William Yang, 10, of Eden Prairie describes himself as "pretty much a classical purist." He's a prodigy who recently played with the Wayzata Symphony Orchestra, and after auditioning at a New York City event with young musicians from all over the world, William has earned a spot at June's Gina Bachauer Junior & Young Artists International Piano Competitions in Salt Lake City. No, his mom -- who seems a little shocked by his musical development -- played no piano music for William when he was in the womb.
"When he first heard the piano sound [around the age of 4] he was amazed," said his mom, Rong Li. "Just a wonder. He kept on playing and playing. He cannot stop. None of us are pianists," she said of herself, her husband, Junqi Yang, and their other son, Michael, 17.
I thought I had better get to Yang before CBS's Lesley Stahl hears about the prodigy and swoops in for a "60 Minutes" interview. William played a couple of classical selections for me at Roseville's Schmitt Music Center. When asked if he ever misbehaves, William seemed befuddled by the question. He looks like such a perfect little gentleman in his bow tie, but he's a kid and sometimes kids are naughty, right? "Not really," he said in his case. And that was confirmed by Li, who said, "He's a very good boy."
Mom's take was seconded by Sue Freeman Dopp, keyboard manager at Roseville's Schmitt: "I've been totally impressed with William [since he was 5] on every single level. Not just as a musical talent. He's a sweetheart. He's just an all-around good person and he's not full of himself. Hopefully he never will be."
As you can see at startribune.com/video, William remained thoroughly gentlemanly and good humored even while disapproving of my musical taste.
Q What do you enjoy about playing the piano?
A I love it because it makes me feel very calm and peaceful, which is what I like all the time.
Q Do your fingers ever hurt from practicing?
Q Do you ever practice so long that your tush falls asleep on the piano bench?
A No, not really.
Q Are you comfortable engaging in the silliness of high fives with your friends?
A High fives I'm fine with, but other stuff, not really.
Q Do you wear any special gloves to protect your hands from injury?
Q Can you hear a song once and play the intro?
A I guess.
Q What are your hobbies?
A I like playing ping-pong and swimming. I like reading, too.
Q What's the last book you read?
A Probably "The Odyssey."
Q Do you ever feign concern about injuring your hands to avoid chores?
A Yeah, pretty much.
Q Who is your favorite pianist?
A Andre Watts.
Q What's your favorite kind of music?
A Classical music.
Q You don't have a favorite rap artist?
A No [laughter].
Q What's your favorite cartoon?
A I don't watch cartoons.
Q Ever throw a football?
A Well, yeah, sometimes. Not in the real sport of football. Just casually with friends.
Q How famous do you want to be?
A Fame doesn't really matter to me. I just want to be able to play music for all my life.
Interviews are edited for space and clarity. C.J. is at 612.332.TIPS, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Fox 9 Thursday mornings.