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Feature Friday: Junior John Cao excels in piano

Kayleigh Padar

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Junior John Cao is currently studying piano with Alan Chow of Northwestern University. He has won multiple awards in the music field, most recently, first place in the Senior Open Piano Division at the Walgreens Competition.

“My favorite aspect of music is the feeling of exhilaration that flows through the music. Just as runners get runner’s high, I believe in a musician’s high as well,” Cao said.

The Walgreens Competition was the first time I performed Prokofiev’s Concerto No.1 in public, and thankfully, it was a good one,” Cao said. “The piano was surprisingly mellow and heavily voiced which hindered my capabilities to produce a brighter, heavier contemporary Russian sound. However, I decided to trust my hands (and not my ears), and thankfully my sound projected all the way to the back of the room.”

Cao has been interested in music since he was very young. He started singing almost as soon as he started speaking, and began learning to play piano when he was four.

Although he’s been playing piano almost his entire life, Cao still finds himself getting nervous before performances. “I always get nervous before I perform. I guess routine might help soothe the butterflies, but it hasn’t really helped me much. To combat it, I try to run through the music through my head and talk myself through the performance multiple times,” Cao said.

Despite these nerves, Cao continues to practice and perform because piano is such an integral and enjoyable part of his life. “During my practice, I would be taken to another world in the fantasies of Ravel, the miseries of Chopin, or the palace of Haydn. In those intimate moments of connection, you aren’t necessarily “playing” the piano anymore; the instrument becomes part of your soul,” Cao said.

Cao believes that many people might have the misconception that playing piano is simply tapping keys. Due to his extensive study in the subject, he is sure that this is not true. “Millions, if not billions of different colors can be produced just with a seemingly simple tap on a key through variation of velocity, acceleration, angle of attack, and duration,” Cao said.

Playing piano also requires a bit more strength than people might assume. “it is almost a sport, and it possesses an interesting relationship between strength. However, I certainly don’t pound on the keys (unless I’m playing works by Carl Vine) but I have found strength to be an advantage when playing piano,” Cao said.

Although he isn’t necessarily considering pursuing music as a career, he is determined to keep it a part of his life. Currently, he is planning to double major in Economics and Music. “I believe that I can still love music if I don’t pursue it as a career and that its impact on myself and those around me will be just as great if I take a “normal” job,” Cao said.

We wish Cao luck with anything that he might pursue in the future, whether it’s music, economics, or something else entirely. Anyone wishing to support his soonest creative endeavor can attend the Winners’ Recital of the Walgreens National Concerto Competition at Bennet-Gordon Hall on teh Ravinia Campus in Highland park on Feb. 5.

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The student news site of John Hersey High School
Feature Friday: Junior John Cao excels in piano