After six years of competing in the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) piano competition, 16-year-old Christopher Shin received news last month that he had placed first in the eastern division and will move to the final tier of the competition in March.
Shin will compete on the national level against six other division winners at the virtual National Competition conference in March, a dream of his since he began competing in the music teacher association competitions in seventh grade.
Shin won the state-level competition in 2019 for the 11- to 14-year-old age group and placed second in the state competition in 2020 for the senior (pre-collegiate) division. This year, he will perform a 30-minute program consisting of three musical pieces from different genres; Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57, S. Rachmaninoff Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 36 (full movements) and F. Rzewski’s “Which Side Are You On?” from North American Ballads.
“It’s always been one of my dreams or goals to one day play (Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 23), so I started learning it back in June,” Shin said. He explained that it is one of Beethoven’s most well-known sonatas and is revered as one of the top three best-written pieces by the composer.
The Rachmaninoff piece was passed down to him by his teacher Veda Zuponcic, a Cherry Hill resident and piano professor at Rowan University who had learned it from her teacher.
“It’s one of my favorite pieces that I’ve played so far, and it’s probably one of the biggest works I’ve done in my piano career so far,” Shin noted.
Shin describes the last piece, “Which Side Are You On,” as a patriotic hymn, a homage to protestors who demanded unions for coal miners in Kentucky during the 1930s. He added that competing at a national level with Rzewski’s piece feels like carrying out his legacy; the composer died last June.
To prepare for the March contest, Shin began practicing his pieces as early as one year ago and practiced two to four hours daily.
“When you get a larger piece that’s 10 minutes or more … once you’ve passed over six months of playing it, that’s when you truly understand it and you can play it with well thought ideas, really organized and with emotional depth to it,” he explained.
Music plays a big part in Shin’s life both in school and out. At Cherry Hill East, he plays trumpet in the school jazz band and piano for the pit orchestra in the school’s spring musical. He is also the founder of East Musicians on Call, a club founded in 2020 to benefit the community through music.
Over the course of a year, vocalists and instrumentalists came together to create seven 30-minute virtual projects that were distributed to community centers, hospitals and nursing homes to bring music to the community. In 2021, the club expanded with Project Crescendo to make music more accessible to local elementary students and raised more than $5,000.
Shin also serves as the vice president of the Student Government Association and biology club and is the secretary for the Science Olympiad Club. In the future, he hopes to study piano and neuroscience.
To listen to Shin perform, visit his YouTube channel at https://bit.ly/3oINaZp.