Written by: Pooja Belur
Freshmen Young Hye Lee, Vivian Sheen and Lisa Liao and sophomore Kyoko Inagawa all began playing classical music around the age of five. However, as the girls continued learning the nuances of their respective arts throughout elementary and middle school, their hobbies developed into deep-seated passions. For the girls, playing the violin or the piano provided the opportunity to escape from the stresses of daily life.
Hoping to get further musical exposure, Inagawa and the other girls decided to enter in competitions. “I love performing in front of large audiences,” Inagawa said. “When I enter competitions, I get to perform more.” All of the girls also hoped the chance would give them the opportunity to further explore the music industry and meet people with similar interests.
This February, the four girls joined the 2013 US Open Music Competition, a competition involving 1200 classical music enthusiasts from around the country. The competition featured individual and duo classical music events for children ages five to 18.
All four girls left with awards recognizing their talent and hard work. Inagawa took first in the intermediate instrumental solo division for her outstanding violin performance of “Carmen Fantasy.” Lee left with fourth place in the advanced open solo division for playing a seven-minute recreation of “Vieuxtemps Violin Concerto No. 4.” Sheen and Liao received second for their outstanding piano duet of “Danse Espagnole No. 1 and No. 2.”
During the weeks leading up to the competition, they practiced for multiple hours per day. “I definitely practiced a lot more frequently,” Lee said. “I would sit in four one-hour intervals each day to practice my instrument.” The practicing involved playing their instruments, as well as researching the composers’ histories, listening to previous performances and developing their interpretations of the piece. “When you play a song, you are responsible for putting your own spin on it,” Lee said.
Despite all of the preparation, Sheen remembers feeling anxious when she entered the competition room. “I was very nervous walking onstage,” Sheen said. “There was also the added worry that I didn’t want to let [Liao] down.”
As part of the competition, the girls had to play their pieces, memorized, in front of at least two judges and musicians. These included professionals such as the conductor of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra Dr. Duane A. Carroll and founder of the American Philharmonic Dr. Charles Sepos.
Because of their musical success, some of the judges were intimidating. While playing, Lee was incredibly conscious of her surroundings and everyone in the room. “I was very aware of all the judges’ reactions, and I really wanted them to love the piece,” Lee said.
The experience differed for many of the other participants. Once Inagawa began performing, the music was all she could focus on. “Once I start playing, it is like I am in a dream,” she said. “It is almost as if I was not in the room anymore. All I could focus on was my playing and the song.”
Unlike Lee, Inagawa had no idea what the judges thought of her playing when she had finished and was extremely surprised when she was selected to be the first place winner.
Lee believes that her stressing and diligent practicing paid off. Being selected from all of the applicants gives her a new level of confidence in her ability as a violinist. “I was extremely surprised. I never expected it,” she said. “It made me proud that I could play music beautifully enough that the judges felt it deserved an award.”
Liao is also happy with placing second in the competition. However, she has set much higher goals for herself in the future. Liao hopes to eventually place first in the U.S. Open. “I definitely want to start working more on solo pieces,” Liao said. “It would be incredible to come first in any [event],” Liao said. She also aspires to compete in more elite competitions in the future. She believes that these are key to taking the next step in her musical career.
Lee’s goal differs slightly. Instead of aiming for achieving higher rankings in future competitions, she hopes to personally improve her skills. “For the future, I would like to think beyond the letter placings and go beyond the competitions,” she said. “My goal, instead, is to just enjoy what I play and create the most beautiful music that I can.”
All four girls agree on one thing: it is not the idea of winning that drives them to pursue their instruments, but rather the love of the craft itself. Inagawa is also unsure whether she will play professionally after high school, but she is positive that violin will always have a place in her future. “I will probably never ever stop playing violin,” she said. “It is something I hope to continue throughout my life. I may even choose to minor in it at college. I love it that much.”