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Pianist Tian Tian to perform at UNC

It was in the throes of first grade when a teacher asked Tian Tian why she never seemed to turn in her homework. Raising her head high and flashing a wide smile, Tian said it was because her father told her all she needed to do was practice her piano.

Having grown up around musicians and being exposed to an extensive collection of songs and composers, Tian’s relationship with music has been a lifelong infatuation.  

Tian will be performing an eclectic mix of classical piano compositions tonight at Hill Hall through the music department. Despite having played since her early childhood, Tian said getting to perform such a diverse array of the music she enjoys is exciting.

“Honestly, for me, I'm just playing music that I love, so it's always enjoyable,” she said. “(The show) offers a variety of musical forms: character pieces, show piece, the traditional three-movement sonata and a one-movement sonata, as well as (a) range of styles.”

Tian began playing piano around the age of four in her native China. After first examining a piano at a friend’s house, she became captivated by its intricacy.

"It was such a fascinating instrument to me that I just had to have it, and learn it,” she said. “Little did I know then how much work and time was required to play it.”

Eventually, Tian came to the U.S. to pursue an education in piano with Logan Skelton, currently a professor of music at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Under his tutelage she amassed numerous awards and took home first prizes in both national and international competitions.

Tian went on to receive her Doctor of Musical Arts degree in piano performance from The Julliard School, and currently teaches at the University of Central Missouri. She was invited to perform by Clara Yang, the piano area head of UNC’s music department.

“It’s important to expose music and non-music students to piano literature in this way,” Yang said. “In a recording you expect everything to be perfect, but it’s something amazing to watch someone perform.”

The performance consists of songs and etudes by Chopin, Ravel, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff. Senior music major Daniel Jones said the broad range of styles is something to look forward to.

“The guest artist recitals are always great,” he said. “Not only do they help expose (students) to musical repertoires we may not have heard before, but we learn from the liberties the performers take.”

Tian said she thinks it’s important to be in the similar mindset of a piece’s composer in order to really understand their work, and that the individual perspective on that insight makes music such a liberating art form.

“The subjectivity of music allows us to be free, but it also makes it difficult to choose the best expression,” she said.

“Playing a piece is like reading a book for me. Every time I revisit it, I discover something new. Sometimes it will overthrow an idea I had, sometimes it will re-confirm it — that's what really makes music exciting and spontaneous.” 

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