International pianist works with School of Music students to teach the “colors” of the piano

Published: November 5, 2021 Author: Emma Skidmore, BSJ ‘23

Pianists Qing Jiang, DMA, and Emely Phelps, DMA, have history. Both attended The Juilliard School at the same time – Jiang in the graduate program and Phelps as an undergraduate student. 

“We both overlapped in terms of our musical life,” Jiang said. “I remember actually hearing her play.” 

In 2014, Phelps, Ohio University Artist-Teacher of Piano, recalls they reconnected at the Yellow Barn Festival in Vermont, a chamber music festival. Now, Phelps and Jiang, assistant professor of music at Bucknell University and one of this year’s College of Fine Arts Visiting Artists, have reunited once again to educate students and participate in a faculty exchange. 

“Having that outside person to come in and give [students] a new thought, a new way of listening to things, really can help enormously,” Phelps said about Jiang’s visit in October. “You just never know where that inspiration is going to come from. The more that we’re able to provide possibilities for that kind of spark to happen, the better. I chose her because she’s an incredible pianist, but also, it’s just someone that I trust,” Phelps adds. “Plus, she has a beautiful program.” 

In March 2022, Phelps plans to serve as a guest artist at Bucknell where she will participate in a contemporary piano music festival. 

Jiang says by performing together, artists can form deep and lasting connections with each other, and it is common for their paths to cross many times. 

“The older you get, the smaller the world becomes,” Jiang says. “With music--something that’s pretty amazing-- and I think with art in general, (you) really connect with the person immediately. You go very quickly to the core of someone’s voice.” 

Jiang’s visit marks the first opportunity this year for the School of Music to bring in a guest artist in person to work with and present to all students and community members, respectively, without having to limit the number of students in the class or the audience, Phelps said. In spring 2021, in-person audiences were limited to just 10 people, she recalls. 

The “colors” of the piano 

Jiang says her residency, which included a free community performance as well as a one-hour master class for School of Music students, is largely keyboard centered. 

After her performance, Jiang says several students approached her about what she described as the “colors” of the piano, or the various orchestral sounds that emerge while playing. Sharing her approach to connecting with the piano—as if through colors—with students is a favored method of teaching for Jiang. When students understand it too, that makes her happy, Jiang says. 

“What [makes] you really happy is when your desire has come across, and my desire for this program is to showcase the colors on the piano,” she said. 

Savannah Robinson, a first-year Music Education major, said Jiang was engaged and energetic in her teaching. 

“As she explained, she was just super intentional with everything. The preparation she put into it, you could just see that physically and hear it,” Robinson said. 

Robinson said this was a new experience for her as it was her first time learning from a visiting artist at OHIO. 

“She was definitely a good first one to watch,” Robinson says. “I already picked up a lot of things taking notes throughout her performance and observing her in the class. I know that just the way she carried herself was really awesome for me to see.” 

Born in Zhenjiang, China, Jiang received her undergraduate degree at Arizona State University. Jiang received her DMA at the New England Conservatory in Boston, Massachusetts, and has performed in music halls around the world, including Snape Maltings Hall in the United Kingdom and China’s Shenzhen Poly Theater. 

For Jiang, playing and teaching piano has always been part of her life. She received a piano from her mother, a children’s choir director, and her grandfather for her first birthday. At 18 months old, Jiang started learning how to read music, she says. Jiang was also a part of the Tempe Sister City Exchange Student program in high school, where she played piano at Arizona State for the first time. 

“Somebody heard me (play) … and asked me if I wanted to come to this country to study,” she recalls. “I was 17... I called my piano teacher and she said, ‘If you want to pursue your dream in piano, America is the place.’ So that’s what I did.” 

Read more stories about College of Fine Arts’ visiting artists and scholars.