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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

Youth Spotlight: Zack Hughes

October 27, 2010

"Humility is just as important in music as in every other area of life."

Born in California, Zack moved to Abingdon, Va. at age 11. He and his family currently reside in Travelers Rest, S.C., but Zack travels to the Tri-Cities to study piano with Dr. Chih-long Hu at East Tennessee State University and to perform at local venues.

He will be featured at the Bristol Music Club fundraiser ( He recently joined The Paramount Chamber Players in concert and will perform in the 2010-2011 Arts Series at First Presbyterian Church in Bristol, Tenn. In addition to his solo work, Zack is part of The Runaway Piano Trio with Benjamin and Bethany Dawson (violin and cello) of Abingdon, Va.

Zack is a home-schooled high school senior who has studied piano for nine years, four of them with Ann Holler in Bristol, Tenn. He is a winner of numerous Bristol Music Club awards in 2006 and 2010 and the 2010 Lee University competition. He was a Tennessee state winner in the 2009-2010 Music Teachers National Association competition. He attended Brevard Music Festival 2010 and will be soloist with the Greenville (S.C.) Youth Symphony Orchestra, playing a Saint-SaŽns concerto in January 2011.

A Conversation with Zack Hughes

What sparked your interest in music and when?

I began taking piano lessons when I was nine years old. I was excited at the novelty of it and greatly enjoyed learning about music and the piano.

Do you enjoy competition?

Yes, I am a very competitive person, and not just in music. I have always enjoyed sports, board games, card games, etc.

However, in music competitions it is important to remember that the judging is subjective. In most athletic competitions there is no room for personal taste or opinion; the runner who crosses the finish line first wins. But in judging music, two different juries could very easily choose two different sets of winners. If you take the competition aspect in music too seriously, you can lose the bigger picture: connecting with and communicating your message to the audience.

How do you choose music you play for competition and recitals?

I try to choose a variety that will appeal to different people and showcase my best abilities.

How much do you practice?

My practice time varies from about 4-8 hours each day. I have never recorded my practice, I simply work until the task is completed. However, it is better to practice 4 hours with complete concentration than 8 hours while mentally tired or distracted. I try to stop practicing as soon as I can no longer concentrate. I also benefit from taking one day off each week.

How do you choose the competitions you enter?

I look at the location, jury, prize money, etc. and then weigh the factors to decide if it would be worthwhile.

How has the Bristol Music Club Scholarship Program helped you?

I have definitely found the BMC competition to be worthwhile. I competed for the first time in 2006. I was 13 years old and was just beginning to push myself with more difficult repertoire and increased practice time. I had never competed with piano before, so I didn't know what to expect. Winning that year did much to boost my confidence and motivate me to work harder. The BMC does so much to encourage and promote young musicians. The members of the BMC have played a large role in my musical growth, and I am so grateful to all of them.

What have your music teachers done to inspire you?

Each of my teachers has inspired me in different ways, but I think there are two things that they all have done for me that I consider the most important.

• First, they have taught me to think for myself as a musician. It is very easy for students to go to their lessons, play, listen to what their teachers say to work on, and then go home and apply it in the pieces they are studying. This will yield some good results on the surface. But, in reality, students are just doing what they have been told to do, not understanding why they are doing it. My teachers have constantly told me to change things in my playing, but have always told me why. This way I have my own convictions about music and can interpret music on my own — though I am still learning!

• Secondly, they have always been there to answer questions when I was confused, encourage me when I was down, and even remind me that I have not learned everything yet and never will. They have taught me that humility is just as important in music as in every other area of life: you cannot learn if you already know everything. In short, all my teachers have been friends to me.

What plans do you have for your continued education?

I plan to attend a music conservatory after high school. At a conservatory you not only study with world-class faculty, but are also surrounded by students who want to be the best musicians they can be. It challenges you to work harder and push yourself out of your comfort zone.

Zack Hughes will be among the performers at the Bristol Music Club fundraiser.