By: Esther Liu, Contributor
Photo C/O Tiffany Tse
The Silhouette: When did you get into piano?
Tiffany Tse: I started when I was five years old. It wasn’t an amazing story, it was just my mom. One day she asked me if I’m interested in playing the piano. I said “yeah” and I didn’t really know what I was doing, I just wanted to say yes to things. It’s actually a pretty interesting story because I stuck with the same teacher the whole time. Even now, once in a while I go to visit the teacher that I’ve known since I was five years old.
I was just incredibly lucky to be able to be with this teacher. They’re a couple — husband and wife. They’ve just been very, very good teachers . . . Then, I think they threw me in to compete when I was six. That’s when I started performing. As a kid, I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I did like it and that’s how I grew up loving the stage and loving the idea of sharing this music that I’m making with other people.
What inspired you to create your Instagram account?
I think my first post was in 2014. I just decided one day, why not upload something? But then, when I got to university (I started my first year in 2016), because I was in engineering I actually didn’t have time to play anymore. I was accepted to [the University of Toronto]’s piano performance program and they gave me a full ride but I was like “Oh, what am I gonna do with a music degree?” so I ended up choosing engineering.
I had a huge regret, almost, because I didn’t get to do what I love to do and when you don’t practice, your skills fully go away. So that’s what I found during my university years: I was so focused on school and engineering that I kind of forgot about this thing that was really important to me. It got to a point where I would have so much regret that if I saw a piano in public I would almost want to run away from it because I was so scared of hearing myself play or if someone told me to play something and I sound terrible because I haven’t been practicing. Eventually, I forgot about how much I loved it so I deactivated my account . . . around 2017 because I didn’t want to look at it anymore, I just wanna move on with life.
And then quarantine happened and one of my friends has an account similar to this where she posts her practice and her music and she posted consistently. I saw how much she was improving and it was really inspiring. I was like: “Wow, she’s gotten really good over the past few years since I last heard her play.” And so it’s quarantine, I’m really bored, maybe this is something I should pick up. So I reactivated my account and that’s how I started.
I started again around late June of 2020 and I just became obsessed again. I basically worked through all the skills I lost and I just sat and listened to myself sound really bad in the beginning and then picked up new pieces to learn and then just went at it. I started practicing five hours a day because I just loved it so much. It was almost like rediscovering a lost part of myself. Now, I’ve kind of fixed the whole regret thing. I don’t hold those regrets in my heart anymore because I got to do this while doing school. Right now I’m in my final year and I am balancing these two things and I plan on continuing to balance this side of me along with my career moving forward.
What encourages you to keep running your account?
Definitely the community of people there. I’ve met a lot of friends, they’re pianists as well, and because I play classical music, I find that it’s really hard to find people who love it nowadays. It’s rare, but it’s something I’m really passionate about. So being able to have this platform and meet other classical pianists and being able to talk about this was so good for me. I haven’t been able to just fan-girl about classical music in a long time.
Also, when I was competing in person as a kid, there was always a lot of competition between people. That’s also one reason why I didn’t go into music — I just didn’t like the way people were fighting. Because not everyone “makes it” in music, right? It’s very hard to truly “make it” as a performer, so there’s a lot of competition between people, there’s a lot of rumours and gossip. With this Instagram community, I can freely talk about myself and the pieces I want to play and the music without having to worry about someone spreading rumours or something. So it’s a community where you can be yourself and be open.
With a growing following, I just didn’t know so many people were still into classical music. I want to go back into performing in person but, because I haven’t done it in about five years, I would need to build up that confidence again, so having this platform is really good. I’m not only posting videos, but I’ve done Instagram lives before where I just played through my piece and it’s really good practice for me to be able to eventually make it back into the stage.
Are you still taking lessons then?
Not formally . . . I just learn the piece myself and polish it to the best of my ability and bring it to him. I find that because I’ve grown so much since I was a kid and last taking lessons seriously, I really like coming up with my own interpretation and knowing the music by myself first and then going to him and then he can pick out some details and what I should fix. That to me is better because I don’t really need him to sit me down and read with me anymore so it’s more time-effective that way. Honestly, he’s the sweetest thing ever. He doesn’t charge me, he won’t tell me how much he charges. Last time, I wanted to pay for the lesson because he spends two hours with me every time. He just opened his arms and told me to come here, gave me a hug and told me that I paid. I guess that’s one of the things about sticking with the same teacher for so long — they’re like my second parents. They watched me grow up since I was five and now I’m 22.
Do you have any songs that you really enjoy playing?
I think anything by [Frédéric] Chopin is so near and dear to me. The interesting thing about classical is that there are no lyrics. So people will listen to a song and will really relate to the song because of the lyrics. For some reason, Chopin’s pieces, even without lyrics, I resonate so much with it. There’s just something about it. I think it’s because Chopin really missed his homeland. So in his music, there’s sometimes a nostalgic feeling and it kind of reminds me of some great old memories. Even when you’re completely heartbroken, there’s going to be something for it.
It’s also cool because I haven’t played in five years. I came back to it and, because so many things have happened in these five years that I’ve grown as a person throughout my university career, the music that I play would come out differently because of the experiences I’ve had. The technical stuff is trainable but then I feel that all the emotions and maturity come with time.
What is your favourite part of competitions and being on the stage?
When I can communicate with the audience without saying anything. When you’re playing a note and you take a pause and everyone is silent. It’s almost like everyone is anticipating the next part with you. I think that’s really cool. And there’s obviously nerves when you’re performing. Being in front of people, there are always worries about “what if I mess up?” or “what if I forget?” I think that these are fears that every musician and every performer has. So my heart’s always racing before but then once I sit down at the piano and start playing, I find that the racing heartbeat goes away. It just becomes me and the instrument.