Piano lessons have greater impact than you can imagine

Our very own Angela Cheng shares her personal relationship with music and the power of its universal language. Piano lessons can have a greater impact than you can imagine!

I was 11 years old and didn’t speak a word of English when we arrived in Edmonton from Hong Kong. I was placed in seventh grade – junior high – while my younger sister went to elementary school with our four cousins. It was lonely. And failing everything except mathematics was heartbreaking.

So I begged my mother for piano lessons. I would love to say that I had been a devoted musician from the time I was four years old – I wasn’t. But I think I knew that when I couldn’t communicate with words, I could with music. And that music would help me feel some kind of connection, some continuity.

But it was a hard time for my family. My mom was a school principal in Hong Kong, but she gave that up to come to Canada and work in a factory so my sister and I could have a better future. Even so, she found a way to get me those lessons.

Every Saturday, I took several buses to get to Alberta College on the south side for my piano lesson. I’d spend the whole day there practicing, and then my teacher would drive me home. On Sunday it was the same thing, but we were placed in chamber groups. I remember playing in a trio and with a violinist and a cellist, even though I couldn’t speak English. It didn’t matter because music really is a universal language. Those are very happy memories for me.

I’m so grateful to my mother for finding a way for me to take those lessons, and for bringing us to Canada. I’m also grateful to the people of Edmonton. After a determined music teacher convinced me that music – not medicine – should be my life’s work, a group of Edmonton women set up a scholarship for me. They created a foundation and held bake sales, raffles, bingos, book sales – you name it – to raise enough money to send me to Juilliard in New York.

I know that everything I do is possible because of the people who supported me along the way. I live and teach in Ohio now, but Edmonton is my home. Every time I get a chance to play here, I treasure it. 

— Angela Cheng, former Alberta College Conservatory student

Angela is an orchestral soloist, recitalist and chamber musician. She has appeared with more than 100 orchestras around the world and is known for her remarkable technique, tonal beauty and insightful musicianship.

Angela is playing a concert at MacEwan on June 2 in celebration of the Muttart Foundation’s 65th Anniversary. Email conservatory@macewan.ca for more information or to order tickets.

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