Even though Tzu-Hwa Ho has lived in the United States for over 10 years now, her time in Philadelphia and at Settlement has brought an exciting series of firsts: her first time living outside of the Midwest, her first time accompanying a children’s choir, and her first experiences teaching both very young students as well as those of more advanced age.
“My oldest student is 89 years old,” she says. “She’s amazing – she drives here for her lessons, she finds time to exercise. Because of her, I’ve told my parents, ‘it’s not too late to start!’” (In fact, her father has started taking saxophone lessons.)
At the other end of the age spectrum, she has students as young as five years old – older than when she first began playing piano. Growing up in Taiwan, she tagged along with her older brother to Yamaha group lessons. Thought her brother didn’t stick with piano lessons, she expressed an interest, and at the age of 4, she started with group lessons herself. Soon after, she began to pursue piano study seriously, with the support and encouragement of her parents.
Throughout her studies in the U.S. at the University of Missouri in St. Louis, Northwestern University, and the University of Kansas, she occasionally taught private lessons, but her main focus was on performance.
“I didn’t have assistantships in teaching,” she says. “Everything I did was piano, piano, piano.”
She did explore collaborative piano, an area of specialization that focuses on accompaniment and coaching. She started out working mainly with instrumentalists, then later with singers.
“It helped so much with my Chopin!” she says, and it makes sense: Chopin, the ultimate pianist’s composer, wrote music that demands great flexibility, with long, fluid lines of melody.
After meeting other collaborative pianists at the Castleton Festival in Virginia and, soon after, completing her doctorate, it dawned on her: in order to become a more complete musician, teaching, she thought, “is something that I need to do.”
Becoming immersed in teaching has revealed many new things to her. “I realize how important it is to have a regular routine” with students, she says. Keeping track of time and staying focused during lessons has helped with her own playing, too.
This fall presents yet another first: her first recital as a Settlement faculty member, as one of the featured performers at the Karin Fuller Capanna Annual Faculty Recital. She will be playing with Tom Meany, a longtime flute instructor, and John Frazier, a clarinetist who’s new to Settlement but with a wealth of teaching and performing experience.
In addition to several trios on the program, each performer will get to perform solo. For Ho’s portion of the program, there will be Chopin, of course, as well as a sampling of her recent fascination: Spanish music.