Twelve-year-old Richard Zhang’s natural ability has already taken him far.
The Kennedy Junior High School seventh-grader recently was named as the junior division winner for the Illinois State Music Teachers Association competition for his original piano composition, “The Medusa Rhapsody.”
As a state winner, he advanced to the Music Teachers National Association competition where he placed first again. He then advanced to the national semi-finals along with six other musicians from around the country.
“I’m not quite sure I consider it winning, but (being among the) top seven junior high composers in the nation isn’t too shabby,” Zhang said. “Besides, I did get my work reviewed by nine professional composers, which is a reward in and of itself.”
Zhang has been playing piano for more than seven years, and studies piano and composition with Elizabeth Callan-Noble of Naperville.
“First of all, Richard works very hard, and his achievement is the outcome of time, talent and tremendous effort,” Callan-Noble said. “He has a natural ability to create interesting melodies. I am most impressed that Richard consistently uses something unexpected in his compositions. His style is innovative, a trait he shares with master composers throughout history.”
Zhang is a two-time state winner, earning first place in the elementary division in 2011. Callan-Noble said competitions like this are important for several reasons.
“A unique aspect about composition competitions is that students receive valuable commentary from professional composers at each level of competition,” the teacher said. “The thrill of encouragement from published composers is a powerful motivator in an age when kids upload their original music to YouTube and social media sites.”
While an accomplished piano player, Zhang also has been a violinist for more than nine years. He finds great satisfaction in playing.
“(What I enjoy most) is just the satisfaction of, after months of hard work, finally getting that piece just right,” Zhang said. “I think the smaller successes — like defeating a difficult section — keep me trying to achieve the larger goal.
“People say that the journey is more important than the destination. I guess there are lessons to be learned from the way you get to success, but in the end, while maybe the lessons may be more useful to you, success still feels better.”
When he’s not writing or playing music, Zhang is a busy 12-year-old.
“Spare time? What’s that?” he joked. “When I do have time after finishing my homework, I like to read, do math, write random stories, draw and play chess sometimes.”