Michael Jackson's songs help child become piano prodigy

Piano prodigy Ryan Wang, 9, has performed at concert halls all over the world including at the famed Carnegie Hall. But he tells The Straits Times that his ambition is to be a movie star.
Ryan Wang, nine, asked for piano lessons when he was four, after hearing the instrument featured in songs by Michael Jackson.
Ryan Wang, nine, asked for piano lessons when he was four, after hearing the instrument featured in songs by Michael Jackson.ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Since nine-year-old Canadian boy Ryan Wang started playing the piano five years ago, he has rubbed shoulders with former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper in his home, appeared as a guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and performed at the prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York.

Tonight, he will be playing at Victoria Concert Hall in a musical concert to mark the centenary of Malaysian secondary school Chung Ling High School.

Most of the performers in the concert are alumni, such as conductor Tham Meng Kong, tenor David Quah and pianist Lee Kum Sing, who is Ryan's piano teacher.

In November, Ryan, who lives in Vancouver, will return here for a charity concert.

For the past few years, he has juggled school and piano, tackling whatever classical music is given to him, including the works of Beethoven, Bach and Chopin.

He says: "If I like the music, then it's not difficult at all, but it still takes practice."

He discovered the piano after hearing the instrument featured in songs such as Black Or White by one of his favourite singers, Michael Jackson.

  • BOOK IT / MUSICAL GALA CONCERT IN COMMEMORATION OF CHUNG LING HIGH SCHOOL CENTENARY

  • WHERE: Victoria Concert Hall, 9 Empress Place

    WHEN: Tonight, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $25, $50 or $100 (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg/events/cgala0617)

"I loved listening to Michael Jackson and a lot of his songs have piano music in them and I found that interesting. It made me want to play the piano," he says.

So he begged his parents to buy him a piano and enrol him for lessons. "It makes me really happy to play the piano. It takes my mind off things," says Ryan, the elder of two sons.

His talent became clear to his parents, who run a fishing business, when he won the American Protege International Piano and Strings Competition in 2013.

He has since performed at concerts in Italy, Japan and China. He has also won numerous top honours, including the Emerging Artist Grant from the Vancouver Academy of Music this year.

Despite practising on the ivories up to two hours a day, he says matter-of-factly that "it's normal to be nervous" before a performance.

Surprisingly, he has no plans to pursue a career as a pianist when he grows up.

"I want to be a movie star," he exclaims, his eyes widening as he reveals that the late English actor Alan Rickman is his favourite actor.

Rickman is best loved by young people for playing Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films.

Ryan proudly adds that he has read each of the eight books in the Harry Potter series eight times and that his friends find him weird for picking the power-hungry and cunning Slytherin as his favourite Hogwarts house.

His mother Iris Wang, 38, is aware of her son's future plans and is in favour of it. "I don't expect him to be a pianist when he grows up. We are proud of him and will support whatever he likes to do."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2017, with the headline 'Piano prodigy dreams of being a film star'. Print Edition | Subscribe