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Taking things to heart

Young pianist finds her passion in art, clothing and music

If pianist Joyce Yang broke a finger, she would switch careers and enter the fashion industry.

“I am interested in fashion because clothing isn’t just to cover your body, it’s a sense of people’s expression. When the new season comes out, I have to print out all the designers’ collections and compare them,” Yang said. “I would like to be a buyer for a store and get paid to dress people.”

Yang lives in a small apartment on the upper east side of New York City with stacks of shoeboxes that almost reach the ceiling.



“Oh my God, it’s so bad,” Yang said about her shopping addiction. “Now I finally understand why some people just have to buy a $10,000 shirt. It’s like buying a piece of artwork, and if you can afford to, you can wear it and perhaps make it dirty and throw it away in a couple of years.”

There is nothing disposable about Yang’s talent and passion for music. In June 2005 – at 19 years old – she won the silver medal at the 12th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Her prize package included $20,000, a CD recording on the Harmonia Mundi USA label and three years of U.S. concert engagements.



The best part of the competition was getting to play with the Takacs String Quartet, Yang said.

“I played with them for four performances since the competition, and those were the best times of my life,” Yang said. “I am completely obsessed with them, and it’s becoming unhealthy. If I didn’t play with them I would stalk them all over the place.”

Together, she thinks they become perfectly connected to the music without saying a thing.

“It’s just giving and receiving music in a way that is completely effortless, completely natural and music at its highest,” Yang said. “Playing with people you don’t like is like eating bugs. It’s the most horrible feeling.”

Yang began playing the piano and violin at age four. She was playing large concerts by 13. And she still gets nervous before each performance.

“I heard from a friend that I look relaxed, but at any minute I can drop dead,” she said. “I am under a lot of adrenaline on stage, and I try to say to myself, it’s like my living room and it’s not the end of the world if something strange happens in the middle of a performance.”

One of the most fun and interesting things Yang said she did this season was work with the Texas Ballet Company.

“I was on stage with them and the funny thing is, when they do their fancy thing, people start clapping in the middle, and I’m like, ‘I’m not done!'” she said. “Respect the music. Stop. Stop.”

Yang found working with dancers a lot easier than working with musicians because she said they are more accommodating and are used to working with people.

When she’s not touring, Yang said she is a couch potato who orders in a lot of food.

“I constantly eat. I have to have my energy source, which right now is the milkshake,” she said. “It’s right downstairs, which is so bad. The milkshake man knows my schedule, that’s how bad it is.”

Yang’s other refueling source is going to the Museum of Modern Art.

“I shouldn’t say this, but I think paintings are more powerful than music,” she said. “What senses it brings you is incredibly powerful. Clothing is beautiful for the eyes, music is beautiful for the ears, but all go to your heart.”


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