LEntertainment news was buzzing last month following a report that 3-year-old pianist Brigitte Xie from Ridgefield secured a performance spot at Carnegie Hall as part of the American Protégé International Musical Talent Competition. expected in November.
And while much of the media spotlight has been on the very young pianist, some of the spotlight has gone to her teacher, Felicia Feng Zhang, who runs the All Talent Academy in Greenwich.
In this edition of the Business Journal’s recurring new feature, The American Story, which celebrates the impact of foreign-born professionals on the regional economy, we talk with Zhang about his life experiences.
Where does Felicia Feng Zhang come from? story begins?
“I was born and raised in Qingdao, which is a beautiful coastal city in China. I grew up in a family of professional musicians – my mother is a distinguished piano teacher and I admired and respected her vision and the way she educated children.
“I went to Peking Normal University and was lucky: I was among the first graduate students for the piano pedagogy diploma. In 1995, I was sent as a visiting researcher by the government under an exchange program. I visited Columbia College and Carnegie Mellon, learning and researching, then exchanging ideas on how to teach. I went to Florida to the University of South Florida in Tampa and got my second Masters in Piano Performance and Pedagogy.
“After that I went to California and got a job as a music education consultant. I got to know people better in all different situations. At the time, I decided to create the simplest, easiest way to understand how to help more students.
Who are your piano students?
“I teach from two and a half years to seniors, with all nationalities and all backgrounds.
“I (do) interactive teaching. I have found that the traditional way of learning is not the best, because although students memorize notes very well, they may not recognize rhythm.
“I emphasize the ‘five core theory’ to shape and develop a student’s learning path and growth, which are eye-ear-mind-finger feelings. I also emphasize the three EFM principles – the three Es are efficiency, effectiveness and enthusiasm; the three F’s are focus, follow and flow; and the three M’s are state of mind, manners and motivation.
“Once that is in place, there is an open mind to absorb new things – their fingers can flow well in a number of ways that they did not previously do when training the other way around.”
What is the story behind Brigitte Xie’s success at such a young age?
“When she came to see me, her parents knew she was interested in music. When many children do new things, they are afraid of making a mistake. I needed to tell him not to be afraid of new things. I help her and she becomes more open and ready to try more new things.
“My two children also learned with my method. When my daughter was six she played at Carnegie Hall and appeared on NBC’s “Today” show and she performed three times at Madison Square Garden during NBA halftime.
Is it easy to teach children compared to the elderly?
“These are two different ways of approaching the subject. I prefer them to be three or four years old because it’s like a blank sheet of paper. I have three adult classes – the students are between 40 and 70 – and a lot of them are more stubborn because they think they are right, but the piano gives instant feedback. So, whatever your strength of mind, you have to adapt and listen.
What’s in store for you?
“I also run the Piano Village Foundation, which is a nonprofit, volunteer platform that shares high quality music education. During the Covid period, we gave the community free online piano training.
“My mission is that everyone loves the piano. Anyone can benefit from it and I want to reach more people.