In Awards and Achievements, School of Music

BYU sophomore’s years of musical preparation began at the age of four

For the second year in a row, a BYU student has competed in one of the most competitive and prestigious piano competitions in the country: the national MTNA competition. And this year, piano performance major Ariel Wong took home the top prize for her division.

Though already a sophomore at BYU, Wong, who was 18 at the time, competed in the high school division.

Reaching the MTNA finals required multiple regional wins, each one a step toward the final prize. Wong was named first prize winner in her division for the state of Utah, then as winner of the 2021 Southwest regional division competition, where she competed against the state winners from California, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada and New Mexico. 

Wong first started piano lessons at age four; older sister Alice was her first teacher. She now practices three to four hours a day, though when preparing for a competition that number jumps to six or seven hours per day.

“Music is such a huge part of my being. I cannot imagine life without it,” she said. “I love its beauty — you can’t see it but you feel it and it speaks to your soul. When I perform, I feel like music has a power to transport me to another time and space at the moment, and I love sharing that moment with others.”

At age 14, Wong’s parents sent her from Hong Kong to the U.S. to provide a broader range of musical opportunities. “I auditioned with Dr. Scott Holden, piano professor at BYU, and have studied with him ever since,” she said. This was when she first learned about the MTNA competition.

To enter this year’s competition, Wong had to prepare 30 minutes of music consisting of at least two contrasting styles. “My repertoire this year includes Liszt’s transcription of ‘Liebestod’ (love-death) from Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde, ‘Choral et Variations’ from Piano Sonata Op.1 by French contemporary composer Henri Dutilleux, and ‘Variations sérieuses in D minor’ by Mendelssohn,” she said. Some of her favorite composers include Bach and Rachmaninoff.

Wong plans to pursue a masters degree after she graduates from BYU. “I’m still exploring paths where I can keep doing what I love — creating and sharing the gift of music, and eventually having a family in the future,” she said.

“Music often resonates with me in intimate ways. There are countless times where I teared up playing a piece because it’s healing and is a refuge for me,” said Wong. “Music is such a gift from God and I love to share it so that some might be inspired, energized, touched or comforted.”

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