Shuan Hern Lee’s life with music began when he was two years old. Now at age 14 the pianist, composer and singer is studying a voice degree at the University of Western Australia. Last year he made his debut with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and won the San Marino International Piano Competition and the International Piano Competition for Young Musicians (Netherlands). He also loves nerf guns. Meet Perth’s teenage prodigy.

What music gets your heart racing?

All types of  Classical Music, especially music of Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninoff.  Pieces such as Hungarian Rhapsodies by Liszt and Spanish Rhapsody by Liszt, and also Islamey by Balakirev.  Basically all virtuosic pieces make my heart race fast.
What calms you down?

Slow pieces by Chopin such as slow movements of sonatas, nocturnes, Barcarolle and other slow pieces of other composers calm me down. 

What do you sing along to?

I sing along to all the pieces I practice as this helps me feel the cantabile style in music and tonal projection. 

You made history last year when you were the youngest person to be awarded the Fellowship in Music Australia (FMusA), the highest and most prestigious award offered by the AMEB. Do you consider yourself to be a musical genius?

I don’t believe in the word genius. It is all about working really hard. I took the exam as an experience and did not bother about the result. I enjoy performing a lot and especially solo recitals and therefore the full 80 mins program requirement for the F.Mus.A diploma exam gave me a platform to perform many pieces which I thoroughly enjoyed. It is certainly an honour to obtain such a prestigious award and all the hours of practice made it possible.

Shuan Hern Lee on The Voice (kids)

Your incredible career has so far included a performance in Carnegie Hall (aged 7), a concert with the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra and starring on the Voice Kids show in Delta Goodrems team. What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?

I have performed concerto works with many professional orchestras in various countries but I really enjoyed performing Grieg’s piano concerto with the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra in the Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow and also Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto with WASO last year because it is a really great orchestra and the acoustic of Perth Concert Hall is fantastic. 
How are you preparing for your UWA Keyed Upconcert on May 7th?

I choose pieces that I really enjoy performing and practice really hard and many hours daily. I work out details of each piece and search for the meaning of each work and prepare technical and musical aspects of the pieces. To perform for the audience is such a joy for me and to bring them into a musical journey filled with many variety of pieces, moods and styles is what I aim to present for this concert. 
You do a lot of performing how do you deal with nerves and performance anxiety?

I never become nervous or have performance anxiety.  I have been performing since 3 and it has become a natural thing for me to do. I always pray before each performance that I will perform very well and communicate with my audience and I prepare and practice really hard before each performance so I have no regrets. 

Watch excerpts from Shuan Hern Lee’s winning performance at the San Marino International Piano Competition 2016

American composer Mark Applebaum says music should above all else be interesting. What do you think is the most important role of music?

I totally agree that music should be interesting. The most important role of music is that of a language that is universal and it surpasses all nationality and race. It is most important that music speaks to us and the musician communicates to us through the tool which is the music. By speaking to us, music should make us feel different emotions at different periods of time.

You have been homeschooled and began your music education at the age of two and a half, studying piano, voice and composition with your dad. What is it like having a dad who is also your music teacher?

Shuan Hern Lee with parents

I am very fortunate to have been born into a musical family and also with my dad as my music teacher.  It is certainly very handy as you get 24 hours advice and I believe that many famous musicians come from musical parents too.  I have always enjoyed lessons with dad and also with him practicing with me, because he has always made the piano like a toy for me.  Having lessons with dad was always wonderful and it is a huge advantage because I could have as many lessons as I want. During the lessons, we discuss about music, historical aspects of piano playing and he incorporates all sorts of fun games when teaching me and practicing with me. For example he uses stuffed toys as puppets to make my practice fun and he incorporates running for 15 seconds after I have managed a part musically and then get back to the piano again.  Sometimes he makes me sit on a gym ball while practicing Chopin etudes. Therefore we have sport and piano practice simultaneously.  It was so fun!

This year you have begun a degree at UWA studying voice. What is it like being a university student?

It is very enjoyable to be a university student and good to meet different students, lecturers and discuss music as our common interest.  It is rather strange for me as a 14 year old to be amongst the older tertiary age students. My mum has to drive me to UWA and accompany me to lecturers and tutorials for the reason to provide duty of care.  But I feel really honoured and privileged to be at a tertiary institution and the youngest at the UWA school of music.
What do you enjoy most about music?

I enjoy being able to communicate with the audience and to be able to interpret various styles when learning.  Also I enjoy taking up the challenge to master a piece of sophisticated music. 
You have a soft spot for the voice. Why have you chosen to pursue voice above all your other musical interests at university level?

I have always liked to sing since from a very young age. I sing in church and attends my dad’s Bridge Choir and our local church choir regularly. My dad has taught me singing for many years and I would like it to compliment my piano performance. But of course I may end up being both a singer and a pianist professionally in the future. Chopin always wanted his students to take up singing lessons, so I strongly believe that it will help me with my piano performance. I have perfect pitch and I memorise pieces and songs quickly, so I thought singing would be the most appropriate subject for me. I also played the violin and cello for a few years but I still prefer singing and obviously top of the list is still piano.

Shuan Hern Lee aged 8.

Where did you learn the skills to practice for six hours a day?

To practice six hours a day is a discipline that I have developed since young and anyone could do it with determination. I find it the same thing as how a runner prepares for a cross country marathon race. The amount of spirit and motivation it takes for one to run from the beginning to the end of a race, is similar to the motivation that it takes to complete a 6 hour practice. I break up the 6 hours into a few slots, with breaks in between. I think that practicing many hours is very essential, due to the large amount of repertoire I want to work on.
What would you say to young children who are learning a musical instrument?

I would say that besides having the love to play the instrument, you need to be committed to practice it. Without practice and hard work nothing is possible. You must be able to transfer the love for the instrument into the motivation of mastering the instrument. Sometimes, music can also be fun, so try to find and incorporate different ways of practicing that will inspire yourself to practice and love the instrument more and more.

What is your favourite place in Perth?

My favourite place in Perth is the area around Riverside Drive and Elizabeth Quay. I go there quite often. I love to cycle down Riverside Drive then take relaxing walks around the quay. I also love to go down to beaches. I find it so soothing around rivers and beaches. The waves and currents calm me down and I always feel nostalgic around beaches.
Do you have a soft spot for anything else in life or is it all about the music?

I think no matter how much one practices piano, one will never perform well unless one has other experiences in life which will then enhance one’s performance. So even if I find myself very busy, I still find time for fun things like table tennis and nerf guns. I also like taking walks in parks, going to beaches, watching opera and playing archery. Sometimes I invite friends over for a nerf gun battle or a table tennis game. I hang out with my friends at church sometimes and I attend concerts with my dad’s students too. I like to travel on the plane and visit different airports all over the world. But eating is definitely on the top of my soft spot list. I love all kinds of cuisines especially Japanese. 

Thank you Shuan Hern Lee for participating in the Celebrity Soft Spot series. Shuan’s next performance is at the UWA Keyed Up! concert on May 7th. For more details about Shuan go to his website and you can watch more performances on his YouTube channel.