Sunday, July 16, 2000

Navajo teen competes in piano competition

By Christine Oliva
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Just before his preliminary audition for the World Piano Competition, 12-year-old Connor Chee of Westwood saw two deer in his backyard, and he knew he had nothing to fear.

(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |
        To the Navajo people, deer represent something special. To Connor, they represented the spirits of his two grandmothers coming to watch over him and bring him luck.

        “It makes me feel good that they're still there,” Connor said. “And I know that I'll be OK even if I don't win.”

        Connor scored a 98 out of 100 on the audition. And the deer reapppeared July 4, as he was preparing for Tuesday's competition, sponsored by the American Music Scholarship Association.

        Connor will compete against 80 artists, ages 5 to 17, representing about 10 countries. He will have five to seven minutes for each of his two selections — Johann Sebastian Bach's “Prelude No. 12” and Stephen Heller's “Warrior's Song.”

        But even if he doesn't win, Connor says he's grateful for the exposure the competition provides.

What: AMSA World Piano Competition
When: 3 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Aronoff Center for the Arts
Tickets: $5 to $8, available at any Ticketmaster, 241-7469, or at the door one hour before the show
        His parents, Tex and Mare' Chee, moved to Westwood two years ago for that very reason. Living on the Navajo reservation in Arizona, Connor's opportunities were limited, Mr. Chee said.

        Connor began tinkering on an electric keyboard at age 5. After a year of searching for an instructor, he began taking formal piano lessons, Mrs. Chee said.

        But within three months, his teacher had taught him everything she knew. She recommended another, but within a year the same thing happened.

        He then studied under a professor from the Royal School in London, commuting nearly two hours each way.

        When they visited the School of Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati they were “very impressed,” Mr. Chee said. So he sacrificed a good job with four weeks' vacation time and relocated so his son could attend.

        Connor, a straight-A student, now majors in piano and drama at the school. He also takes private lessons.

        Someday he hopes to write musical scores for major motion pictures, he says, in addition to performing.

        “It's not always fun,” Connor said. “You have to practice. But it's something I like to do.”


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