One teacher helps three pianists earn national award

Music • Karlyen Tan's students honored with prestigious gold cup.
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For every exceptional talent, there is a dedicated teacher who stands in the shadows.

That's the case for Utah musicians Kyle Johnsen, Vincent Fu and Christian Sears, all students of Karlyen Tan.

The trio recently earned the presidential 90-point gold cup, the highest award given by the National Federation of Music Clubs, a nonprofit organization dedicated to music education since 1898.

Tan — who also happens to be Fu's mother — has been told that she is the first Utahn to have three students receive the award in the same year.

The Utah Federation of Music Clubs holds annual piano festivals in solo and concerto events. Students perform two memorized pieces, which are given ratings by three judges. The highest score, a superior, is worth 5 points.

To receive a gold cup, a student must receive 15 points or three superior ratings over the course of three years. Once students reach ninth grade, they can combine the points earned from concerto and solo festivals, making it possible to achieve the 90-point gold cup.

Tan has plenty of gold cup experience, as her students have participated in the competition for 23 years.

Sears, 18, who was raised in Salt Lake City, spoke with The Tribune on behalf of all three student musicians. He will enter the University of Utah on an academic scholarship that pays four years of tuition and housing.

When did you begin your musical training?

I started learning the piano at home when I was 5. And I started making comparably accelerated progress when I began lessons with Karlyen at age 7.

What instruments do you play?

I have played clarinet for two years and tenor saxophone for six years and continue to play piano, which I have played for 13 years.

Before receiving the cup, what other accomplishments had you attained?

We all take hard classes in school and pursue other time-consuming extracurriculars. Our teacher, Karlyen Tan, has guided us toward many achievements. The three of us successfully auditioned for and played in the annual Honors Recital in Temple Square's Assembly Hall more than once. Kyle and I, again, with much help from Karlyen, successfully auditioned for and played in our schools' Concerto Night performances, in which the school's best musicians play as concerto soloists accompanied by the respective high school's orchestra. We have all enjoyed musical success with guidance from Karlyen.

Besides your teacher, whom do you credit for your success?

My mother was very supportive and actually sat side-by-side with me every time I practiced when I was very young. She is a large component of my success. Pops went out to make money to pay for the lessons. Thanks, Pops. Finally, piano is actually a lot like learning in school or working out. There are two basic components: the instructor and the student. A teacher can explain how to do the math problem, a personal trainer can show you what exercises to do, but without your own hard work this is useless. I have practiced many hours to achieve what I have on piano, but the hard work would have done much less without direction from my teacher. Karlyen is truly an exceptional teacher. We are told she is only human and that she does in fact get tired and from time to time loses some of her drive. But I have never seen it. Her sheer effort and commitment redefine what devotion, dedication and particularly enthusiasm mean to her students. She will do everything she can — giving extra lessons, finding clever solutions to a problem, accompanying at auditions and so on — to ensure her student's success.

Do you foresee a life as a professional musician?

Although I do not plan to pursue music as a career, I will continue playing piano for the rest of my life. Though 13 years of piano lessons are done, I still enjoy playing Chopin and Rachmaninoff several times a week and will continue to do so.

Twitter: @davidburger