Celine Chen, pianist prodigy, in MTNA Junior Piano Competition

Celine Chen, 15, at the piano in her home in Santa Clartia. Dan Watson/The Signal

By Crystal Duan
Signal Staff Writer

The way Celine Chen learns a piano piece requires more time than one could imagine. The West Ranch High freshman comes home from school every day after a long day of classes to practice anywhere between three to four hours a day.

“First, I look at the music and I pick out the notes slowly,” she said. “I do it over and over again until I get all of them right. Then I increase the tempo, until it starts to sound more like how the piece was written.”

Learning a piece takes up to two weeks of these long practices for Chen, but she gets a lot out of it.

“I want to perform and tour all around the world,” she said.

Although only 15, the Santa Clarita native is already on her way to becoming a master of the piano.

Chen began playing piano at the age of 4, and is studying with teacher Nobuyo Nishizaka. Since she was in 7th grade, she’s been performing in competitions locally and internationally.

Most recently, she finaled in the Music Teachers National Association South West Division Junior Piano Competition, beating many in Arizona and California.

Now, she will compete in Spokane, Washington, from March 15 to 17. The three-tiered MTNA competitions, which began at the state level in a video-only division, are prestigious, but this isn’t Chen’s first competition.

She also won the American Protégé International Piano and Strings Competition last year and performed at Carnegie Hall. Before that, she also participated in concerto competitions in Irvine and the Antelope Valley.

Picking a song that’s a winner isn’t always easy. But Chen is practiced in prepping it for battle.

“My teacher helps me pick a good choice and gives me a good selection,” she said. “It can be nerve-wracking trying to practice a piece before a competition. But it is easier for me because I know, once you get the piece down and you feel good about it, you feel better overall.”

Chen can’t quite imagine her life without the piano because it’s been such a big part of it.

In addition to her passion for piano, Chen is also the principal flutist in her school, a member of CSUN Philharmonic Orchestra and the California All State Honor Band. Looking toward the future, she plans to pursue music both as a pianist and flutist.

Piano and flute both require a lot of discipline and hard work to do well, she said. But nonetheless, she wants to make the most out of playing them both.

“I have just always felt happy about wanting to make this my official career,” she said about her decision to get serious about the instruments in middle school. “I just felt good knowing I knew what I wanted to do.”

Chen has won countless accolades in numerous piano competitions, including the Glory International Music Competition, the U.S. New Star Piano Competition, Los Angeles Young Pianist Competition, Glendale Piano Competition, the Grand Prize award from Satori Young Piano Competition, the James Ramos International Competition, the CAPMT Sonatina Competition, the CAPMT Romantic Competition, the MTAC Scholarship Competition, the Southwestern Young Music Festival and the Complete Works Bach Festival.

She also received a scholarship to the Montecito International Music Festival, and has toured various cities in Europe and engaged in master classes with world-famous musicians.

Her mother, Erly Chen, is proud of her daughter.

“Everyone knows it’s competitive, but I don’t think people know how much work it takes to be good at piano,” Erly Chen said.

“And how much joy you get out of it after,” Celine said.

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About the author

Crystal Duan

Crystal Duan

Crystal Duan is the Signal's political reporter, covering City Council, the county and other happenings around the city. She graduated from the University of Missouri's journalism school and has worked at the Indianapolis Star and Minneapolis Star Tribune. She has been with the Signal since March 2018.