by Julia and Desmond Herzfelder
Julia: I’ll never forget my first day of piano lessons with HuiMin Wang at South Shore Conservatory. She came highly recommended by my cousin who had already taken lessons with her, so I was excited to start. HuiMin arrived at the lesson with a pair of special nail clippers for me, and she worked very hard to break me of my gymnastics posture, which was terrible for playing piano. My brother Desmond was terrified for his first lesson with her because he heard how much of a change HuiMin’s style was from his previous, less-demanding piano teachers. Over many years studying with her, we found her an extraordinary mentor, a champion, a close friend and an advisor; and in her honor, our family chose to name SSC’s concerto competition the HuiMin Wang Youth Concerto Competition.
Desmond: In describing HuiMin as a teacher, intense is the word that comes to mind. She cared more than almost any teacher I’d had in my life, which is probably the most important thing. She cared about us being great musicians – pushing us to be the best. At every lesson she brought out a short colored pencil (heavily used and never longer than a few inches), and marked up the sheet music with notes and accents and fingering and emotions, and by the time a competition came around, my music looked like a drawing with all different colors. She taught us the mechanics of playing piano, how to move our bodies and arms and hands with fingers curved, for me not to use the side of my thumb, but use the pad. Then she taught us how to combine those mechanics with feeling the music.
HuiMin also taught us how to make our dreams a reality. We learned that through effort and time, we could take something we couldn’t understand, and master it. For example, she would have us break our piece into groups of measures, starting with the right (easier) hand, move to the left, then combine them, slowly piecing together the parts of the song – double, triple practicing the hard parts. For every mistake, immediately practice that one measure correctly 20 times. She also taught us how to perform. Weekly workshops and monthly recitals were the reason I don’t have stage fright. She was the type of teacher that, even when I was tired and didn’t want to practice, I practiced for. I didn’t want to disappoint her. Even at a young age I could feel how much she cared, and I wanted to honor that.
Julia: For many years HuiMin prepared us for concerto and piano solo competitions by pushing us to do our best, ramping up practices to peak just at the right time, and getting ourselves mentally ready to perform in front of people and be judged. She made us feel confident we could succeed even when we doubted ourselves. I think that the amount that HuiMin believed in us made us believe in ourselves. I remember her hugging us after we competed, regardless of how we played, always. She cared so much and believed in us so much. She made us who we are.
Desmond: We felt it was important to name the competition after HuiMin because she is what all teachers should be (in any walk of life) and represents the benefits that music lessons have on students. Music is still very important to our family, even though we’ve moved away from the South Shore. It is a way to communicate feelings and emotions, and has brought us together, especially me and Julia bonding over piano, and me and my Dad practicing at home all of those years, and now my Mom is learning how to sing with my Dad. As a family, we enjoy playing piano, but we love HuiMin.
South Shore Conservatory’s next HuiMin Wang Youth Concerto Competition takes place January 18, and is open to all SSC music students. More information at https://sscmusic.org/concerto-competition/.
Desmond Herzfelder is a senior at Noble & Greenough, and Julia is a sophomore at Harvard. Together, they studied with HuiMin Wang for 14 years. The Herzfelders now live in Westwood.