Artist of the Issue: Kenny Zhang ’22


Kenny Zhang '22

Zhang was awarded the Upper Mid Music Prize along with Chen.

Kenny Zhang ’22, a three-year Senior from Tianjin, China, studies piano and is a co-head of Songs for Smiles. He received an Upper Mid Music Prize for 2020-2021. 

What motivates you to keep exploring music?

In my first two years of playing piano, I thought piano was interesting to play since you just press these keys and beautiful sounds come out. However, as time went on, I needed to have discipline with practicing, which was really boring. So for the eight years after, I didn’t really have a true passion for piano. I simply played because I was good at it. Fortunately, at this point, I really do find music to be fascinating, and I’m not forced to play piano anymore. Now, I just embrace my passion and play the pieces that I really appreciate and enjoy.

How have you overcome challenges in your music career?  

My music career has not been a smooth journey. One of the biggest challenges for me was physical tension. Many music students get tense with their arms, hands, body, and posture when playing on stage and in front of teachers. The same situation happened to me, and everyone needs to overcome that fear in order to become successful in their music career. Throughout the ten years playing piano, I have gained a lot of experience performing on stage and have become more mature. Once, a teacher proposed a wise analogy to help change my mindset while on stage. He said, “Think of playing the piano as making a painting. You shouldn’t be stressed about what tools you should use and how you should use them, but what’s essential is what you have in your mind. From there, you decide how you want to play and how to express it.” 

What does music mean to you?

I both appreciate music and make music. When appreciating music, you start to understand the inner thoughts and emotions that are difficult to grasp otherwise. On the other hand, playing music is not only a way to express yourself, but also to entertain yourself by improvising. Music is a great craft, especially with the case of classical music. It takes a blend of effort, thought, and emotion to make it accessible to others. 

What is the favorite piece you’ve played in the past year?

“Scherzo No. 3” by Chopin. This piece is really exciting, but at the same time not too abstract nor too obscure. It was just right for me to enjoy music.

How was your experience having a masterclass with Lang Lang?

I have listened to a lot of his recordings, and I have always tried to see how he designs the details of his playing, such as flow and phrasing. However, having him right there on the spot listening to me play and telling me what to fix was such a different experience. For instance, he used an analogy of a sunrise to illustrate what one of the phrases should sound like. It not only gave me a deeper understanding of the piece, but also a closer look into how he interprets music.