When she was three or four years old, pianist Chelsea Wang began teaching herself pieces like “Happy Birthday” on the keyboard her family had but never really used.

Now, at 19, she’s a second-prize winner of the 2012 New York International Piano Competition and has performed on stages all over the world.

Wang came to Fairfield as a pianist in the Young Artists Series, sponsored by Fairfield and the Stecher and Horowitz Foundation. Before performing on Sunday, Nov. 10, she practiced on the Steinway, “trying out the piano, listening to all the acoustics for about a little over an hour,” Wang said.

Originally from Des Moines, Iowa, Wang now attends the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, studying under Meng-Chieh Liu and Ignat Solzhenitsyn.

Before she even settled into elementary school, she began playing the piano at home. Wang said her mother was astonished that she could play.

“It just kind of happened,” she said.

While she is known for her piano performances, from second grade and throughout high school, she played violin, an instrument that she considers as more “secondary.”

Wang believes that the piano “can create so many different colors,” adding that it can “bring out a lot.”

She couldn’t choose a favorite composition and she has no least favorite, either. However, she stated that her most difficult feat is contemporary works, adding that “a lot of the notes are atonal, so [they are] harder to learn. It’s not like you can follow certain harmonies and melodies. You just have to drill it and memorize it, practice, practice, practice.”

When she is not playing classical piano music, she enjoys listening to National Public Radio and classical radio stations. And though she doesn’t prefer to listen to today’s pop music, she occasionally likes to hear something outside of her norm.

She gave some inspirational advice for becoming a performer like her. “Get yourself exposed to all the different composers. Listen to as much music as possible whether it be on YouTube or Spotify or all of those music apps or whatever you can find online.

“Get yourself exposed and then figure out what you’re most passionate about and if you really enjoy it, then go for it,” she said.

Wang played five pieces Sunday afternoon by composers both classical and contemporary for an intimate audience of both students and older music lovers at the Regina A. Kelley Quick Center.

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