In the evenings, you may have heard intricate piano melodies flowing from the Aylward community lounge next to the Providence dorms. Maybe you’ve seen the back of an Excelsior student and from a distance, seen his fingers running up and down the keys. When students are in the courtyard or in the lounge with the windows open, they comment on how beautiful his music sounds. But who is this skilled piano player?
Jia Xing Xuang, or Mark as he calls himself in America, grew up in Northern China. When Jia Xing was six years old in kindgergarden, he walked past a piano at his school and his mom asked him if he wanted to play piano. Jia Xing said yes, so his parents enrolled him into an elementary school that focused on music. He received an intense musical education and specialized in music until he graduated from sixth grade when he was 12 years old.
Most of the children he went to music school with abandoned piano playing after they graduated from elementary school, so many people assumed Jia Xing would do the same. But Jia Xing’s love for music kept him committed to the instrument. He continued to play recreationally and take private lessons throughout secondary school, and he continues to play in high school.
From the time he graduated from elementary school, Jia Xing has wanted to study abroad in America but his parents didn’t approve of that plan at the time. When he graduated secondary school, he had the choice of going to high school or getting a job (in China high school is not a requirement). He decided to go to high school, but he still wanted to study in America. Since Jia Xing’s older brother was already in California going to school, their father believed it would be better if the brothers did not attend the same school. Their father believed that the brothers should have separate lives and separate friends to build their independence.
Jia Xing had little desire to go to high school in China because of the intensity of it. In China, all high school students must take a national test, similar to the SAT or ACT, upon graduating. The test is much more intense than American standardized tests though, and their entire high school education is leading up to the test. This causes extreme stress on high school students, and Jia Xing did not want to deal with that. He said, “The test makes people go crazy.”
Circumstances changed when spaces opened up at Excelsior School and his parents allowed him to come to California and transfer to Excelsior. He is currently a junior taking classes like American History, Music, and AP World History. This is the first time he has lived in America besides attending summer camps for learning English. After being here for three months, he misses China but he still prefers living here and plans to go to college in America and stay long term.
For Jia Xing, playing piano is his way of relaxing his body and mind. When he was going to Chinese high school and he was extremely stressed, his mother would tell him to play piano. The music would sooth him and he still uses piano as a way to distress, to the delight of Aylward residents.
Music from the Romantic era is his favorite to play. Jia Xing is not very learned in Chinese music. He knows the Chinese national song, but other than that he plays mostly music from composers like Chopin and Beethoven. I have also heard him playing a complex version of the Harry Potter movie theme song.
As far as composing his own music, Jia Xing has written some of his own pieces but he does not consider himself a creative person. He knows the theory of how to compose music, but the actual composing is difficult for him.
Next time you hear lovely, elaborate music flowing from the community lounge, you can assume that is the sound of Jia Xing relaxing and gifting residents with his skills, the result of years of practice and learning.