By Berenson, Gail
American Music Teacher , Vol. 51, No. 4
With MTNA's long history of service to music teachers, it is particularly appropriate for the National Conference to showcase two young artists in one of its conference concerts, demonstrating what the powerful combination of talent, hard work and fine teaching can produce. Both of these gifted performers have achieved success in their pursuit of a performing career, and both possess that unique ability to communicate the emotional essence of a composition to the audience. Allow me to introduce you to one of the performers: pianist, Hsing-ay Hsu. She has graciously agreed to offer us a glimpse into her life and to provide us insight into the circumstances that have brought her to this stage of her career.
Born in Beijing, Hsing-ay Hsu began her piano studies at age of 3. Her musical talent is not surprising given her rich musical heritage. Her mother, principle harpist of the National Opera, was her first teacher; after immigrating to the United States, she was taught by her father, a well-respected and renowned artist in China who performed for former President Nixon. She eventually began working with her uncle, Fei-Ping Hsu, Gold Medallist in the Arthur Rubinstein International Competition. "We worked a lot on tone and phrasing. His musical expectations inspired my technique to move into unknown territory. Every technical exercise was in service to communicating musical intent. As I was constantly asked to imagine more contrast and more nuances, I began to develop more color in my playing and a musical conviction that comes from careful study."
It is fascinating to hear what she has to say about her theory studies and how it impacted her musical growth. "Studying theory with Xu Jing-Xing in Beijing was a vital part of my education. With private one-hour weekly lessons, I finished all my college theory requirements before age 8, when I left for the United States. Learning theory at such an early age has been a tremendous help to me in my musical understanding."
Hsing-ay relates how she felt about the piano as a child: "The piano was my only toy. I spent all my time making up stories on the keyboard--improvising. My mom had read a great deal about child education. As a result, although she demanded thorough technical training, she also put a lot of creativity into her methods. Even exercises were a game--she competed with me an octave above in `who can avoid playing a wrong note.' My accuracy improved in no time." Citing the benefits of a performing role model within her family, she said, "My dad was a very engaging performer who drew audiences in with his passion. I absorbed a lot of that as our family toured around American churches on fundraising trips for a Christian college." Practicing was never a chore for Hsing-ay. "I had a natural love for it, so I didn't mind the work as much as others may have. I practiced three hours a day from age 6 and five hours a day from age 14 while in high school."
Salutatorian of her graduating class at James Caldwell High School (JCHS) in Caldwell, New Jersey, she notes, "I was especially honored when chosen by my fellow students for the JCHS Spirit Award," an award presented in recognition of her spirit of pursuing excellence, as well as her involvement in the school community. She followed in her father's footsteps by continuing her musical education at the Juilliard School, where she studied piano with Herbert Stessin. "Juilliard has a reputation for being competitive, but Mr. Stessin was a caring professor who cared about all aspects of his students' lives, and to this day remains a mentor. He used to make cassettes of good performances for me so that I could study them." She completed her graduate degree in piano at Yale University, working with pianist Claude Frank. "I first heard Mr. Frank perform at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, where I was a Performing Fellow. I turned pages for him when he performed the Schubert Arpeggione Sonata for Viola and Piano; everyone must hear his Schubert. …