Have you ever had a dream you wanted to realise so bad that you would do anything to make it happen, even if it meant uprooting yourself to another country? Leaving behind a family, packing up one’s belongings and booking the next available flight might sound like a scene from a movie, but that’s what Congyu Wang went through when he was 16 in his bid to become a Steinway Artist.
“I remember the moment I made up my mind about going to France, everyone was against it. No one believed it was even possible, and that I was only joking,” says the Singaporean, who flew to Paris as a teenager to study music at a prestigious school in France. “Coming from a very well sheltered family, I did the unimaginable — going to a place with a foreign language I could barely buy food with.”
Leaving it all behind
His parents were unhappy with his decision to pursue music. In Singaporean society, Wang explains, there is no clear career path to undertake towards becoming a musician. Every parent wants the best for their child – and in his parents’ eyes, the road to becoming a pianist is full of obstacles and hardship.
The timing was not ideal either. Wang was preparing for his O Levels when he received the news that he had landed a scholarship to study in France. He was also nearing the age when he must enlist in the National Service.
Nevertheless, with a scholarship to study at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris under his belt, he was set to go to France. His scholarship, however, was barely enough to cover his daily expenses. Without much parental and financial support, he began playing music in bars and living on the streets to get by.
But the struggle was worth it. Today, Wang plays in concert halls worldwide. The 30-year-old is based in Reunion Island, a French island off the coast of Madagascar, where he runs a piano school and teaches music at a national school. He is finally living his dream and travelling to different countries to share his love of music. To date, he has performed in eight different concert tours in Europe and two in Asia.
From playing in bars to becoming a Steinway Artist
Despite his success, Wang still felt like he had yet to make his mark in the classical music scene – until recently. After waiting patiently for years, Wang was named a Steinway Artist. The title is conferred upon only the best pianists of his or her time, a feat only a few manage to accomplish. He joins the ranks of Singaporean pianist Benjamin Loh, Chinese pianist Lang Lang, Argentinian classical pianist Martha Argerich, and American singer-songwriter Charlie Puth.
Despite this, he continued to feel unsettled. “Through my personal experiences, I feel that piano education for many is solely to pass the piano exams, ignoring the fact that piano is actually a form of art and music,” he explains.
In response, Wang created the Piano Island Festival, a festival where master classes are taught by several internationally-renowned teachers. The main objective is for students to develop their own style of playing music. Wang ensured that participants could build lifelong friendships during this year’s Piano Island Festival, which will be held in Malaysia.
How studying abroad made him who he is today
Based on his experience, Wong believes that studying abroad and making international friends is a character-building experience that also builds perseverance.
His passion for music kept him going despite struggling financially and emotionally in Paris. He found it hard to integrate into a foreign country so unlike his own. Besides the culture and way of living, language was also a hurdle for him. “I was speaking with a typical Singaporean accent – and at times too quickly – my French friends found it very difficult to understand me.”
While his experience in France wasn’t perfect, he wouldn’t change it for the world. He notes that there are many things he loves about the country, including its culture. “They really know how to enjoy life here!” he tells Study International. “I personally feel that the tempo and the lifestyle in Singapore are too stressful.”
While Singapore is miles ahead of the world in terms of infrastructure and architecture, France has an allure that makes artists and musicians like Wang gravitate toward it. Ultimately, both Singapore and France are two vastly different countries that will always have a place in Wang’s heart.
This October, Wang will be returning to his home country to perform – for the very first time – as a Steinway Artist.