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Alum Profile: Jimmy and Anna Chiang -- Lessons Of The Heart

June 27, 2005

Chiangs

For Chi-Bun "Jimmy" and Anna Chiang, music is a language and a way of life.

Both graduates of Baylor's School of Music, the Chiangs met when they were paired as colleagues -- Jimmy, a Chinese student from Hong Kong pursuing an undergraduate degree in music, was an accompanist for Anna, a lyric coloratura soprano from Oklahoma who was working on her master's degree. In 2001, many performances and dates later, they were married and living in their current home, Vienna, Austria -- a city known for embracing the musical arts.

The Chiangs returned to Central Texas in February to visit friends from First Baptist Church in Waco, where Anna sang in the choir and Jimmy was the pianist when they were Baylor students. Jimmy also gave a piano recital in Roxy Grove Hall.

"You can't ask in the beginning whether you should be doing music or not," Jimmy says. "Either you do it, and you give 100 percent, or not at all." As a graduate student at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, Jimmy is familiar with the discipline it takes to develop his skills. He studies with some of the world's best teachers of piano and conducting and will graduate with a master's degree in conducting in May 2006.

Jimmy continues to accompany and coach Anna, who is building a successful career in opera and being taught by Olivera Miljakovic -- a well-known retired soprano in Vienna.

Jimmy was exposed to music at an early age. His father is a pastor with a passion for piano and his mother was an opera singer and choir director before Jimmy's birth. He began piano lessons at age 4, and later started playing the cello and studying composition. Jimmy gave his orchestral debut in piano at age 13, and three years later he earned the Fellowship Diploma of Trinity College in London -- an internationally recognized arts assessment institution. At age 18, he came to Baylor on a scholarship in 1996.

"I liked the fact that the facilities here are really good," he says. Jimmy discovered Baylor through a recommendation from his teacher in Hong Kong. "Waco was small, but it gave me a warm feeling," he says. After a year studying with Krassimira Jordan, professor of keyboard studies and artist-in-residence in the School of Music, he knew he had made the right decision.

"I immediately recognized his talent," Jordon says. "He was such a versatile person, interested in so many things." While a student, Jimmy accompanied her on several trips to Vienna, where he decided he wanted to study after graduating with his bachelor's degree in music in 2000.

Over the course of his study in Vienna, Jimmy has received many awards and guest conducted at opera houses in Europe, Hong Kong and Poland. Last summer, Jimmy was one of five persons chosen to study with world-famous Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa, music director at the Vienna State Opera. Jimmy is employed as an audition pianist and vocal coach for the Concorde Opera Management of Vienna.

Anna also was interested in music from childhood. At age 5, she began piano and clarinet lessons and has always enjoyed singing. She is the recipient of numerous honors including young artist awards and scholarships from her undergraduate alma mater, University of Tulsa, and from Southern Methodist University, where she started her graduate education. In 2003, she completed an 11-city concert tour of Japan and continues to make numerous appearances in opera, from solo appearances at the symphony to famous operatic roles in the United States and Europe.

Anna came to Baylor in 1997 after her SMU voice teacher transferred to another university and recommended that she study with his former voice teacher, John Van Cura, voice studies professor at Baylor. Anna says Van Cura has had a profound effect on her personal and professional growth, even after her graduation in 1999. "As a teacher, he was the best thing that ever happened to me. He always cared about his students as people and not just musicians," she says. Anna credits his additional foundation in the sciences with giving her a solid technique. He continues to teach her when he visits Vienna.

"I think Anna's a lovely person and a very spiritual one," Van Cura says. "She's always been an aggressive and hardworking person, and I think she'll be very successful."

A career in music has taught the Chiangs that results are not as important as the process. "As a performer, you want people to see you and you want applause," Jimmy says. "But now I'm growing into where I have even more fun and joy in the preparation."

The lessons learned through the discipline of practicing music have led to spiritual maturation, the couple says. "I find that my musical growth or my vocal growth has always been parallel to my spiritual growth. Whatever lessons I'm learning in the practice room, I'm learning in my heart," Anna says.

Being musicians of integrity requires sacrificing some security, Anna says. Audition and performance success is dependent on judges' and patrons' taste, teacher-judge relations and whether a performer is having an "off" day. Jimmy says self-confidence and love for the music is key to surviving in this environment.

"When we talk about expecting results, if you're a Christian and you pray to God, 'this is what I want,' and then expect him to give it to you -- faith doesn't work that way," Anna says. "We learn that we can't see the future, we only can do what our jobs are today and have faith that God is going to take care of the results."

For now, Anna pursues her dream of starring in main stage opera roles. Jimmy would like to continue to perform concerts as a soloist, be a vocal coach in an opera house and a conductor for a symphony. Although living in Vienna seems ideal at the present, they know they have to remain open to all possibilities. "As far as jobs, it's an excitement -- we just don't know," Jimmy says.

Both musicians spend most days in rehearsal and performance and researching their next jobs. "We always have to find our own opportunities," Anna says. "When they come, we have to be ready. That's what the hard work is for."

Although it might seem like the Chiangs have risked much to make successful careers in music, they say sacrifice is only a term that others use. "If we think about how much we sacrifice, then it's not real." Anna says.

For Jimmy and Anna, music is a way of speaking without words, a language to be learned. "You can feel great just listening to music. But when you understand it and you really bring something to someone, it's a communication," Jimmy says. And they have an important message to communicate -- the centrality and importance of love.

"The most important thing in any opera is love, Jimmy says. "No matter if there's a bad or evil situation, it penetrates. Love wins. That speaks to society as well and I think sometimes we don't recognize that."

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