and raise awareness among young people for promoting the sustainable development of global goals and social responsibilities.
10. What advice would you give to your younger self?
First of all, it is very important to be perseverant. Secondly, hard work is one of the most important things if one wants to get things done and be successful. Making good and smart use of time can boost efficiency. Thirdly, being too pin-point on one small question might end nowhere. Expanding your perception by learning more and studying more is always useful throughout your lifetime. Last but not least, get more involved in charities –you will gain more and learn more about yourself by helping others.
11. Is there anything you would like to share with our readers that we didn’t ask?
I received lots of help, motivation, and advice from people during my music-learning journey. Because of that warmth and kindness, I always felt loved and encouraged when enduring hardship and being at the edge of giving up. While others might perceive these gestures as trivial things, the sense of being surrounded by these kindness acts as a constant source of power that keeps me moving forward. Spreading such emotional and motivational power through music has been one of the reasons why I became a pianist – to give back to the community and society, which I think is a very meaningful thing to do.