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Intense focus helps young pianist master his music

Claremont resident Jack Xiao has mastered some of the world’s most difficult piano pieces, performed at the prestigious Carnegie Hall of Music in New York twice, and was recently named the first place finisher at the distinguished Music Teacher’s Association of California Contemporary Festival. He also just celebrated his 12th birthday.

The El Roble student and prodigy pianist may have had a taste of the big time, but prefers to remain at home within the halls of the Claremont Community School of Music, where he perfected his piano skills for the past seven years. Claremont residents are invited to see the master in action this Sunday, February 16 at a solo benefit performance held at the school of music’s Huff Recital Hall. His fingers begin flying at 3 p.m.

Natural ability may have played in his favor, but Jack is the first to admit it takes a lot more than predisposition to get through Franz Liszt’s La Campanella.

“It takes a lot of practice,” he said.

Jack isn’t complaining. In fact, his teachers—and most of all his mom—know the Math Olympiad and debate team member loves a little bit of hard work. Of the extracurricular activities fueling his overdrive, however, piano has always remained at the forefront.

“Most parents tell me they have to remind their kids to practice. For me, I have to remind him to take breaks,” his mother Susan Xiao said. “When he gets home from school, the first thing he does is go straight to the piano.”

His passion for piano began, albeit unrefined, as a two-year-old with an affinity for banging out his own unique tunes. Playtime became serious study shortly before his fifth birthday when his parents enrolled him in his first piano lesson. The music has been flowing freely ever since. Aided by his teachers at the Claremont Community School of Music, Condit and El Roble, where his passion for classical music was encourage, Jack hopes to turn his talent into a full-time profession as a professional concert pianist.

“Music helps me express myself,” he said.

Artemis Bedros, master piano teacher at the Claremont Community School of Music, began teaching Jack two years ago and was immediately struck not only by Jack’s ability to play, but also by his work ethic.

“He is unusually focused when he practices so that he accomplishes a lot in the time we spend at the piano,” Ms. Bedros shared.

His intense concentration has helped aid the young piano enthusiastic in tackling pieces many others have failed to do, like Liszt’s brisk concerto that will feature in Sunday’s lineup. The number quickens as it progresses, and is noted for its quick octave jumps, a grueling task for any professional concert pianist. Jack, bent over the keys while practicing the piece on Monday, was intent but notably relaxed as he glided his hands easily across the board in a seemingly effortless manner.

“[La Campanella] is one of the most difficult pieces for the piano, but Jack makes it look easy,” Ms. Bedros noted. “He has natural agility.”

Despite his accomplishments—which include first place distinctions from the American Association for International Young Gifted Musicians and at the American Fine Arts Festival 2013 International Gala Concert—Jack remains modest.

“He is very humble, he doesn’t have airs or anything,” Ms. Bedros said.

Sunday’s performance is not only Jack’s debut, but a way for the young musician to give back to his school and others who want to learn how to play. The performance is free but the Xiao family will be accepting donations to contribute to the school’s scholarship fund, raising money for aspiring musicians who cannot afford classes.

“Claremont has given a lot to us. We want to give back,” Ms. Xiao said.

The performance, open to the public, runs from 3 to 4 p.m. The Claremont Community School of Music is located at 951 W. Foothill Blvd. For more information, visit www.claremontmusic.org.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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