COLUMBIA — Before every performance, Junyi Wu closes his eyes and thinks about the hours of practice that led to this moment.
On Nov. 10, he trusted his preparation again as he walked to the piano and sat down to play before the judges in the Missouri Music Teachers Association's annual competition. He had selected an etude by Rachmaninoff, a sonatina by Ravel and a prelude by Kabalevsky.
Wu, a junior at Hickman High School, executed a winning performance that night for the second year in a row.
The annual competition is for collegiate and pre-collegiate players across the state.There were approximately 2,500 students with different musical backgrounds competing this year.
"It's not only a chance to compete but to meet many players, teachers and judges from around the state," Wu said. "Their performances and comments influence my learning in music."
The judges at the competition don't just rate players based on sound but also on their energy, control and connection to their piece. They applauded Wu for his orchestral sense of balance and texture.
"Having something to express myself with is a really interesting feeling," Wu said. "Even playing a piece by a composer from so long ago, I feel like I can relate to them when I play their music."
Wu has been playing piano since the age of 6 and has studied under Beverly Kyriakos for the past seven years.
"When he got a grand piano four years ago, there was an incredible surge of interest," Kyriakos said. "Since then, he has jumped light-years ahead in learning piano."
Wu said he focuses a lot more on the fundamentals than he did when he first began piano lessons. He also does considerable background research on his pieces to understand the compositions.
"He has so much patience and passion for his music," Yan Yang, Wu's mother, said. "I tell him to take breaks, but he always pushes through until he's done with the song."
Kyriakos privately teaches 17 students in Columbia and tries to select compositions that best fit their personality.
"You have to please them to a certain degree and give them music they can connect to," Kyriakos said. "Sometimes it comes down to the judges and what they prefer."
Wu is also actively involved as a trombonist in the Hickman band, in the American Red Cross club and a number of other school organizations.
He is not rushing to pick a university but said he plans to continue his fervor for piano during his college career by getting involved with music organizations at the school of his choice.
"It's an indescribable feeling knowing that what you play can have an impact on someone who is listening," Wu said. "I'm creating this music with my bare hands and people listening can be passionate with it also."
Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.