Music a big part of Jackson teen’s life

Katelyn Tran planning to teach piano to children at local library this summer


Katelyn Tran Katelyn Tran JACKSON — Katelyn Tran, 16, a sophomore at Jackson Memorial High School, loves music and at an early age started winning piano competitions and awards.

She started studying piano at the age of 4 with Veda Zuponcic of Rowan University in Glassboro and when she was 5 years old she won first prize in the New Jersey Music Teachers Association Young Artists competition.

When she was 7, Katelyn won a first prize scholarship from the Greater Princeton Steinway Society, and at the age of 8 she was the youngest finalist in the Albert M. Greenfield Philadelphia Orchestra competition.

Most recently, Katelyn won the grand prize for the Crescendo International competition in New York and she performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City in January. In February, she was awarded the grand prize and gold medal from the Young Artists Concerto competition in Lawrenceville, and she has performed her winning musical selections as an international exchange student in Montreal, Canada.

In May, Katelyn is slated to perform with the Bravura Philharmonic Orchestra in West Windsor, her seventh orchestral appearance that includes the Maryland Youth Orchestra and the Manalapan Battleground Symphony Orchestra.

Katelyn’s favorite virtuoso pianists are Russian American Vladimir Horowitz (1903-89) and Hungarian born Georges Cziffra (1921-94). She is not comfortable being labeled a musical prodigy.

“I love music and performing and it comes easily,” she said, “but I still have to practice two hours a day and take lessons.”

Her piano studies continue with Dr. Ronn Yedidia, the founder and director the New York Piano Academy, a school that combines classical and jazz instruction. Yedidia received a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in composition from the Juilliard School in New York.

“He is a great teacher and I am thankful and grateful for his instruction,” said Katelyn. “He can be tough, but he forces the best out of you.”

At the top of her class at Jackson Memorial, she takes honors classes. Mathematics and English are two of her favorite classes.

“In mathematics, there is always a way to find one answer,” she said. “In English, I get to use my imagination.”

Chemistry and pre-calculus are additional subjects the teenager enjoys.

Katelyn devotes any free time to reading or hanging out with her friends, who she said understand her rigorous schedule. Also, she was looking forward to getting her driving learner’s permit when she turned 16 on March 17.

A typical week for Katelyn is full of musical, academic and extracurricular activities. On Tuesdays she is the pianist for the Jackson Memorial jazz band. She is also on the school’s tennis team. Wednesdays find her volunteering at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold Township, where she is testing a possible career choice.

“Right now, I am thinking about a career in the medical field with an emphasis on injuries affecting performing artists,” she said. “It would be similar to sports medicine for artists and musicians. I do know that in some form music is a skill that I will keep for the rest of my life.”

Katelyn has shared her love of music by performing for adult community centers and she performed in a talent show to raise money for medical expenses to help a former Jackson Memorial teacher’s family.

This summer, while competitions are mostly over, Katelyn is initiating Summer Piano Buddies, a program to teach young children to play the piano. The program will be held at the Jackson library.

“Tentatively, it will be for seven or eight weeks with 10 to 12 students,” she said.

Applications for Summer Piano Buddies are available at the library, 2 Jackson Drive. For more information, call 732-928-4400.

Katelyn has a role model in her older brother Brian, 21, who started playing the piano at the age 7. He has won numerous musical awards, including performing for four consecutive years at Carnegie Hall and winning the International Young Artists piano competition in Washington, D.C.

Academically, Brian won the President’s Education Award for Outstanding Excellence in 2002 and the 2002 Scholar’s Award for achieving high honor roll for four consecutive years. In May he will graduate from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, with a degree in entertainment media. He hopes to assist young musicians with the business aspect of their careers.

“My husband, Jimmy, and I are fortunate to have two such wonderful children,” said Julie Tran, Katelyn‘s mother. “We try to inspire our children and to provide the opportunity for them to succeed.”

Tran, now a registered nurse at Children’s Specialized Hospital in New Brunswick, was an amateur dancer and a medical student when she fled her native Vietnam with the boat people in 1979. She had temporary sanctuary in Hong Kong until 1981 when she received permission to emigrate to the United States, where she met her husband, Jimmy, an electrical engineer.

“Every night, we eat dinner together and have family time,” said Tran. “The children know how fortunate they are. We try to motivate them in school and encourage them by recognizing their achievements. All young students need this motivation.”