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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

Arts for Youth Spotlight: Taking Home the Gold

Ming Wilson is a talented young pianist who lives in Johnson City, Tenn.
Ming Wilson is a talented young pianist who lives in Johnson City, Tenn.

Young Pianist Enjoys Competition


A talented young pianist from Johnson City, Tenn., enjoys "taking home the gold" — trophies, that is.

Ming Wilson, 14, is an eighth grader at Science Hill High School and the son of Steve and Yali Wilson. Ming was born in China and came to the United States when he was seven years old when his mother came to East Tennessee State University to get her accounting degree.

Since winning the Bristol Music Club's elementary auditions as a fourth grader, Ming has won several prestigious musical awards competing on state, national and international levels.

• Earlier this year, Ming was named one of the "From the Top" Jack Kent Cooke scholarship winners. Since 2005, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has awarded more than $1 million to exceptional young musicians with financial need. The scholarship has a significant impact not only on the musicians, but also on their families. This need-based scholarship offers national exposure through an appearance on "From The Top" and provides $10,000, which can be applied to instrument purchases and summer music camp tuition and fees. "From the Top" is one of the most popular classical music programs on radio. It is broadcast on nearly 250 stations nationwide to an audience of more than 700,000 listeners each week.

• Ming was named the top pianist in Tennessee for grades 5, 6 and 7 at the Tennessee Music Teachers' state conventions held in Martin (2007), Jefferson City (2008) and Murfreesboro (2009).

• In 2008 he won the Music Teachers National Association state level competition (ages 11-14) in Nashville, Tenn.

• He was named outstanding soloist at the regional Sonata Festival held at East Tennessee State University (2007) and Milligan College (2008).

• In 2008 he won first prize in the Clavierfest Piano Competition for grades 4-6 at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.

• At age 11, Ming made his Carnegie Hall debut at Weill Recital Hall in New York City as one of the first place winners in the 2007 Bradshaw & Buono International Piano Competition.

• Also in 2007, he made his orchestral debut with the Johnson City Symphony with the third movement of Mozart's A Major Piano Concerto, K. 488.

• In July 2006, Ming competed in the Asian Young Artist competition in Northwestern China and was awarded the Gold Medal, advancing to the national level. In August 2006, he won the Silver Medal in the National Piano Competition in the 10-12 age group in Beijing, China.

A Conversation with Ming Wilson

What was it like to play Carnegie Hall?

It was a great experience. I got to talk to other musicians there. That opened my eyes and gave me an idea of where I stood [among my peers].

Tell us about your orchestral debut with the Johnson City Symphony.

Another great experience. The part that worried me the most was keeping up with the other musicians because we only rehearsed once the night before the concert.

Do you enjoy competing?

Yes, I guess I was born competitive. I enjoy the thrill of competition, the performance and the results, but I still get nervous.

How many hours a day do you practice?

My goal is to practice 3-4 hours a day, every day, but that doesn't always happen.

Your two main interests are music and medicine. Which one are you planning to pursue as a career?

I'm leaning toward becoming a doctor, probably a surgeon. Even if I become a doctor, playing piano is still an option. I plan to play the piano the rest of my life. In addition to classical music, I'd like to play other genres as well, especially jazz, and maybe compose music.

What sparked your interest in music?

It was my mother's idea. She says she knew I had musical talent from about age two, and my kindergarten teacher thought so, too. When I was eight years old, my parents got me a keyboard. I had it a year before I actually started taking piano lessons. My mom loves violin music and she felt like I could learn a second instrument, so I began taking violin lessons. But I'm focusing on the piano.

When will you appear on the "From the Top" program?

I performed and the show was recorded on Nov. 4 at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.

When will it be broadcast?

It should be the week of Dec. 7. But the local radio station, WETS-FM, cancelled the "From the Top" series. However, the producers at "From the Top" are asking WETS to at least broadcast the show I'm in. If not, you should be able to listen online ( and also find updated information on the shows.

Does the $10,000 scholarship carry any obligations or benefits; for example, other performances?

No, the only obligation is that I have to perform on the show before I can receive it.

What do you plan to do with the prize?

Buy a grand piano.

How will you search for your grand piano? What kind do you want?

My piano teacher knows many musicians, and he's calling everybody to try to find one. The ideal piano would be "grand" (about six feet long) and in good quality or condition. Any help would be appreciated.