June 30, 2021

Helping Those Less Fortunate Is Goal of Two Local Pianists

PLAYING TO GIVE BACK: West Windsor resident Amber Wang, 16, was among the pianists taking part in last weekend’s annual “Performathon.” The event, in which students of Ingrid Clarfield performed on Steinway pianos provided by Jacobs Music Company, raised funds for Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

By Anne Levin

Sitting down at the piano bench to practice or perform, Amber Wang and Alyssa Xu often have less fortunate young people in mind. The two 16-year-olds – Amber from West Windsor and Alyssa from Plainsboro – are as committed to helping others as they are to perfecting the intricacies of the music they play.

They were among the students of piano teacher Ingrid Clarfield who played last weekend at the annual “Performathon” held at Princeton Meadows Church. Clarfield’s young pianists were joined by five pupils of other local piano teachers at the event, which raised funds for Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

“We are really into the idea of children helping children,” said Amber in a Zoom interview a few days after the concert. “And we know we are really fortunate. We’re not in the hospital. We’re going to school, playing the piano, doing other things, just going through our lives. We want to help those who aren’t so lucky.”

“I’m grateful for all the resources and opportunities I have, and I am happy to be able to support children in the hospital,” said Alyssa. “Our donations go to the Children’s Fund at CHOP, and that covers things not usually supported by traditional charities, like music therapy and pet therapy.”

Amber played Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2, with a piano reduction of the orchestra part performed by her mother, also an accomplished pianist. Alyssa’s contribution was Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 2, with Dr. Chiuling Lin playing the reduction. Concert grand pianos were provided by Jacobs Music Company.

“The total worth of those two pianos was around $300,000, and to rent them would have been $4,000,” said Alyssa. “They let us use them for free. It was a real privilege.”

According to a press release about the event, Clarfield said, “Bob Rinaldi of Jacobs Music Company has provided both pianos for us to use in addition to being helpful in so many ways. To recognize his generosity, we selected CHOP as our beneficiary charity, because it has special meaning to him.”

Clarfield added, “My students perform in many recitals, but to me there’s another important lesson to learn in addition to skills at a piano. It’s using one’s talent to help others. I can honestly say my students are very giving. They take great pleasure in reaching out to those who may not be able to attend musical concerts. Before the COVID pandemic, they would take their electronic keyboards and play at senior centers.”

Both Alyssa and Amber began studying piano as small children. “I started competitively around age 4,” said Amber. “I grew up around a lot of music. I joined the Clarfield studio when I was 8, and I found myself really enjoying it. The more I learned, the more I liked it.”

Alyssa dates her studies to age 6, when her parents started her with lessons after watching her try to play along with her older sister.

Both plan to continue playing when they attend college, juggling music with studies focused on science and technology. “I know I’ll be a lot busier when I’m in college,” said Amber. “But I want to continue playing and continue giving back. My next goal is to learn the jazz repertoire. Maybe in college, I’ll join some jazz ensembles. Especially with my music theory background, it shouldn’t be too difficult. But I’m also interested in the STEM field.”

Alyssa is hoping to double major, possibly, in music and engineering. “Definitely, music is something I want to be a big part of my life,” she said. “But I want to pursue STEM, too.”

Daily practice is essential at their advanced level. And it can be a challenge. “There are definitely times when it’s hard for me to find the motivation to practice,” said Alyssa, “especially if I feel I’m not progressing enough. But I think it’s okay to have off days. We’re not machines. We can’t just go on. I think as long as you find something you love about it, continuing is great. But you have to take care of yourself first.”

Amber said she has entertained the idea of pursuing a professional piano career. “But I have always balanced it with school and swimming,” she said. “I don’t know how much I would love it if I had to do just that. Right now, It’s kind of an escape from everything else.”

Both girls were especially thrilled to perform on the Steinway pianos loaned by Jacobs Music. One is the new Spirio Reperformance piano, which is able to record in high definition. The other was personally selected by famed pianist Yuja Wang at the Steinway factory in Queens, N.Y., for a performance at McCarter Theatre Center.

Amber and Yuja Wang happen to share the last name. Asked if they are related, Amber replied, “I wish!”