Even with international success, Overland Park is just right for this teenage piano phenom
Overland Park native Eddison Chen, who just turned 14, is racking up awards at some of the most elite national and international piano competitions. Classical KC speaks with Chen and his mother about competitions, his first exposure to the piano, having perfect pitch and performing on NPR's prestigious From the Top program.
When he was just eight years old, Eddison Chen started bringing home medals from competitions. At 13, he was a quarterfinalist at the prestigious Van Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition and Festival — the most elite competition of its type in the United States.
Now, at 14, he's earned a fellowship with NPR's highly selective From the Top program.
He was first exposed to the piano when he was four years old, thanks to his grandmother. And it was immediately second nature. "I'm not sure I remember learning music, how to read music," he says.
His mother, Xinyan Bai, a Kansas City-based scientist, recalls this moment and discovering that Eddison has perfect pitch. "I think it was during Thanksgiving," she explains, "his grandma just learned maybe like a very simple song and whatever his grandma played on the keyboard, he can go and repeat it."
Chen's parents soon found him a private piano teacher, and he learned quickly that the piano is great way to express himself, adding that "it doesn't have a definite answer on how to play something. It's a question of not whether you're playing it right, but whether you're interpreting right."
Even with a natural affinity for music, there's no magic dust to become a piano prodigy. Eddison's routine and work ethic are impressive.
"He follows teachers and parents very well," beams Bai. "He plays maybe two hours during the school days and three to four hours during the weekends — it's just part of his life."
All the practice and preparation in the word can't keep a mother from feeling nervous for her child before a big competition or performance, such as the Cliburn.
"I was quite nervous," Bai says, "I cannot sleep in the night. I thought what if he did something wrong? I even closed my eyes and I was just listening and I wish, you know, he can just play through smoothly. After he finished I was really happy, I thought, 'ok, he's done and now I can have a good sleep.'"
Even as Chen travels the world performing and competing, he enjoys returning home to Overland Park.
"It's a nice suburb," he says. "It's like sort of in the middle and it's not a super tiny town. It's not a super big city. Everything is just like in the middle for Kansas City."
In addition to piano, Chen, currently a student at Oxford Middle School, also loves math and chess and geography.
Whatever his next steps are, his family will be there for him.
"As a parent, I try my best to support him," says Bai. "As long as he likes practicing, likes to perform and he likes to make competitions, I will do whatever I can to support him."
You can learn more about Kansas City based pianist Eddison Chen and his appearance on From the Top at fromthetop.org. From the Top can be heard every Saturday 10-11a.m. and Sunday 7-8 p.m. on 91.9 FM and classicalkc.org.
Eddison Chen performance audio courtesy of The Cliburn.