Kids, Keyboards and Classics

Sean Yeh

Sean Yeh strives for balance in his playing, admitting that he can be overly expressive sometimes. From the Top hide caption

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Domenic Cheli

Domenic Cheli wakes at 3 o'clock a.m. each morning to practice. From the Top hide caption

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Alan Shi

Alan Shi finds similarities between his two favorite activities--piano and chess. From the Top hide caption

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Anna Han

Anna Han enjoys discussing the technique behind playing the piano. From the Top hide caption

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This week, an all piano program from the International Institute for Young Musicians in Lawrence, Kan. features pianists, ages 12 to 16, playing Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin and Chopin.

The award-winning twelve-year-old pianist Anna Han likes to talk technique.

"When you're playing a note on the piano, a hammer is hitting a string," she explains. "It will always sound like a piano does, but you can vary the way you approach each note — how fast your touch is, from what direction your hand is approaching the note and how you choose to release the note."

Han is an accomplished pianist for her young age. She recently won first place at a competition at the International Institute of Young Musicians, where she spent her summer, and she was the youngest pianist ever to win first place in the Music Teacher National Association's Baldwin Competition.

Han plays "Ondine," a movement from Maurice Ravel 's Gaspard de la Nuit.

Pianist Sean Yeh, 16, loved classical music right from the beginning.

"I've always liked the excitement and intensity of it," he says. But he admits a tendency to be overly expressive when approaching a piece.

"Sometimes I want to take too much time and make everything important," he admits, "but the problem with that is if you try to make everything important, then nothing is important!" Host Christopher O'Riley challenged Yeh to demonstrate different textures within his interpretation of a movement from Sergei Rachmaninoff's Sonata in B-flat minor.

Fifteen-year-old Dominic Cheli says that one of the greatest challenges of playing piano is making it sing.

"Because the piano is a percussive instrument, you have to find ways to make it sound lyrical," he explains. "I think one of the best ways to make the piano sing is to actually listen to singers. When I play a melody, I often approach it by trying to sing it like a singer would."

Cheli keeps a rigorous practice schedule, waking up at 3 o'clock a.m. to practice for several hours before school, and he also tries to get in a few hours of practice after school as well. "I try to practice a total of six to eight hours a day," he says.

Cheli plays Deux Poèmes, Op. 32 by Alexander Scriabin .

In addition to being a skilled pianist, 14-year-old Alan Shi is a champion chess player.

"On the face of it, piano and chess look like very different things, but they both require incredibly deep concentration," he says. "In chess if you lose that concentration for even a few minutes you risk losing the game. Similarly, if you're mind begins to wander while playing piano you could lose control of your hands. Say, for example, you started thinking about the Big Mac you'll be eating later today, instead of the Revolutionary Etude you're supposed to be playing. You could wind up playing the McDonald's theme song!"

Shi plays Frederic Chopin's Etude, Op. 10, No. 12 in C minor ("Revolutionary Etude").

To cap off the show, Sean Yeh teams up with host Christopher O'Riley to play "Russian Easter" from Suite No.1 for two pianos, by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

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