Cellist Nana Ouyang performs in the Bay Area for the first time

Eight thousand miles from home. Fourteen years old. Two family members. One cello. Carrying her large, red instrument case on her back, Nana Ouyang, a teenage cellist prodigy, walks through the halls of the acclaimed music school, Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

The first instrument that she played was the piano, however, she ended up choosing the cello.

“I was attracted to the cello’s sound,” she said. “The sound it makes is very similar to that of a human’s.”

Nana began playing cello at the age of six. Since then, she has become one of the youngest student accepted into Curtis at the age of 13 and accomplished many achievements, including being the youngest cellist to ever give a solo recital at Taipei’s National Concert hall, performing for a charity concert on her 10th birthday, and being invited to the U.S. National Cello Institute Summer Festival in 2011. The Curtis Institute of Music is a highly selective school that admits students based on artistic talent alone and trains exceptionally young musicians for careers to become professionals.

Nana first discovered her talent when she auditioned for an elementary music program in Taiwan. As she began to consistently do well on music tests, her parents began to recognize her talent.

“When I started, nobody thought that I would be taking this path, and thought that it was just a hobby. My dad used to joke about me making a career out of cello playing,” Nana said. “However, I’ve always liked it and my mom has always supported me. When I started winning first place in competitions my parents soon realized that I was, in fact, very good.”

At the age of 13, Nana was accepted into Curtis, and she moved from Taiwan to the U.S. along with her mother and younger sister, leaving her father and older sister.

“The hardest thing about moving here was definitely the homesickness,” Nana said. “Besides that, I was unaccustomed to the English language and the American culture.”

A difference Nana saw between the American culture and that of Taiwan’s was the music students’ attitudes.

“When I got to Curtis, I realized that all the kids who are here are here because they have a great passion for music,” Nana said. “In Taiwan, some kids were forced to play the instruments by their parents.”

An average day for Nana would be having English class in the morning at Curtis, going to Philadelphia City High School for Algebra and Physical Sciences classes until lunch, and then returning to Curtis to take music classes in the afternoon.

She chose an untraditional path to pursue her passion by attending a college prior to reaching high school.

“I came here before I finished high school because I believe that if I stayed in Taiwan longer, my chances of becoming a professional would be significantly hindered,” Nana said. “The music schools in Taiwan aren’t as good as the ones in the U.S.”

Through her dedication, passion and countless hours she has spent practicing the cello, Nana feels that the instrument is a part of her.

“Without the cello I feel like a ten year old,” said Nana. “However, I feel like I am 50 years old whenever I am with it.”

Having more than 750,000 followers combined on different social media platforms and having been on the big screen along with being starred on radio and TV shows numerous time, she is sometimes recognized in public.

“My mom was pretty well known, so I am very happy when people recognize me on the streets because now instead of being my mom’s daughter, they recognize me as the cellist,” Nana said. “I usually get noticed the most when I go to places like Chinatown in America.”

She also explained that she gets significantly noticed in cities like Beijing and Taipei, so she enjoys being able to wear more casual clothing such as flip-flops in America without having to worry about being judged.

Nana came to play in the Bay Area for the first time ever in a United States International Music Competition Benefit concert to help fundraise for Chinese Music Teachers Association of Northern California on Saturday March 21.



Several Upper School Harker students attended the concert and gave their thoughts on how she played.

“I could see her passion in her playing through the way she swayed and her facial expressions changed in just the slightest bits with each phrase,” Millie Lin (9) said. “Each piece brought different emotions to her face: joy, grief [and] excitement. Nana did not simply play the piece, she immersed herself in it.”

 Freshman Jerrica Liao was part of a group called Soundpost and volunteered at the concert. 

“I’ve really wanted to see her perform,” Jerrica said. “Her performance was amazing, as expected, and it was a really great experience to see her performance in person.” 

Nana was not the only one playing at the concert. Alongside her were Ryan Chen, a renown violin teacher and ex-concertmaster of the Taipei Symphony Orchestra, and Jo-Hwa Yao, an internationally recognized piano player.

Besides playing with Jo-Hwa Yao and Ryan Chen, Nana performed with the Crystal Children’s Choir.

“We only practiced together the day of the concert,” Kathy Duan (10), a member of the choir, said. “I thought it was very impressive that she was able to watch our teacher and play in sync with what we were singing even though we didn’t practice together.”

Nana advises any Harker students looking to become professional instrument players that passion and dedication are the two of the most important things to become a great musician.