When Kate Liu decided to pursue music as a professional career, she felt grateful that her parents were open to the idea. They believed, “If there’s something you want to do, just do it well.”
That mantra has stayed with Liu, 28, throughout her journey as a pianist. She said it was something that she kept in mind early on in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, and it is likely to stay with her after being eliminated from the competition on June 6 after the quarterfinals.
Liu can barely remember starting piano lessons, but she does remember her older sister of three years was already learning the instrument.
“And, of course, when you’re young and you look up to your sister, you start wondering what (the piano) is, and you become curious about it yourself,” Liu said.
She joined her sister taking piano lessons at age 4, but it didn’t become serious for her until much later in life. Piano became a way of life as she grew up; she neither loved nor hated playing but simply accepted it as part of her life.
When she was 14, Liu attended her first summer camp, the International Institute for Young Musicians in Kansas. The experience was the first time she had ever been surrounded by other people who all played piano, and she realized music could be more than just a hobby or an extracurricular activity.
Within the next year or two, Liu realized that she wanted to embrace music as her career. It was a fairly easy decision at the time, and one that she hasn’t regretted yet. Something about music “spoke to her,” but she had to work very hard to capture the talent she aspired to have, Liu said.
Alan Chow, piano professor and chair of the piano department at the Eastman School of Music, recognized Liu’s dedication to piano soon after meeting her, he said. He taught Liu at the Music Institute of Chicago during junior high and high school.
“(Liu) was already quite a remarkably formed pianist and musician even when I first started working with her,” Chow said. “Her musical instincts have always been there, and her sense of connection to the music, her sense of seriousness about everything that she did at the piano was evident from the very beginning.”
Liu’s work ethic was better than any other student Chow has had, he said. Of all his students, she stood out as the most likely to make it to such a prestigious competition as the Cliburn simply because of how seriously she takes her craft.
Liu laughed at herself while confessing that she wouldn’t know what to do with herself or her life if she hadn’t found music.
“I’m pretty useless,” Liu said. “I’ve thought about it, and I don’t know. It might have been different if I had gone to university. But piano has been basically the center of my life for so long.”
Despite making it to the Cliburn, Liu said she doesn’t like competitions, and she doesn’t enjoy competing. If she didn’t have to compete, she wouldn’t, but she wagers most musicians feel the same way.
“(Competing) is not a very artistic thing in and of itself,” Liu said. “You’re pitting people’s playing, which is kind of subjective, against each other even though every person has a different thing to say. And everyone has something to say, but it’s just different.”
Cecilia Lenzen is a freelance reporter with the Fort Worth Report. Contact her via Twitter or email. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.