What It’s Really Like to Be a Classical Musician

Published as part of FLARE‘s 9-5 series.

How do you spend your day? Right now it’s balanced between performing and teaching. I’m part of the distance learning program at the Manhattan School of Music where I teach students in the rural areas of the United States—like Nebraska or Maine where they don’t have a lot of music funding—over video conference. I spend a lot of time traveling, too. I’m recording an album with my brother [Bryan Cheng, the other half of the Cheng2performance duo] in Germany and then we’ll be playing in Port Hope, Montreal, New York, and this summer we’re going to China.

How often do you practice the piano? 5 to 6 hours a day.

What do you do before you sit down at the piano to get yourself in the zone? I warm-up, as if I was going to go for a run or to yoga class. I think of musicians as athletes because we use the same muscles, although they’re much finer motor muscles, so I’ve been stretching a lot before and after I play and in between I take breaks.

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