Wei Zhen's fingers moved ferociously across the piano keys as he played an upbeat Frederic Chopin selection during rehearsal Thursday.
He was preparing for a solo performance, but he wasn't nervous.
"Every note seems alive," he said. "I am ready to share that with people."
Zhen will play his first recital in the U.S. at 3 p.m. Sunday at Tapscott Chapel, Kentucky Wesleyan College, 3000 Frederica St. The recital is free and open to the public.
The Shanghai native moved to Owensboro with his mother, Song Dingyin, in the fall of 2011.
He met KWC music professor Diane Earle when she was a guest teacher at a Shanghai conservatory in the summer of 2009.
He said he knew it would be challenging, but he wanted to move to the states to study with Earle.
So, after two years of studying English to pass the TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language) exam, Zhen and his mother took a leap of faith.
"We're in good shape, nothing (about our move) has been so terrible," he said.
"I like it here," Dingyin said in Chinese as her son translated. "It's quiet, not so crowded, and people are always friendly."
Zhen said his mother is very supportive of his musical pursuits.
She records his twice-weekly lessons on her phone and sends the videos to her husband and the rest of their family in Shanghai.
"I miss my dad, but it's good he can still hear me play," Zhen said.
Earle said though he's just 13, Zhen tackles a college-level repertoire.
Aside from piano lessons, she has helped Zhen, an eighth-grader at Owensboro Catholic Middle School, with applications to performing arts high schools including Interlochen in Michigan and the Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
Zhen said he hopes to become a concert pianist.
"He's very talented," Earle said. "He's adjusted well here, and now we're just working on him playing more expressively."
In China, Zhen said, learning to play instruments focused heavily on diagramming notes. Such structure was hard for him to break as he's played piano for 10 years.
"He works very hard to play in a more relaxed way," Earle said. "We talk about how each note is different — it might cry, it might dance, it might laugh. He's improved a lot with bringing out the feeling."
Zhen is a member of his school's chess and writing clubs. He said he enjoys dealing with strategy. And as he progresses in school, he said he wants to learn "more about music history and theory. Whatever it takes to be good."
Photo & article courtesy of Owensboro Mesenger-Inquirer