The Kingston Chamber Music Festival (KCMF) established a scholarship in 2004 to support a student studying music at the University of Rhode Island (URI). It is the only scholarship award of its kind given to a student at the sophomore level, and the recipient is chosen by faculty in URI’s music department. The rising artist chosen this year is Lisa Nguyễn Bùi Gia An, a music performance major in classical piano. A native of Vietnam, she has lived in Rhode Island since 2022.
“Receiving this scholarship means a lot to me as it will enable me to focus on my music education,” she says. “I have an old 1881 Steinway that is on life support at the moment, so I am very much looking forward to getting it some help so I can play on it again!” As part of her award, Nguyễn took a piano lesson with KCMF Artistic Director Natalize Zhu during the week of the festival. “I really enjoyed my lesson,” Nguyễn says. “It was extremely fun and inspiring. Natalie is very down to earth, creative, colorful and vivid. Her enthusiasm about music is so infectious. I loved every second of my lesson with Natalie and am very thankful for her time and constructive feedback.” Zhu echoed the praise, saying of Nguyễn: “She is a gifted and bright young pianist who possesses an incredible amount of curiosity and wit while displaying a strong desire to take on challenging tasks and goals.”
An Evolving Relationship
Nguyễn began studying piano at three years old, and what first felt like yet another task to a young child soon became more meaningful. “My relationship with the piano has evolved many times over the years as I grew up, and so has the reason I want to pursue it.” she says. “It really helped me navigate through challenging times. I came to appreciate and see the value of music. Now I just want to be surrounded by music and to keep meeting new people, learn, to inspire and be inspired.” Nguyễn has found success surrounding herself with music and new experiences: among other activities, she performed at the Van Cliburn Hall last summer during the PianoTexas Music Festival. “Being able to play and learn from all the new friends, musicians, peers that I’ve met at both festivals are also on top of the list,” she says. “I’m very thankful for all the meaningful and valuable experiences and encounters thus far, especially this year.”
“The Thread That Connects”
Nguyễn’s next goal is to play with an orchestra – and to find ways to help connect others to the joy and fulfillment she’s found in music. One of her dreams is to open her own music academy to help combat the socioeconomic barriers to learning piano in Vietnam and make the instrument more accessible to anyone who wants to learn. “Eventually, at some point in my career, I want to give back to where I came from,” she says. “I want to provide those who have potential but lack opportunities and resources the necessary tools to be able pursue and develop their skills and talents.” Her interest in sharing music stems from understanding that it’s so much more than just music. “I think what makes the arts so valuable is that they are the thread that connects people from the past, present and future together,” she says. “People from today can experience the past through the works left behind, and people from the present create and push boundaries to make space for the future. So even though our world is rapidly changing, these arts will continue to keep us connected and grounded through time.”