We were lucky to catch up with Jeffery Ou recently and have shared our conversation below.
Jeffery, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today Do you think your parents have had a meaningful impact on you and your journey?
Thank you for having me on this interview!
So I was raised in a very typical, conservative Asian family. By conservative I don’t mean political. I mean as a lifestyle. They taught me what it meant to save money, to never throw *anything* (and I mean literally ANYTHING) away – we reused just about everything in the house if it could be repurposed or salvaged – to live a life of integrity, to know what you want in life EARLY ON and not still be searching for purpose or direction in your 20s/30s, and most of all to pursue your education to its absolute maximum – that education is the single most critical tool for personal development as well as long-term stability. In many ways, I’m grateful for the upbringing I had because it has vastly shaped how I perceive what I do as a musician and as a human being, and my view of society on a larger scale.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
I started lessons on the piano when I was about 6 or 7. I remember my mom had bought me a month of lessons after I had been drawn to the instrument seeing my older cousin practice…I remember we pretty much hit the ground running with basic technical things and it just took off from there. And throughout my childhood/adolescence I took the typical route of young pianists – played recitals, played in a lot of competitions, had MANY tough lessons, learned repertoire like crazy, applied for a few things that might have made me seem crazy…all the usual elements of a private musical upbringing. I had several teachers up until college, then when I went to college and majored in music performance I had the opportunity to work with incredible instructors as well.
I am a concert pianist by training and by trade – I perform concerts, recitals (either solo or chamber, or as a soloist with an orchestra). I have also very much enjoyed teaching students privately and imparting my knowledge and experiences onto young pianists whom are also considering music as a career. I am admittedly very old-fashioned and come from what I like to call the “golden age” of piano playing – strictly classical traditions, very disciplined in practicing and the SELF-MOTIVATION to practice, not only equipping students with the tools necessary to be able to play, but to hold them accountable for a *comprehensive* music education – reading on composers, discovering all the genres of works by the composers, listening to great recordings of the past by different pianists, really delving into having a thorough knowledge of WHAT is it they are playing, and how that knowledge then informs their own interpretation of music. These aspects to me are so vital in the building of a musician and I honestly think there is absolutely zero reason why they shouldn’t be mandatory of any serious music student. That relationship that is built between the music and the musicIAN can only exist when it is personal – it must be intentionally developed and maintained. Being a musician is not a business, it’s an identity.
Whew, that was a lot to unload on one question…but on a lighter note for something I am proud of – it’s been a while now but I was very fortunate to have participated in America’s Got Talent in 2009 when I was 18. I ultimately finished in the Top 20 Semifinals and still carry many fond memories of the people I met and befriended along the way.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a creative in your experience?
The PROCESS is always the THRILL! The process of opening up a new piece, sitting down with it and spending time to learn it and figure it out. It never ceases to amaze me – and I still bring it up with colleagues and friends in conversations on the matter – how music written centuries ago, at a time when resources and instruments were so much more primitive, is *still* so compelling and CHALLENGING to play. Beethoven lived in the late 18th-early 19th centuries, when harpsichords and light-action fortepianos were at the forefront of keyboard instruments, yet he wrote music that test even the dynamic range on today’s pianos, and that is still gripping with intensity and power for the listener (aurally and emotionally). In that sense, and for many other reasons, I really believe composers of those eras wrote for the future, completely obliterating contemporary norms. The journey of exploring all these great elements: the compositional style, the “sound world” of the composers, the technical and musical challenges in their work, and incorporating all of these into one’s own realization of the music and how to convey it – that is pure gold. And it develops you as a person, and you do grow from the process.
: Is there a particular goal or mission driving your creative journey?
Curiosity – about all things relating to my life as a pianist. Curiosity about the repertoire, all the different periods of music, great pianists of the past and their own influences/careers, my own teachers and their unique histories. Curiosity about all things classical music, really. And the want and *need* for discovery in all these elements I mentioned and in so much more. I think that’s the definitive goal – to always be learning and growing. I really do think knowledge is power.