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Encore Adria!

Nine-year-old Adria Ye brings home four gold medals in national piano competition
by: Vern Uyetake, Adria Ye sits at the piano in her Lake Oswego home. The Westridge Elementary fourth-grader’s favorite composers include Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff.

Listening to Adria Ye play the piano is a surreal experience. The Chopin waltz is filled with emotion and performed almost flawlessly, something that players with years of lessons under their belts still struggle to accomplish.

Hearing the piece from outside, one might almost assume it was coming from a classical CD. But, in person, it is incongruent. The pianist's fingers fly up and down the keys effortlessly but she is not seated. Instead, she is almost standing, propped up against the bench because that is the only way her feet can reach the pedals.

When she finishes, her head is bowed and she blushes slightly. Ye has been playing the piano for nearly half her life and, if you do the math, that comes to about four years.

The nine-year-old Westridge Elementary School student can already tackle some of classical music's most difficult pieces. Currently, her favorite composers are Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff.

'I like music. Sometimes it makes me feel better when I play,' Ye said.

Recently, Ye participated in the U.S. Open Music Competition in Oakland, Calif. The event featured 71 different events for some of the nation's best young pianists.

Over a three-day period, Ye competed in eight events, and was one of the youngest participants in every event she entered. On a number of occasions, Ye went up against highschool-aged competitors.

For most nine-year olds, just the thought of performing for judges while being evaluated next to individuals twice their age would be petrifying. During the event, Ye performed roughly 45 minutes of music. But, apparently, Ye didn't let nerves get to her.

'I think it's wonderful for children. They get a chance to experience competition,' Ye's mother, Rui Wang said.

She took four gold medals, the top prize for each event, three silver medals and one bronze. As an added bonus, Ye was selected as one of the top-20 competitors in the entire competition and earned the right to play in the Gold Medal Showcase that closed the contest. Tickets were purchased for that performance, which is a benefit concert.

Ye was the youngest performer on the evening.

'We view the competitions as just part of the process. (Adria) will win some and lose some and along the way she will learn something. It builds self-confidence but winning is not the ultimate goal,' Wang said.

Ye aspires to be a classical pianist when she gets older but that is still a long way off. Right now, her parents, J.D. Ye and Rui Wang, just want to keep her grounded and give her as normal a childhood as possible.

She must finish her homework before she can practice the piano, which she does for anywhere between 15 minutes and three hours a day.

'If I'm in a good mood, it's a lot of fun, but I don't like it if I make a mistake,' Ye said.

Ye also enjoys reading and ballet classes and she is a talented sketch artist as well. She is also learning to speak Chinese, but is slightly less enthusiastic about those lessons.

Ye's family moved to Lake Oswego two years ago when she began taking lessons with Elizabeth Stern. Stern has been teaching for more than 60 years and has seen a collection of young prodigies pass her way.

'(Adria) plays much differently than she did a year and a half ago. Mrs. Stern is getting her to love music. She's a wonderful teacher and has had a number of gifted students,' Wang said.

And Stern is quick to return the compliment.

'I feel lucky to have this family in my life. I really learn from my students,' Stern said.

If Ye needs a role model to achieve her goal of being a concert pianist, she doesn't need to look far. Her older brother Michael is currently a sophomore at Princeton University and has been featured on the National Public Radio program, From the Top.

So perhaps musical prowess is genetic. J.D. Ye and Wang moved from China to the United States in 1983 to attend Columbia University. At the time, the couple had $100 to their name.

Wang earned Ph.Ds in philosophy and electrical engineering and currently works for Intel.

The Ye's returned to China in 2004 and Adria had the opportunity to see relatives she had never met before.

Although the accolades are just starting to pile up for Ye, her parents want to make sure that she has the opportunity to pursue whatever interests her while enjoying life as a fourth grader.

'I think, sometimes, people born in this country don't realize how lucky they are. Adria has a gift but she is also very fortunate. She has a great support system and the infrastructure is there for her. I'm sure there are other kids like her who don't get these opportunities,' Wang said.