For this month’s Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Sylvia Jiang, a fourth year pianist from Auckland, New Zealand. Read on to learn about how Sylvia first began to learn the piano, New Zealand, and her project, NOVA: Movement and Sound (http://www.facebook.com/NOVAMovementandSound).
You began your piano studies at age four. What is your earliest memory of the piano?
When I was growing up, my family would go for dinner at a nearby hotel on special occasions. At that time I wasn’t so interested in the food, but rather found myself always intrigued by the pianist in the lobby and so I asked my Mother for lessons. You must understand that I was a rambunctious three year old whose attention was ever-wandering and so my Mum’s answer was a resounding “absolutely not.” But I was extremely persistent so at age four she finally agreed to a trial run and has been totally supportive ever since.
When and how did you decide that piano would be more than a hobby and instead be your major in college and career?
I’ve always taken Piano as a ‘one step at a time’ thing because of how unpredictable the career can be- particularly coming from New Zealand where international success in music is present but rare. I also attended a competitive, academically based private school and so academic achievement had always co-existed with my musical journey. However, around age 16 I realized that I needed to trend in one direction or the other because my time was limited. In the end, I decided that I could always go back to a career in some other field but that Music and the Piano couldn’t wait so I decided to commit more thoroughly to Music.
You have given solo recitals in a number of countries including New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, South Korea and the United States. Of these many performances, which one stands out the most in your memory and why?
Honestly for me, the duration of any performance is mostly the same because I try my best to be completely immersed in the music- but interesting things certainly happen before and after! An incident that I will always remember occurred at a community recital that I gave when I was 16 or 17. In my concluding speech, I thanked my Mum and gestured to her in the audience. A lady sitting close to her (who had maybe had a little too much to drink) yelled out “that’s not your Mum! That’s your sister!”
We know that Juilliard students do not have a lot of free time, but when you do, what do you like to do for fun?
I guess I could say that I spend most of my free time at the piano- partly out of necessity but also because I feel a bit empty without it. Aside from that, I like to search out fun fitness classes around the city, go rowing in central park (when the season allows), play video games, and spend time with my friends. I also really love watching basketball (Go Warriors!) so as a recent birthday present my Mum and I took a trip to Oracle Arena in Oakland California to watch a Warriors home game.
If you could have one super power what would it be and why?
When I was younger I used to think that I would like to be able to read people’s minds but the older I become the more I realise that it would be too much information. A practical superpower would be the ability to teleport while magically also maintaining lawful status wherever I go, but the idealist in me would like to have the ability to heal.
If you had to pick one food/dish to eat the rest of your life, what would it be?
My favourite food ingredient in the world are potatoes and it has been this way since I was three years old. My grandma always told me that I would grow out of it but I haven’t yet…
Where in New Zealand were you raised? If our readers were to visit it, what are three things you recommend they do?
I grew up in Auckland which is the largest city in New Zealand- although large is relative since there are only roughly 4 million people living in New Zealand as a whole. I am very passionate about the idea that everyone should visit New Zealand- it really is the most beautiful place. I would recommend going White Water Rafting, taking a forestry zip-lining tour, and eating the wonderfully fresh produce.
When you are in the US, what do you most miss about New Zealand and when you go home to New Zealand during breaks, what do you most miss about the US?
I miss New Zealand food the most- the produce is just more fresh, less processed, and it tastes infinitely better (particularly dairy, meat and apples). When I’m in New Zealand, I miss my friends and the convenience that New York City has to offer. Oh- and the Pizza, of course.
You were born in China, but moved to New Zealand at a young age. Where in China were you born? How old were you when you moved to New Zealand? If you were old enough to remember, did you experience a lot of culture shock when you arrived in New Zealand?
I was four when we immigrated to New Zealand so I remember the move but I wasn’t shocked by much. The biggest barrier for me was learning the language but I was so young that it all happened fairly quickly.
Did you experience culture shock (again) when you moved to New York City to begin your studies at Juilliard? What was the most “shocking” for you?
Absolutely. My first two years at Juilliard were extremely difficult- not really because of the city but rather because the intensity was something that I had never experienced. Suddenly I felt like I needed to remake everything about the way that I approached my instrument and I lost almost all my confidence as a performer.
However, I now reflect upon those two years with pride because I feel like I really overcame some of my insecurities and as a result I become a better person and artist.
In 2014, you founded Nova: Movement and Sound. Can you tell our readers a little bit about this project?
When I first got to Juilliard, I was so inspired by not only my fellow musicians, but also the productions of the other departments. As a result, I invited student musicians, choreographers, and dancers to come together to create shows together. To this day, I’m incredibly proud of the three shows that we created during my time here.
You are graduating this May. What are your plans for the summer and next academic year?
I have no idea as of yet! Hopefully I will continue studying somewhere…
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Don’t be afraid to fall – you just might learn to fly in the process.