by Geoff Larcom, Published May 30, 2012
Trang Vo took her seat at the elegant grand piano in the atrium of University House. The crowd of more than 100 grew quiet in expectation.
For several minutes, the room echoed with a precise and passionate piano solo from Trang. When she finished, the crowd burst into applause.
It was quite a moment for a freshman, but it appears there are plenty more like that in store for Trang, 18, a first-year music major at Eastern Michigan University who is from Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in Vietnam.
Also that week, on March 30, Trang performed a solo of a piece by the great composer Frederic Chopin in the annual EMU Undergraduate Symposium, which spotlights outstanding student projects in a wide range of subjects. She also did a freshman recital in April.
The symposium was particularly fulfilling because her parents, back in Vietnam, could view the performance via a webcast. They called that night to express their excitement.
It was another energizing step in a journey that began when Trang was four years old, when she first played a keyboard. She began playing piano at age 8.
Ypsilanti is a long way from Vietnam, but such adventurous spirit runs in Trang's family. Her mother encouraged her to study abroad, and Trang drew on the example of her older brother, who studied in Moscow.
"Trang is a model student," says Garik Pedersen, a professor of piano and a Steinway Artist in the EMU Department of Music and Dance. "She is very talented and ambitious, yet she works patiently and is content with her own consistent progress. She always gives her very best."
Trang says that growing up she had to learn the patience necessary to master the piano. "I kept going," she says now. "I knew in the end that it would be worth it."
Pedersen first got to know Trang when she contacted the University during her senior year as an exchange student in a small high school near East Lansing. Unfortunately, her host family did not have a piano, and she felt that she couldn't adequately prepare there for the audition required to enter EMU.
"She said that she was going to go home and work hard and then send a recorded audition the following year," Pedersen recalls. "Sure enough, several months later I received a beautifully prepared audition DVD."
Although she is quiet and unassuming, Trang already is gaining a following at EMU and in the surrounding community, notes Pedersen.
"It was delightful to see so many of her colleagues, friends, and professors at her freshman recital," he said.
Trang says EMU faculty, staff and students have been extremely welcoming, although the first semester was quite an adjustment. The biggest change from her small high school, which was nearly all white, was the diversity at EMU.
For Pedersen, it's exciting to watch Trang as the trajectory of her growth as an artist and performer begins to accelerate. Pedersen and Trang envision graduate work for her at a major university or a conservatory.
And then she hopes to perform around the world. Not a bad goal for an 18-year-old freshman.