Compared with Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang, whose musical foundation was influenced by his parents, who wanted him to be a musician, Tian Jiaxin has a different story. Her parents did not want her to follow in their footsteps.
"We know the hardship of learning music, and we've spent our whole lives in this area," says Tian's mother, Wang Yuying, 55, a retired soprano from Opera Troupe of the General Political Department of People's Liberation Army. "We didn't want our daughter to go through it."
Tian's father, Tian Di, who is a composer and conductor from the same troupe, agrees. "It's very natural for our daughter to learn piano but we didn't want her to become a professional pianist. Playing piano as a hobby is good enough."
Despite her parents' reservations, Tian Jiaxin was set on becoming a professional pianist.
At 25, she performed the Yellow River Concerto with the Forte Symphony Orchestra in January 2012, during the Spring Festival at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing. In February 2012, she performed at the John C. Borden Auditorium with the Manhattan School of Music Symphony under the baton of Philippe Entremont.
The New York Times described her as "full of passion and energetic commitment". She won acclaim for her solo performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No 20 in D minor K 466 at the Rising Artists Evening event organized by the New York Concert Artists & Associates at Carnegie Hall in New York on June 2, 2012. On July 6, 2012, she held her first solo concert in China at Beijing Concert Hall.
"I never felt it was a torture and was never bored playing piano, even when I had to practice constantly at a very young age," says the Beijing native.
In fact, Tian describes playing piano as her greatest childhood joy. She started learning the musical instrument at 3 years old under pianist Huang Peiying at the Central Conservatory of Music and famed Chinese piano instructor Zhou Guangren.
Tian says she was destined to play piano. Growing up in a family of musicians, her ears are sensitive to music.
"I like imagining pictures and stories with each piano piece. For example, when the rhythm is fast, I think of a jumping deer or blinking stars. When the music is slow, I picture dancing aquatic plants," she says.
Because of her straightforward and confident personality, Tian never experienced stage fright, even during her debut performance at Beijing Concert Hall when she was only 5 years old.
"I always feel excited the night before a performance. But when I'm onstage, I feel relaxed," she says.
Unlike many Chinese prodigies who study music academically and systematically at music conservatories in China from as young as 6 years old, Tian went to middle school and high school like most other children.
"We didn't choose music conservatories, which put more emphasis on music than other courses like science, math and literature. We wanted our daughter to get a comprehensive education like most children in China," says Tian's mother.
Tian practiced on the piano for four hours daily after school. To her, that was considered a break from homework.
At 18, she entered Shenyang Conservatory of Music and studied under Wei Danwen, who, Tian says, ushered her into a different musical world.
"Wei changed my attitude toward piano playing," Tian says. "Previously, I was taught to focus on technique - the faster I played, the better. But Wei taught me to listen to myself and to feel the emotion running between each note. He also told me that I had to express my emotions through the music."
It was her first time away from home and during the first year, it was challenging. She had to learn to be independent and strong by immersing herself in music, practicing piano for some eight hours daily.
One of Tian's all time favorites is Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. She says initially, her teacher was worried that she would not be able to play the piece well because of her happy personality.
But, Tian says when she played the piece, she placed herself in the composer's shoes and surprised her teacher.
"A beam of moonlight shed on the lake - cold, lonely and even scary. As the music proceeds, I picture the water in the lake moving with the rhythm," Tian explains.
Upon graduation, Tian furthered her studies at the United States' Manhattan School of Music, under the tutelage of Jeffrey Cohen, a professor whom Tian describes as "a father and a friend".
Unlike the traditional musical education Tian received, the professor motivated her to create and deal with new music pieces on her own.
Tian has since won awards for her performances in the United States, including the 2011 Dora Zaslavsky Kuch Concerto Competition, and the First Young Artist Competition in Long Island. She was also selected to perform with the New York Concert Artists Orchestra through their Rising Artists Concerto Presentation in 2011. Her achievements attracted the attention of several record companies.
In May 2012, she received her master's degree in classical performance from the Manhattan School of Music.
But Tian says she wants to slow down and deepen her piano studies in the US for one more year. She also plans to cooperate with some young Chinese musicians who mix classical music with jazz and traditional Chinese music.
"I feel that the future of classical music depends on developments in China in the next 20 years, so I am not in a hurry," she says. "I never really thought about my future plans because it interrupts the nobility of the music. I'll do my best and let it be."
Tian Jiaxin plays from the heart|People|chinadaily.com.cn