By Nina Huang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Enzo Zhao is only 7 years old and he’s about to play at Carnegie Hall this April for the second time in his life.
The second grader started playing piano two years ago at age 5. He received a toy piano from a family friend as a toddler, and his interest continued to grow.
When he turned 5, his father, Derek, bought Enzo a digital piano.
“Enzo sat down patiently and played every single note. He played like a natural and that surprised us,” Derek explained.
The Zhaos live in University Place in the Tacoma area. They moved there last April from the Washington, D.C. area.
Enzo was really happy to learn about his Third Place Award in the Young Musicians category of the American Protégé International Piano & Strings Competition.
He will be performing at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York on April 22. Last year, he played Fritz Spindler’s Sonatina in E minor in front of about 500 people.
Enzo is inspired by legendary composers like Johann Sebastian Bach and Frédéric Chopin. He would also love to meet Chinese pianists Lang Lang and Li Yundi some day.
His favorite song to play at the moment is Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonatina in F major.
Derek and his wife don’t play any instruments, but Enzo’s mom learned a little digital piano when she was a child for fun, not professionally.
Enzo has a younger brother who’s 3 years old and is also a music fan.
Derek is very proud of his son, who practices piano very hard for an hour every day.
Enzo also plays the violin and guitar. His father said that he’s learned so quickly because he’s a natural.
“He’s able to apply his piano skills to other instruments very quickly. One of the most memorable moments was when the family still lived in D.C. and Enzo brought his violin to the beach to play in public. His little brother danced next to him while he played, it was a fun moment,” Derek said.
Zhao takes weekly one-hour lessons with Dr. Oksana Ezhokina, chair of Piano Studies at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU). Ezhokina has been teaching Enzo for almost a year, after Derek found her through his network at the university. Ezhokina has been teaching piano for over 20 years and this is her sixth year teaching at PLU.
“It’s been wonderful and very fulfilling for me. [Enzo is] a total delight, incredibly easy, and fun to be with. He’s a very talented kid and is sometimes capable of playing music that not every 7-year-old can play,” she explained.
She also described Enzo as someone who loves music, is a wonderful listener, and has a good ear.
“He has excellent rhythm and perfect pitch. He really hears things and that helps him greatly because it allows him to learn quickly. He’s also an independent learner, which is fantastic,” she added.
Ever since Enzo was little, Derek would put up the following words on the wall: thankful, caring, happy, polite, respect, hardworking, and nice, so Enzo would remember that those are the most important characteristics to have.
As parents, Derek explained that it can be difficult managing Enzo’s time and helping their son find the right balance of practicing music and being a kid.
Derek has always encouraged and instilled confidence in Enzo. Derek and his wife bring Enzo to the Seattle Symphony and find ways to positively influence his interest in music and develop his potential.
“As long as he likes it and it’s his passion, then we will support him all the way,” Derek said of his son’s musical interests.
Ezhokina also said, “I’ve observed the relationship between Enzo and his parents, and they provide opportunities that expose him to various activities. I’m pretty sure there’s a culture of high achievement at home.”
In additional to classical music, Enzo enjoys jazz and rock music. Although Enzo’s dream is to become a professional pianist, he’d love to learn how to play the drums someday.
His other hobbies include sports. Enzo’s a big fan of all kinds of sports and plays soccer.
“Enzo has a natural talent to go far in life. If he wants to continue music, I think he has all the absolutely necessary qualities if he maintains his interest through middle and high school. I also hope he continues being a kid, so he can learn and enjoy life,” she added.
“Right now, my biggest challenge is to memorize a song that is 21 pages long. This is for an orchestra that I’m going to play in,” Enzo said.
Nina can be reached at email@example.com.