Ying Zhang was recommended by a professor in Shanghai Conservatory to go to the Western countries to pursue her potential as a pianist, so she came to America to fulfill the dream in 1992. At the beginning, she attended Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and majored both in piano and theater. Then went on as a full scholarship recipient to Oberlin Conservatory/College (BM), Indiana University/Bloomington (MM), and Rice University (DMA). And the rest is history, let’s see and learn her musical journey…..
AT WHAT AGE DID YOU DECIDE THAT YOU WANTED TO BE A MUSICIAN? WHY?
As far as I could remember, I always knew even as a child that I wanted to become a musician when I grew up. A few experiences helped me confirm that choice. One of them was prior to going to Oberlin, I auditioned and was offered a supporting actress role in a sitcom called “Broadway No. 100”, casting in Los Angeles directed by a famous Chinese director Ying Da. The shooting of that show would start right when I needed to go to Oberlin as a Freshman. On the one hand, I was excited to finally become an actress which was one of my dreams since childhood, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t give up the education that I set out to get when I first decided to come to this country. In the end, I made the decision to go to Oberlin because of my love for music. It was what made me happy and whole.
WHAT HAVE YOU GAINED FROM YOUR EDUCATIONS?
One of the experiences was in 1999, I was invited as one of 12 solo pianists from around the world to participate in the prestigious Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, studying with professor Jerome Lowenthal from the Julliard School. During the time I was there, I got to meet and hear so many wonderful young musicians just like myself, who were picked from around the world. I was truly inspired by their talent and for the first time, I felt proud to be among them. I was very lucky that due to my piano performance, I got to travel all over the nation during my school years, some were for competitions, some for performances, some summer music festivals, the best thing at the time was that I received full scholarships based on merits for all those experiences and more. To this day, I am still grateful for this country, the institutions, and the sponsors that have made those opportunities possible. I think part of my business inspirations come from those experiences and I want to do my part to help the next generation as I was helped.
WHAT DOES MUSIC MEAN TO YOU?
To me, music is both personal and universal, teaching music to someone is sharing life stories with them. On a personal level, students are learning to express their feelings and voice through the instrument. The more life experience they have the more they would be able to “feel”.
I’m always intrigued to hear a student at a very young age tell me: “this music makes me want to dance,” or “this music is sad.” One might not be able to explain why they love the music, but it’s undeniable that they do. It is in our instinct to relate our knowledge of the world and feelings to the music we hear. Maybe because I’m a musician, I pay close attention to what music does to me in my everyday life. Music is arguably the most effective tool one could use to communicate deep feelings. The world would not be the same if music didn’t exist. Movies wouldn’t be effective if there’re no soundtracks.
As an example that everyone can probably relate, when you have just experienced something very painful when no words or things or another person could lift your spirit, your favorite music comes on, and then suddenly as if there’s a chemical reaction inside you, this music truly touches you and you are moved with a range of emotions that you didn’t know existed. One of the best things I love about performing is that I can bring back to life the masterworks of the greatest composers in history, and translate them through my personal stories for today’s audience.
I work to help students of the next generation to do the same because music empowers and helps us understand each other. Like all beautiful things, it should be shared.
WHAT OBSTACLES HAVE YOU OVERCOME TO GET WHERE YOU ARE TODAY, BOTH PROFESSIONALLY AND PERSONALLY? AND WHAT ESSENTIAL LESSONS HAVE YOU LEARNED?
2008 was a major transitional year for me. Graduating with my Doctorate degree from Rice ended my long 12 years of school life since Oberlin. That same year my marriage was in trouble and I took on the role of a full-time single mother to my then newborn son. Things were not rosy but I found strength having my piano and son. I have always believed in new beginnings, and I was optimistic that my future would only go upward from there. Maybe it was my optimistic attitude, things started to change for the better for me very quickly.
At first, I taught a handful of piano students in my rental apartment in Clear Lake, TX. Then very soon, many students started to come to me through word of mouth, and a majority of them started winning competitions. People started to ask me what my secret is, they wonder how I get those good students to come to me, but the truth is I don’t just teach “good” students, my method is to inspire them to love music, have fun but at the same time setting high standards. I have great relationships with my students, I really adore each one of them.
No matter how busy I am, I always make time to answer their text messages or voicemails, many of them simply text to share their day with me. I also have very stubborn students or ones that have behavior problems, but my approach has always been patient with those that need more help and support. I believe all children are good and will sooner or later reach a turning point, just like how my life changed for the better when I didn’t give up hope.
What I have learned these years both in my professional and personal life is that success will come to those that keep a great attitude even in difficult times, have an open heart about life, enjoy your work, don’t forget to have fun in the meantime, give back when you can, life is a circle.
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