Idyllwild Arts Grad Heads to S.C. Piano Competition

(from L) Pianists Keri and Timmy at the Winners Concert in Glendale

By Marcia E. Gawecki

When the ceremony was over, they said goodbye to their favorite teachers and friends, and celebrated over lunch. Then most of the Idyllwild Arts graduates headed home for the summer. They were glad to be done with recitals, finals and homework. But one classical music major still had work to do.

Yuet Ka “Keri” Hui, from Hong Kong, had one more week to prepare for a piano competition in South Carolina. So every day, while the guys from the Idyllwild Arts maintenance department cleared away the debris, and housekeeping cleaned the rooms, Keri went to the practice room for three hours each day. No other students were around.

The South Eastern Piano Festival is important to Keri because she had to learn and memorize two new pieces, including a concerto and solo piece. When she goes to a week-long summer school, the competition will be at the end.

She’s a little nervous about it.

“All the students in the competition are really good,” Keri said. “It’ll be hard to win.”

There’s master classes every day, and the students learn from each other. ¬†For more information, visit

In the fall, Keri will be going to the University of Southern California (USC).

“It has a great program for pianists,” Keri said.

She said she was grateful to go to a school in Southern California. A few months ago, she went to several auditions in Boston, New York and Indiana. Snow was on the ground, and there was a nip in the air. Her hands were always cold, she said.

Cold weather is not only hard on the hands, but on instruments too, other Idyllwild Arts students say. Senior auditions are always held in the wintertime, and they worry that their instruments will warp and change because of the cooler temperatures.

But no worries for Keri. South Carolina and Southern California will be warm and sunny.

During her years at Idyllwild Arts, Keri entered many piano competitions.

“It’s great practice to play in front of a live audience,” she said.

On May 14, she attended the 26th Annual Glendale Piano Competition with her boyfriend, Tianpeng “Timmy” Yu. Weeks earlier, they both had performed in the competition. Keri won an Honorable Mention in the Senior Division and walked away with a $300 check. Timmy took first prize.

Earlier that year, Keri competed in the Steinway Society competition in Palm Springs, but wasn’t at her best, she said. Her wrist was hurting and she was sick with the flu. Yet, she forged on, and played like a champ.

Now that she’s graduated and been accepted to USC, why does she need to continue to compete?

Just like professional dancers and athletes, classical musicians need to continue to practice and perform to remain at the top of their game.

“I heard about the competition last year, but didn’t apply. It’s a good program and it’s only one week long,” Keri said. “I got a full scholarship this year, and the competition is at the end.”

But sometimes competition comes at a high price.  Injuries can incur that can make or break a career.

Starting piano at age 8, Keri was considered late in playing the piano. (Her boyfriend started at age 5). After a few years, she switched to violin. However, two years ago, she had such terrible pains that she could no longer play the violin.

“I had no strength left in my arms,” Keri said. “It was like they were hollow.”

Yet, after a year as an Interdisciplinary Arts major, Keri fell in love with the piano again. To make up for lost time, Keri feels she has to work harder to catch up with her peers.

“Keri is a good player,” said Benny, who plays classical and jazz piano at Idyllwild Arts. “She works hard and is just as good as the rest of them.”

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Published on: Jun 8, 2011 @ 15:41

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