A melody from his familyTunes from a piano calm the atmosphere of the room. A violin next, shaking the air with a delicate vibrato. The soft sound of a flute begins to play soon after. Freshman Philip Chen is at the center of this combination, expressing his love and skill for music through playing these three instruments.
Chen began playing instruments because of his family’s past experience with music. His father, mother and sister all played piano. His mother sings and his sister attended music school and produces EDM songs for various artists. Music serves as a common ground where Chen can connect with his family.
“I’m interested in different types of instruments. My whole family has a music background,” Chen said. “I’m thankful that they’re really supportive and encourage me.”
He feels that music brings him closer to his mother the most, especially when they play together. She helps him find pieces he has interest in, allowing him to learn the importance of enjoying what he does. Over quarantine, Chen paused his private piano lessons because of the pandemic, so to compensate, he and his mother subscribed to a website that allows him to find music he can play for fun.
“When I started [playing music], my mom always used to help me [with practicing],” Chen said. “There is this really famous song from a Chinese drama and she likes singing it, so I found a piano song and played it with her. I haven’t done that with my mom before, so it was fun.”
Playing three instruments takes up many hours of Chen’s day, but he seeks inspiration through the support from his family. Chen’s family understands how much effort music takes through their own experiences and helps him balance his three instruments.
“My parents motivate me. We listen to music sometimes and during my tests or competitions, they cheer me on,” Chen said.Once I started doing music, I could talk about it, or go over it with my family. They would understand what I was doing and help me get better.”
Chen has placed first and second in piano competitions before and has been taking the Certificate of Merit (CM) Test for nine years. Chen often feels nervous for these events, but he learns how to overcome it through his mother’s advice and confidence in him. He shares a few of his tactics and how they work for him.
“When you first start performing in front of people you’re always going to be nervous but if you do it a lot, you get a lot more used to it so I [don’t feel] stage fright anymore,” Chen said. “My mom has taught me to take a deep breath, first of all, and always pretend the people you’re playing for are just rocks and trees.”
Chen began taking private lessons for piano at the age of four. Later at the age of eight, Chen additionally participated in private lessons for violin and eventually applied and made it into the WHS Symphony Orchestra and the Claremont Symphonic Orchestra. He also chose to be part of the WHS Marching Band this year after finding a passion for flute in 5th grade.
“For piano I like [how] it feels really grand and it’s more of a solo instrument, and in violin, I like to be in an orchestra with good friends. [With the] flute, I like the melodic tones and how it stands out,” Chen said.
To prepare, Chen practices two hours everyday, but the night before the event, he sleeps early and does not play at all. Piano is his favorite of the three instruments and he utilizes the CM test and competitions to test his skill.
“[When] you’re playing a really difficult piece that you practice [for] a long time, you’re showing the audience or showing the judge that you did put in the work for it. It’s just like any other art and the end product shows how much you did. If you play good then it’s beautiful,” Chen said.
Chen has perfect pitch, or the ability to hear a note and identify it. He explains how some people are born with the ability, but since he has been doing a variety of music for a long time, he developed it himself. Chen utilizes it to his advantage during the listening portion of the CM test and for personal enjoyment.
“If you take a test [and] they have ear training tests, it’s really a lot easier with perfect pitch. If you listen to a song, and you like it you can kind of figure out the melody and just play that for fun,” Chen said.
Chen reflects back to his many years invested in music and acknowledges how he wants it to be part of his life in the future as well. Striving to be part of a professional orchestra, he utilizes the valuable lessons he has learned to achieve his dream.
“Music can help you with life. If you’re feeling down you can listen to music, and also you can gain a lesson out of it.” Chen said. “I’ve learned that in order to play really good music, you have to have an understanding of maturity. You have to know, [how to] put your emotions into the music for it to be really good. And also, I’ve learned that you have to practice a lot if you want to be the best or something. It’s not just about talent.”
By Remy Wong, Staff writer
Photo courtesy of Philip Chen