“Practice makes perfect: A lifetime at the keyboard pays off for La Crescenta’s Connie Kim-Sheng”
Pasadena Weekly
May 1, 2008
By Liz Hedrick

While most 3 1/2 year olds struggle to form simple sentences, Connie Kim-Sheng of La Crescenta had already begun to play the piano. Now 16, Kim-Sheng has recently been named one of only 22 teenagers from the United States to compete at the New York Piano Competition June 22 in New York City. 

Students aged 14 to 18 year olds from around the country sent audition videos to a panel of judges in New York. Every student chosen to compete is already a finalist award recipient, and additional awards will amount to $40,000. But the New York competition is unique in that there are no eliminationsómeaning that each participant will perform in all rounds before winners are selected by a distinguished panel from the international music community.

“There are quite a few pieces we have to play,” Kim-Sheng said. Though Kim-Sheng’s favorite musical genre to play is Classical Romantic (like Chopin), she will play compulsory pieces for the competition that are well out of her comfort zone. “We have to play a more modern piece that’s never been played before. I’m most nervous about that one,” she said.

Although she may be nervous about performing a new piece now, once Kim-Sheng lays her fingers on the keys, the music allays any anxiety. She said, “I get into the music as soon as I start playing. The adrenaline starts to flow.”

To prepare for competitions, Kim-Sheng practices the piano seven hours every day. Now home-schooled, she has the time to hone her musical skill without having to conform to a regular high school schedule. Aside from practicing at home, Kim-Sheng will study piano exclusively at a month-long intensive music program in Calgary, Canada, in July.

Kim-Sheng does not mind the rigorous practice regimen, though. “I feel lucky to have music,” she said. “It is totally worth it.”

Kim-Sheng aspires to travel the world as a performing pianist, but recognizes that in order to realize her dream her teenage experience will be far from typical. “When I was younger, my friends at school used to say ‘let’s go out,’ but they wouldn’t ask me because they knew I needed to practice. It was kind of a give-in,” she recalled. “But I didn’t mind because I had my friends at school and my piano at home.”

In the car en route to piano lessons and other extracurricular activities (she also dances and draws), Kim-Sheng likes to listen to less serious music. “I like all genres of music,” she said. “The only music I don’t like is rap. It’s just noise with no melody.î

Originally taught by her mother JuIi Kim, a 20-year veteran of the Music Teachers Association of California, Kim-Sheng now studies with celebrated concert pianist John Perry. Kim instilled a love of classical music in her daughter from a very young age.

“Every parent, I think, should understand the importance of classical music,” she said. “In America, people like instant gratification; they don’t realize that the enrichment of the soul comes from classical music and classical literature.”

Kim is deeply saddened by the inadequacy of music programs in many public schools and firmly believes that her daughter’s personal development has been shaped by her passion for and dedication to classical music. “Connie comes home from every competition more mature,” she said.

In line with her belief in the benefits of musical education, Kim encourages Connie to play in venues other than concert halls. She believes that young musicians should serve as inspiration for other children who haven’t yet discovered their artistic niches.

“Recently Connie played for a group of little children,” Kim said proudly. “They were an attentive and enthusiastic audience. But after the performance, one girl raised her hand and asked how long Connie practiced every day. When Connie said seven hours, the little girl’s mouth dropped open and didn’t close for the rest of the night. Her mother later told me that her daughter went home after the performance and practiced.”