2 Chandler teen pianists win national honors - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

2 Chandler teen pianists win national honors

March 25th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
2 Chandler teen pianists win national honors


Two 16-year-old pianists from Chandler have won a prestigious national competition for a piano duet they performed.

Rachel Dai and Nathan Lam took first place in the senior performance in a piano duet category of the Music Teachers National Association National Piano Competitions, which is geared to young classical musicians.

Rachel and Nathan are the first Arizonans to win the national first prize in the senior group, for ages 15 to 18, in the MTNA Piano Competitions’ long history.

Rachel, a junior at University High School in Tucson, and Nathan, a junior from at Perry High School, started studying piano at age 5 under the guidance of piano teacher Dr. Yali Luo.

They both have won numerous awards in their solo performances in the past and have been playing as a duet for the past three years. In 2009, they took top honors in the American Protege International Piano and Strings Competition and performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City that summer.

The MTNA National Competitions are the most successful and prestigious music student competitions in the country. Three tiers of age-based competitions begin with the state level and winners of each state’s contest advance to a division competition, which includes seven divisions in the country. Only the winner of each division advances to the final national competition.

Rachel and Nathan won the state competition in November and the Southwest Division Competition in January 2021.

The duo’s winning performance comprised three pieces: “Khachaturian Sabre Dance (2’),” “Schubert Fantasie in f minor, D. 940 (17’)” and “Tchaikovsky Waltz of the Flowers (6’).”

Rachel, the daughter of Hong Huo and Jixun Dai, said she and Nathan knew of each other through Dr. Luo.

“We saw each other at studio recitals every year, but we started playing together as a duo when we were in 8th grade,” she said.

As a duet, they won the American Protégé International Piano and Strings Competition, Arizona MusicFest Young Musicians Competition and the Arizona State Music Teachers Association Competition.

As a solo performer, Rachel has earned awards in the Arizona State Music Teachers Association and Phoenix Youth Symphony Piano Concerto competitions as well as a state round of the MTNA competition.

Besides playing a duet in Carnegie Hall, Nathan and Rachel also played before a sold-out crowd in the Young Musicians Winter Concert at the Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale.

“Since the pandemic began, we unfortunately haven’t had another opportunity to perform for a crowd,” Rachel said. “I miss it tremendously and I’ve found myself rewatching recordings of our previous performances often to try to relive the experience.”

This year, the MTNA competition was conducted virtually, requiring the duo to submit video recordings of their performance.

“In preparation for the competition, I practiced around two hours a day but we spent two to four more hours together recording or practicing a few times a week, with some weekend sessions going to eight-10 hours in a single day,” Rachel added.

“When not preparing for a specific competition,” she said, “we tend to practice less, especially when school gets busy. At the moment, we’re both currently working on our own solo pieces for future competitions.”

Rachel said she is grateful that her parents “chose to give me a music education since I was young, as it’s become such a huge part of my life and who I am.”

She hasn’t decided what she wants to pursue after she graduates high school but said, “I’m considering a minor in piano performance in college.”

Nathan, the son of Angie and Don Lam, practices between seven and 10 hours a week, though for competitions “it can go up to 40 hours a week.”

He has won first place in the American Protége´ International Piano and Strings Competition as well as awards in the Arizona Musicfest chamber and solo piano divisions and the Phoenix Youth Symphony Concerto Competition.

He noted that he and Rachel “practiced much more separately than together for ensemble because duet performance relies quite heavily on individual detail perfection as well.”

Like Rachel, Nathan is preparing for some international and local competitions and possibly MTNA solos nearing the end of this year.

“We haven’t competed in person since the pandemic, and I have mixed feelings about it,” he reflected. “It’s nice to be able to re-record your pieces if you mess up to make it perfect but on the other hand, trying to record a perfect piece takes hours and even days of trials.”

He and Rachel also are waiting for word on their application to play in the Vienna International Music Competition as a duet.

“From there we are both hoping to compete individually near the end of the year,” he said.

Nathan is planning on continuing to take music classes in college but hopes to go into the medical field.