A few weeks ago, we followed 14-year-olds Michael Wierenga and Jeffrey Qiu as they won second place for piano duos and duets at the U.S. Open Music Competition in February.
Now, after the past year of intense preparation, their skills were tested at the Music Teachers Association of California (MTAC) Certificate of Merit (CM) Evaluation at Santa Clara University on March 29. The certificate represents their highest goal at this stage in their musical development. Beth Lambert, a Fei Tian teacher, said that achieving Level 10 (Advanced Level) at the MTAC would mean they’re on par with future professional performing musicians who are about ready to go to college.
After 4.5 hours of being evaluated for Piano Level 10, both Michael and Jeffrey met the requirements with flying colors, receiving the highest possible rating of “excellent.”
The next day, March 30, the two played at the CM Honors Recital at SFSU Knuth Hall, where friends and family could listen to the students perform.
One of the Fei Tian academic teachers describes their playing this way: “When someone is performing music from deep inside themselves, we can feel it. Music inspires them and energizes their playing.
“They say when Michael was just a preschooler, any time he heard a piano he would drop whatever he was doing and run over to listen. Even at that young age he felt a connection to music.
“When I hear these boys playing, it draws me in, and I realize the variation and complexity of the sounds, and how quickly their hands are moving to produce this beautiful flow of music, each note at just the right time, and it is so impressive!
“Somehow their playing seems to honor the composer’s work.”
Music professionals have also recognized their inspired ability.
At the U.S. Open Music Competition, the judges remarked on their sensitive playing, their good shades of sound, the clarity in articulation and voicing, and the very musical performance of a technical piece, ending with an enthusiastic, “Much appreciated!”
The boys’ parents give credit to piano teacher Mr. Koo of Cupertino for contributing greatly to their sons’ success. In preparation for this evaluation, he arranged for them to gain performance experience at local informal recitals, and he had them compete in the February competitions.
Jeffrey and Michael are students at Fei Tian Academy of the Arts California. With this great learning environment and their parents’ support, they were able to commit a great deal of time to piano practice.
At Fei Tian, many students understand the passion for art and the desire to dedicate oneself to it. Teachers are also able to arrange students’ schedules so that they can devote more hours a day to practice when needed.
When being evaluated for the Certificate of Merit, Michael and Jeffrey were tested in several segments: five pieces from the advanced-level repertoire (including aroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th Century, and an etude piece), technique, sight-reading, music theory, and ear training, along with a written theory exam.
The event is conducted annually by the Music Teachers’ Association of California, a professional organization formed to promote high standards and excellence in the music-education field, as its website states. The MTAC testing provides a third-party standard to verify students’ level and readiness for the pieces they are playing.
The association offers some of these students membership in the Young Artists Guild, where they have the opportunity to perform at MTAC branch concerts and at the state convention.
For Michael and Jeffrey, having successfully reached this pinnacle, it’s time to relax a little, simply enjoy playing their music, and catch up with the rest of the things in their lives.
Piano image via Shutterstock