“Mom, let’s perform around the world together as a two piano team…”
Hi, I’m Chris. That’s me on the left in the picture. But this story isn’t about me. It’s about my super hero, best friend, favorite pianist, and mom, Michelle Chen Kuo (陳秋霞).
If my mom were born in today’s generation, she would have been the little girl that was featured on the Ellen show or Little Big Shots. She was a total child prodigy.
By the time she was eleven years old, she made her professional debut, performing a Mozart piano concerto with the Wen Hua University Symphony Orchestra. At thirteen, she won the Taiwan National Piano Competition (she also won at fourteen…and fifteen) while studying at Kuang-Jen Music School (光仁音樂班) .
From there, she won the National Piano Competition in Hong Kong, and on scholarship, represented Hong Kong at the London Arts Festival before attending Eastman School of Music and the Juilliard School.
Clearly, I’m very proud to have a world class talent as a mother and teacher.
Those who know me personally have heard me brag about her at least a dozen times. However, growing up, I didn’t have a damn clue how special my mom was or the kind of career opportunities she chose to leave behind. Mom was always just mom to my brother and me. Her priority was always our family.
She was the kind of mother who always timed dinner perfectly so that hot food would be on the table when my dad got home from work and surprised us with treats every time she picked us up from school.
Occasionally, mom would tell us stories about selling out concert halls in Taiwan when she was our age. Once in a while, she’d reminisce about her life as a master’s degree student at Juilliard, when she could dedicate the entirety of her day to perfecting her art. She held annual recitals at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall for twenty years, a huge achievement considering that she ran a full piano teaching studio and raised two rowdy kids.
But the dream to tour the world as a pianist was buried.
As the years passed, Mom continued to take care of the family and focus on her career as a teacher, improving her craft to the point where a large number of her students were getting into conservatories. “I’m a much better teacher than I am a pianist,” she would always say.
I didn’t believe her at all. The only difference between her and the top talents on stage was practice time. I had watched enough concerts at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center at this point to realize that there were so many people with less talent than mom enjoying fulfilling careers as concert pianists. I kept trying to push her to give her dream a shot again.
“I’m too old now, Chris,” was what I got in return every single time.
I had to do something.
It’s my time to pay my mom back and help her realize her long lost dreams. My mission is to share my mom’s music with the world again by joining her on stage.
When my mom invited me to perform a two piano recital at Carnegie Hall with her in 2015, I realized that it was a chance to change her life. I could provide the operational, financial, and emotional support as her teammate. I just needed to figure out a way to match her as a pianist on stage. The schedule below was my solution:
- 6:00AM – 7:30AM: Wake Up and Practice
- 8:00AM – 6:00PM: Go to Work
- 6:15PM – 6:30PM: Grab a Quick Dinner
- 6:30PM – 10:30PM: Practice Some More
Six to eight hours of practice a day, no excuses
I live a double life.
I attended the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University and graduated with a degree in Finance and Computer Science in 2012. During the day, I trade structured credit derivatives for a large investment bank.
At night, I practice piano like there’s no tomorrow. Every day is budgeted to the minute. Every day is a sprint to get from one line on the schedule to the next. It is an exhausting way to live, but I have no regrets because of what we earned together.
On Saturday, October 17, 2015, Mom and I performed a recital at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, and our audience, with their cheering and applause, gave us permission to DREAM BIG.
Mom and I share the dream to become the best piano ensemble team in the world.
We have taken a leap of faith with our first concert tour – we are scheduled to perform twenty times between now and the end of 2017 and we want to make that 40 times in 2018. I have no idea how we are going to manage, but I have a feeling we’ll be just fine.
OUR DREAM: Perform around the world, for the world
Since we started performing together in 2015, our friends and family across the country have supported our dream to go on tour. Without their love, none of this would be possible. Our way of saying ‘thank you’ in to support nonprofit organizations our audience members are passionate about.
Every single concert we perform, in full or in part, is for the benefit of an organization doing critical work to make our world a better place.
From 1997 – 2017, my mom and I raised $290,000 by performing benefit concerts for various nonprofit organizations. Let’s make that number $1,000,000 together.