Playing the piano has taught Grace Chen lessons about hard work and motivation

Grace Chen performs in recitals every year at Trinity Church

Grace Chen

Grace Chen performs in recitals every year at Trinity Church

Decrescendo, pianissimo, mezzo, arpeggio, sforzando. Sophomore Grace Chen hears these words in her daily life, and it’s not because she works in an Italian restaurant.

Grace plays the piano and has been for eleven years of her life. Terms such as those listed above—which seem to belong only in a pasta kitchen—are common in both the music and the lessons that Grace has surrounded herself with.

Eleven years is a long time for any person, let alone a fifteen-year-old. Surrendering yourself to any activity for such a length of time can change a person deeply, and Grace has found that change to be almost meditative.

“I think [playing piano] is very calming,” Grace said. “You can express yourself through piano and the pieces that you play.”

This relaxing, tension-relieving quality is Grace’s favorite aspect of her hobby, but like anyone with a commitment to an activity, she often finds it hard to stay motivated.

Grace’s goal is to practice piano for an hour every day, but that is a challenge. Even after eleven years of forming a habitual practice routine, sitting down at the piano often seems like a daunting task.

“I hate practicing every day,” Grace said. “I love piano, but I hate having to go and play every single day. Getting yourself to go practice [is the hardest thing about playing piano].”

Any seasoned musician would agree with Grace. While people who don’t make music may believe that actually learning theory and pieces is the hardest facet of music, this is far from the truth; music is a mental war, and the first—and most bloody—battle is that of simply starting.

Grace finds ways to push through this struggle, though. She chooses to play pieces that she loves and pieces that she genuinely wants to master. Those are her motivation.

“I know that when I practice, I will get better at my songs,” Grace said. “I want to be able to play those songs, so I force myself to practice them.”

Some of Grace’s favorite pieces of music, those that motivate her the most, are composed by some of the most famous musicians in the world: Beethoven and Mozart. She loves the style of the music that they compose and finds it entertaining to both hear and perform.

I know that when I practice, I will get better at my songs. I want to be able to play those songs, so I force myself to practice them.

— Grace Chen

Another famous composer, though, is on the opposite end of her spectrum. Chopin’s compositions, famous for innovative and expressive qualities, keep Grace from approaching the piano bench whenever she needs to practice a piece composed by him.

A second important motivator for Grace is her pianist contemporaries. Not only does Grace play piano, but so does her brother, junior Alex Chen. Some of her favorite memories of piano are playing duets with him.

“When we first [did a duet], it was because our piano teacher made us,” Grace said, laughing, “[but now], I think it’s really fun because we can practice at home any time. We’re also close in age, so our skill levels are kind of the same. I feel like because we’re related, I can tell him what he needs to work on, and [he can tell me] what I need to work on.”

Grace finds constructive criticism to be helpful in her piano journey, and she has had many opportunities to collect suggestions and advice. Through her eleven years of piano lessons, she has been taught by three different teachers. 

Her first was important in her growth as a musician because he helped her immerse herself in the world of music. He was fundamental in her decision to continue piano for as long as she has.

Her second teacher taught her for eight years, and just recently, Grace switched to a completely new teacher. Such sudden changes can disrupt anyone, but just as change prompts evolution, Grace is ready to continue her piano journey along this new path.

“I’m still trying to adjust to [this change],” Grace said. “It’s really different, but I think it will be fine. Change is sometimes a good thing.”

As Grace faces this adjustment, she also faces a new chapter in her life as a musician. She is excited to see where this new road leads and can’t wait for more memories and lessons.

Music has enhanced Grace’s life, as it does all that it touches. Although it has often been difficult, she is grateful for every second she has spent tickling the ivories and would recommend her path to anyone.

“[Piano] is definitely something that you have to work hard on,” Grace said. “But, it is so rewarding. If you like [music] at all, I would say go for it.”