Sunday afternoon, Chinese pianist Chu-Fang Huang played a compelling two-hour solo recital in the University Chapel. Ms. Huang incorporated nine pieces from a variety of periods and locations, carefully explaining the history and significance of each before playing. She expressed her passion for music through her body language, leaning tenderly into the softer notes with closed eyes and an arching neck and plunging her fingers into the keys during moreenergetic pieces.
As a current post-graduate student at Julliard, she attends only one or two classes each semester in order to accommodate her grueling tour schedule. Indeed, from a young age, Ms. Huang’s unconventional education has facilitated her talent as a musician.
In perfect English, her second language, she describes her childhood, during which her parents often left her home alone.
“My parents both worked full-time,” Huang explained.
At home, Ms. Huang taught herself reading and mathematics, and when she attended school for the first time at age 6, she had already excelled in the subjects that she was to learn in the fourth grade. When the school suggested that she advance to the fifth grade, her father refused, insisting instead that his daughter learn to play an instrument in her free time. Ms. Huang chose the piano.
She quickly excelled in her lessons, receiving a full scholarship to the Shenyang Music Conservatory’s pre-college division at the age of twelve. Even as she became internationally recognized for her unprecedented talent, Ms. Huang remained apathetic about playing the piano, and often read books while she was supposed to be practicing.
Even when she was accepted to the undergraduate Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia at 16, Ms. Huang resisted her father’s insistence to enroll her there.
“We had a fight for a whole year because I wanted to become a lawyer,” Huang said. “As much as I wanted to be a lawyer, it was also just that I didn’t want to play the piano.”
Even so, her parents quit their jobs and moved to Philadelphia, where for the first time in her career, Ms. Huang was not the best pianist in her class. Welcoming the challenges that the institution provided, she constantly improved her technique until finally, at the age of seventeen, she was hooked.
“Art is really endless,” Huang mused. “The more I learned, the more I realized there was more to learn. After ten years, I realized that this is what I wanted to do.”
In the following years, Ms. Huang would receive her degree from Curtis and go on to play concert halls around the world to extraordinary critical acclaim. Indeed, Ms. Huang’s Sunday afternoon recital left quite an impression on the audience, though the turnout was disappointing, with about 20 faculty members, a handful of Hamilton residents and only two students.
“I thought it was overwhelming,” said Vivien Harvey Slater, Colgate’s own accomplished pianist. “What I liked particularly was that it was so musically thought-through. She had a great sense of listening to herself.”
Community members Margie and Richard Cohen responded enthusiastically.
“You just run out of superlatives, don’t you?” Mr. Cohen mused.