• Sept. 12, 2023

    USCHS senior reaches finals in international Chinese music competition

    Theeya ChenAn Upper St. Clair High School student was recently named a finalist in the Dunhuang Cup, a weeklong music competition for traditional Chinese plucked instruments. Senior Theeya Chen, who plays the pipa, advanced in the teen student category with approximately 20 other students from around the world.

    Held in August, more than 3,000 professional and amateur musicians competed in the annual event. Chinese plucked instruments include the pipa, ruan and liuqin. The pipa is a four-stringed, pear-shaped instrument that resembles a guitar.

    Theeya, who began playing the pipa in 2018, has performed at many cultural festivals and New Year galas within the Pittsburgh area. She has reached level 7 of 9 at the Central Conservatory of Music, a renowned music school in China that offers in-person and virtual instruction.

    “I am on track to get to level 8 by the end of this year,” she said. “I have been internationally recognized as a gold level musician by the Singapore Starshine Arts Festival.”

    Not able to attend in-person, Theeya participated in the Dunhuang Cup via video conference.

    “I passed the first round of the competition and entered the second round, needing to learn two performance-level pieces in two weeks for the final round,” she said. “I was able to become a finalist in the teen student category with around 20 other students.”

    Launched in 2019 by the China Musical Instrument Association, the Dunhuang Cup features performances, forums and workshops. Its mission is to popularize traditional Chinese instruments among young music learners.

    Theeya explained that she had never heard of the pipa until she was presented with the opportunity to take lessons.

    “I was offered the chance through my art class because my pipa teacher's children had gone to the same art studio as me and was looking for students interested in learning the pipa,” she said. “I started it simply because I wanted to be able to play a second instrument, but really fell in love with the culture and music that accompanies it.”

    The pipa, one of the most popular Chinese instruments, has been played for nearly 2,000 years.

    “The pipa is often described to be like a lute, but many people don't know what a lute is, so it is comparable to a guitar as there are frets and picks that are used to pluck the instrument,” Theeya explained. “The pipa is held vertically with four strings, using the right hand that wears fake plastic nails to hit and strike the string, and the left hand to press down on the frets to change notes.”

    Theeya began her musical studies playing piano until a few years ago. Although no longer taking lessons, she occasionally plays for fun. In addition, she is a student leader in several clubs and activities at Upper St. Clair High School, including National Honor Society, vice-president; Speech & Debate Team, treasurer; UNICEF Club, co-president; Boba Club, vice-president/co-founder; Environmental Club, co-president; Make-A-Wish Club, co-president; IB Club, president; and Global Education Week, committee member.