Playing the piano was something that came naturally to me.
I used to play a lot when I was little. My parents would make me practice at least 30 minutes per day, and sometimes it wouldn’t go as planned.
When it took too long to learn a musical passage, I would fling the entire piano book down to the ground in frustration. But beyond those frustrating times, I was a decent player overall.
It was mainly classical piano - stuff like Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Bach. And there was a little bit of romantic style thrown in there as well - like Liszt and Debussy.
I remembered my piano teachers drilling me hard when I was a youth.
My first teacher showed me the technicalities and the basics. She would sometimes hit my finger with a pencil when I played incorrectly. It got me on edge sometimes, but it worked.
My second piano teacher was more of a maestro and helped to foster a sense of rhythm and emotion within me while playing.
He would always use his conductor-like hand movements and broad gestures to signal when during the passages to crescendo and when to draw back a little.
But I’m thankful to both for showing me the ropes and allowing me to train under their guidance.
Growing up, I’ve had people tell me straight to my face that I was quite talented on the piano. My confidence in this realm was built up beyond imagination.
No rags to riches story here. No serious struggle or anything like that. I was just plain good at playing the piano.
I passed both the Level 5 NYSSMA test and the Level 8 Royal School of Music test for piano at a young age. I don’t mean to brag - but those tests were kind of a big deal back then.
I remembered playing in Steinway Hall during the senior year of high school. My friends came and supported me. Some held up big signs and hollered my name. I was playing Un Sospiro by Liszt. A difficult song in its own right and probably my most memorable piece.
I even have a Youtube video where I was playing Un Sospiro by Liszt at a recital around 3 to 4 years back. Just Google “Calvin Chu Un Sospiro” and you’ll find it. So far, it’s got 30 views (…), so any additional clicks would be highly appreciated for it to go viral.
I’ve played at Carnegie Hall recently (something to check off my bucket list) for the Amateur Classical Musicians Association (ACMA). And I’ve played at smaller recitals for the greater New York community as well.
I try to help out these piano organizations if they need someone to perform. After all, I don’t want to waste all the years and hours of training that my parents and my teachers have invested into me.
These days, I just want to play for fun.
But sometimes, when I’m playing the piano, I think a little too much. Like how I need to help others with my piano playing. There’s got to be some higher purpose to playing the piano then simply showing my talent and in looking “good”.
Many organizations or other things have a higher purpose that is easy to see (for me at least). For example, the Toastmasters International purpose of helping others improve their communication and leadership skills is admirable.
That’s something that I can get behind. So through volunteering at Toastmasters, I knew that my actions were helping others for a greater good (so to speak).
But for me, playing the piano felt different. It was just a means to play. To enjoy the process.
I never thought about whether or not I was playing good or bad. I just played for the heck of it, and I didn’t worry too much about fostering a sense of higher purpose or whatever.
It was a means to express my emotions through a different avenue. Thru song. Thru music. And that I think is good enough.
Sometimes, you just have to go with the flow. And not worry about the end result (or even about helping others). Sometimes, when you just go with the flow, the ‘helping of others’ will naturally come.
If people can sit back, relax, and genuinely enjoy my musical playing, then that in itself makes the process well worth it already.
The British philosopher, Alan Watts, once said (and I am paraphrasing here) that there is no end-goal in music and dance. If the purpose were to achieve some result or reach some end destination, then all you’d have to do is play the last note of the song and that’ll be that.
When playing music, the start, the finish, and the entire process are equally significant. You don’t rush to get to the end. That’s not the purpose.
The purpose is just to play. To have fun. And to be (for lack of a better word).
You could say that the purpose of music is the song itself. Every note, every moment, every feeling that is transmitted while you play. Every moment of flow is the purpose.
So that’s what I try to do when it comes to playing the piano. Just go with the flow and have fun with it.