We had the good fortune of connecting with Ruby Wang and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ruby, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
I believe risk taking is crucial to success. Fear of failure and venturing into the unknown hinders one’s ability to learn and grow through taking risks. Embracing risk-taking strengthens one’s will to achieve his/her dream(s) and keep going no matter what. Being ignited by such passion and motivated with a zeal to reach new heights in one’s career can be very empowering and exciting.
Every time I have taken a risk in my life, I learn something about myself and grow immensely as a person. I learn about how far I am willing to take extreme measures or make necessary sacrifices in order to attain my goal. I overcome my fears and set new and higher standards for myself.
As a concert pianist and music educator, risk-taking has played endless roles in my life: from taking risks in a live performance and improvising something new on the spot that I had not anticipated or practiced, to accepting an invite to perform a solo concert program or learn a brand new piano concerto to be accompanied by an orchestra, to accepting a job offer to teach at a new institution, to taking on a private transfer student and choosing to believe, based on a leap of faith, that I can conquer the difficult task of changing his/her bad habits in order to help him/her succeed and become a better pianist.
Two of the biggest risk-taking decisions I ever had to make throughout my musical career had to do with completely uprooting myself and moving to an unknown place with no family or connections. The first one being when I made the decision to go back to school and pursue my doctorate degree, which required me to move across the country from Utah to South Carolina in order to study with a world-renowned pianist and teacher. I had never been to the south and had absolutely no connections out there. I had to quit a job of 6+ years, drop 20+ private students, and turn an already long-distance relationship into even longer-distance relationship. These sacrifices, however, were ultimately worth it, because five years later I earned my degree and gained a plethora of knowledge, skill, and lifelong friends and connections. Having depleted my savings by then, I had yet another risk-taking decision awaiting for me about my next professional move. After much apprehension and back-and-forth, I mustered up the courage to make similar sacrifices as when I first moved there. I dropped everything I had built out there to make another cross-country move: this time, to Los Angeles, a metropolis I only ever enjoyed visiting but never desired or imagined moving to. Although I had some family here, career-wise I again had zero connections and had to start from ground zero once again, even though I had my earned doctorate degree by then.
Today, almost seven years later, I have slowly but surely built my professional career in a big city, and am doing what I love and successfully making a living out of my passion. Thinking back, I feel incredibly grateful for and owe my success to these unforgettable experiences. Although I had moved several times in my life, these two moves really defined me personally, pianistically and musically, and taught me that sometimes making hard decisions and sacrifices and being forced to start over from scratch is a necessary and inevitable journey in order to achieve bigger and greater things in life. Life’s a gamble. If it weren’t for me taking my leaps of faith with these life-changing decisions, I would not be who and where I am today.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
“Where words fail, music speaks,” said Hans Christian Andersen. To me, nothing rings more true than these words. Music is a powerful, universal language with no boundaries. It brings people of diverse backgrounds and unique interests together. Music remains a powerful constant for personal expression and can help create new experiences as well as conjure up unforgettable memories. People from all walks of life, regardless of race, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation may come together and enjoy the same music and use its profundity and beauty to relate to each other or as a vehicle for self-expression. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then music is worth a million words! Music has the ability to permeate lives and trigger feelings and emotions throughout everyday experiences that are indescribable through words.
To attain the highest level of artistry and mastery in piano is a never-ending journey. Mastering the art of piano requires many years of training with a demanding and critical teacher and endless hours of practice (and sweat and tears!) every day. Piano-playing requires a dedication and a relentless work ethic, focus, patience, coordination, attention to details, and a continuous strive towards progress. It presents challenges which everyday activities do not – it not only trains eye-hand (and feet when one has achieved more advanced playing to incorporate pedaling techniques) coordination but most importantly, it strengthens small finger muscles to be strong, independent, and dexterous. Moreover, piano-playing is an athletic instrument that requires not just the fingers but the entire body – shoulders, arms, back, legs – and requires just as much endurance as do sports. After years of formal training and honing my craft, I still have not mastered everything and still have so much to learn about the artistry of piano playing. I continue to learn every day – from myself, my teachers, my colleagues, my students, and master artists. It truly takes more than one lifetime’s dedication and perseverance as the repertoire written for piano is endless and the interpretations are limitless.
Trying to find time to practice every day is a constant challenge, but one that I still attempt to juggle and overcome as much as I can, amidst the chaos that is now my life (finding the balance between practice, a private studio of students, three teaching jobs, and a newborn baby)! I am the happiest when it’s just me and my piano and I can spend hours on end practicing the instrument or learning new repertoire and making music without a care in the world or any interruptions. I take pride in the amount of time invested and my heart and soul that have been poured into my music-making process over the years. It is what defines me and makes me whole. When I cannot practice every day or as often as I’d like, I feel tremendous discomfort and distress and wonder why I have so much time on my hands! These moments make me appreciate music on an even deeper level and realize how important music is to me. I feel blessed to be able to continue to perform and express and share my love and passion for the instrument with others who appreciate Classical music. I take further pride and joy being able to teach and inspire students by imparting my learned knowledge and skill onto the younger generation, and instilling in them a love and appreciation for music as it was shown to me. I simply could not imagine my life without piano and music. Just as Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.”
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I feel so blessed and grateful for my family, especially my mother and sister who have supported me in so many ways throughout my life and career, been there for me in more ways than I can remember or count, and profoundly helped shape me into who I am today. I am forever thankful for my mentors, Dmitry Rachmanov, Marina Lomazov, Joseph Rackers, Danny Jenkins, Eugene Watanabe, Irene Peery-Fox, Paul Pollei, and Nancy Hou, without whom I could not be the musician and pianist that I am today.
Mike Bull, Gary Leonard, Vivian Wang