Show an exceptional talent, and without exception, there is a dedicated teacher in the shadows.
Three exceptionally talented young Utahns recently received the Presidential 90-point gold cup, the highest award bestowed by the National Federation of Music Clubs, a non-profit philanthropic and educational organization dedicated to music education since 1898.
The musicians’ teacher, Karlyen Tan, has been told that she is apparently the first to have three students receive the Presidential 90-point gold cup award in the same year in Utah.
The musicians —Kyle Johnsen, Vincent Fu (Karlyen’s son), and Christian Sears — are all long-time students of Tan, a long-time member of the Utah and National Federation of Music Clubs and whose students have participated in UFMC for 23 years.
The gold cup is one of the most prestigious awards for young pianists in the state.
Utah Federation of Music Clubs, a member organization of the National Federation of Music Clubs, holds yearly piano festivals in both solo and concerto events. Students play two memorized pieces for three judges, which are given ratings ("needs improvement," "fair," "satisfactory," "excellent," and "superior," in ascending order) by three judges.
Each gold cup represents 15 points earned. A "superior" is worth 5 points and so most gold cups are earned by earning three "superior" ratings over the course of three separate years. Once a student reaches ninth grade, however, they can combine points they receive from concerto festivals and solo festivals, making it possible to achieve the highest award, the Presidential 90-point gold cup.
Sears, 18, who was raised in Sugar House, spoke with The Tribune (on behalf of the other musicians) as he prepares to start at the University of Utah this fall with the U’s highest academic scholarship, which includes four years of tuition and housing.
What instruments do you play?
I have played clarinet for 2 years and tenor saxophone for 6 years and continue to play piano, which I have played for 13 years.
Before receiving the cup, what other accomplishments have 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 else 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, from giving extra lessons, finding clever solutions to a problem, accompanying at auditions, and so on to ensure her student’s success.
Is Utah a good place to be a musician?
Absolutely. Both the "U" and the "Y" have great music programs. There are many prodigious private teachers to be found, and there are many music opportunities to be had through a variety of organizations in our state.
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.
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.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
In five years I see myself as finishing my undergraduate studies (four years of college plus two years on a LDS mission). In 10 years I see myself as a young professional having recently completed graduate studies (in a study I do not yet know). In 25 years I see myself as filthy rich.
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