Entertainment

Nanaimo family plays together

Rachel Liang, front, perches on the edge of the bench where her cousins Joyce and Darren Wei practise a duet on the piano as older siblings John Liang and Angela Wei look on. The four elder children perform at the Upper Island Musical Festival, which starts tomorrow (Feb. 29). - MELISSA FRYER/The News Bulletin
Rachel Liang, front, perches on the edge of the bench where her cousins Joyce and Darren Wei practise a duet on the piano as older siblings John Liang and Angela Wei look on. The four elder children perform at the Upper Island Musical Festival, which starts tomorrow (Feb. 29).
— image credit: MELISSA FRYER/The News Bulletin

Rachel Liang, 4, plunks away happily on the piano, singing out the rhythm while she plays a simple ditty on the ivory keys.

It’s a far cry from the complicated work her cousin, Angela Wei, 13, was playing a few minutes earlier. But Rachel’s just little and learning.

Angela started out playing simple melodies when she and her twin brother, John Liang, began piano lessons three years ago. The Dover Bay Grade 8 students now play at Grade 8 and 9 respectively in the Royal Conservatory of Music grading system.

Their younger siblings Darren Wei, 9, and Joyce Wei, 7, also play and will compete with Angela and John at the Upper Island Musical Festival, which begins tomorrow.

“Now everyone wants to learn – no one wants to be left out,” said their mom, Bereya Kang.

On advice from a friend who said piano lessons teach not only music but self-discipline, Kang put her children in piano lessons.

They started off with just 15 minutes of practice per day, moving up to an hour or more. Sometimes practice time varies, but Kang makes sure that they play at least a few minutes a day.

“They’re kids – sometimes I have to drag them,” she said.

Piano lessons don’t seem to take away from school lessons – Angela and John both earned straight As, suggesting the advice about self-discipline was accurate.

“I think piano must help,” Kang said. “They still manage to do everything well.”

The children are preparing for the music festival by practising and memorizing the pieces they selected from options given by their teacher.

Kang makes sure her kids use correct fingering and emphasize the proper passages, even though doesn’t play piano herself.

The Upper Island Musical Festival offers more than 3,600 students in music, dance and theatre to receive adjudication from judges to improve their skills. The top students in each section move on to the provincial performing arts festival, which will be held for the first time in Nanaimo May 27-31.

Watching other pianists compete is valuable for the students too, said Kang.

“We encourage them to sit there to see others perform, especially the higher levels,” she said. “You see how they grow.”

It’s not just at the music festival that the children perform. They play at their church, entertaining adults during lunch meetings and other gatherings. They also play for the residents at Nanaimo Seniors Village.

They can also be heard practising on hotel pianos when the family goes on vacation.

“They get used to playing for people,” Kang said.

Despite loving music and an obvious affinity for it – Angela also plays pipa, a traditional Chinese string instrument, and flute in the school band – the twins plan to become doctors.

Until then, Angela, John, Darren and Joyce will continue to learn music and share their talent with the community.

For a full schedule of events at the Upper Island Music Festival, please visit www.nanaimomusicalfestival.ca.

arts@nanaimobulletin.com

Watch for more stories on students competing at the Upper Island Musical Festival in the News Bulletin’s arts section on Tuesdays.

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