Not all musicians can add Protégé to their list of titles, but Hockaday junior Grace Cai can. A first place winner of the American Protégé International Music Talent Competition, Cai will display her abilities on the piano with a recital in one of the most renowned music halls in the country — Carnegie Hall.
Cai’s instructor Dr. Grace Long found the competition on her never-ending search for musical opportunities for her students. The contest is open to musicians of any age and with specialties from piano to brass. Long encouraged Cai to submit a recording of her performance of Chopin’s “Ballade No. 3 Op. 47.” The 16-year-old will be one of several winners to perform in New York City on an evening in early July. While she’s still deciding on which piece to perform, Cai said she was leaning toward Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude No. 10 Op. 32.”
“I’ve heard about [Carnegie] ever since I started playing,” Cai said. “We always look up to the big virtuoso concert pianist and you always hear they went to Carnegie Hall … I always thought that stage was reserved for very talented people, like professional pianists.”
Following her trip to New York this summer, Cai will board a much longer flight to Monti Castello di Vibio, Italy. There she will join Long and seven other students to give two concerts.
“The students will have firsthand experience with live audiences, culture, arts, and language,” Long said. “We will have a fantastic time in an open classroom.”
To prepare for the recitals, Cai will rely on many hours of practice and well-honed techniques.
The pianist has been playing the ivory keys for 11 years. She aims to practice at least two hours a day, and while she once found the ritual of practice to be a mundane chore, she now appreciates her time at the piano on a deeper level.
“Recently, I found self-gratification from trying to improve on my own, and striving to play my best,” she said.
Just as in competition, Cai will play at Carnegie sans sheet music. While the Chopin piece was around seven minutes 30 seconds, her performance at Carnegie will only be five minutes long. However, it still takes months to memorize the pieces, Cai said.
“It takes time for the music to really get under your fingers,” she said. “Once you’re nervous up there, even when you think you have it memorized, you have memory slips.”
But despite her rigorous personal rehearsals, Cai makes sure to give her fingers a rest to avoid injury. In addition to her academic and musical endeavors, she is also involved with Hockaday’s theater program.
“[Cai] never uses her busy schedule as an excuse for not practicing piano,” Long said. “She has learned to manage her time well and has made remarkable progress.”