Piano: It’s purposeful, perspicacious, and presenting


Lisa Lee

James, when he was age 10, sat promptly on the piano stool in front of many watching, smiling parents. He has grown substantially since, physically and skillfully.

Daniel Lee, Staff Writer

The name James Lee will perhaps evolve as a household name for years to come, a name with the potential to succeed as the face and talent of the Wilsonville High School jazz band. But for now, he is Wilsonville’s local pianist at the onset of his music journey. 

From a young age, James displayed a natural aptitude for music, getting his first taste of it from his experience with instruments and various rhythms, beats, and songs. His “forte” is the piano, which he has consistently practiced for the last eight years. 

From learning basic Hot Cross Buns to playing the marvelous Moonlight Sonata, it is no surprise that his developing skills are raising him into the limelight of the school’s music program.

James is currently a level nine syllabus pianist. The syllabus is the Oregon Music Teachers’ Association music program that tests students based on a musical and critical criterion consisting of ten levels. 

After being graded and then assessed by a master teacher for level nine, James is en route to leveling up to ten. 

He emphasized that his success comes from consistent practice: sitting on the same chair, putting his foot on the same pedal, and pressing the same notes again and again. 

Obviously, to reach success, a good teacher is important, but the grit and determination of the musician can be the difference between novice and virtuoso.  

As a freshman entering Wilsonville High, James has been a member of the high school’s jazz band and orchestra since last August. His influence has already impacted the team’s dynamics and earned the admiration of his peers and his teacher. 

“He is a quick learner and a really strong musician,” says Mr. Davies, James’ jazz band teacher, after an early morning class with him, “he’s got a great ear and his ability to play and read music and memorize is very, very good.”

Aside from perfecting his craft and musicianship, performing in public is an anxiety-filled challenge that all musicians must face.

“It [performing] is probably one of the most important skills you can learn, but it’s really challenging just because it is not something you can be taught, you can only learn when you go through it yourself which is the really hard part.” 

James, at 15 years of age, has experienced his fair share of performances, participating in three Piano Concerto festivals (2019, 2021, 2023), being district winner in Oregon Music Teachers’ Association Composition Celebration in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021, and qualified to attend OMTA State Conference Masterclass in 2022, with concert pianist Dr. Jeeyoon Kim, a Two Gold Medal Winner for Emerging Artist & Instrumentalist Category and “The Best Music Video” Platinum Award Winner. 

At school this year, James and the orchestra battled their way for second place in the West Salem Jazz Festival for 5A schools and James won the Outstanding Soloist 5A award.

Although many pre-teens and early adolescent years quit the piano yearly, James’ dedication to sticking with the grind gave him the experience of public performing numerous times over. 

Enough to say the least that every time he pushed himself to complete a performance, the anxiety would decrease just a little.

Ideally, there is something that pushes and inspires the lives of considerably many high school teens, whether it be a sport, hobby, or any activity. This pushing factor for James has always been his relationship with music, however, music has also been a major factor in the toughest moments of his life. 

The moments hit in unpredictable waves, like in music, the switches of sound from low to high or gradually to quickly, accurately describe the continuous behavior of his life. “I learned that as I got to a higher level, there was always something new and harder than before, but I got better as well.”

James describes the most challenging moment in his journey as a pianist as the days before his performances, especially the Master Class. “I don’t know how to put it in words, but knowing that I was being watched by a professional pianist, experienced teachers, musicians, and that it was the most I have ever been around made me nervous.” 

He also states how his anxiousness originated from his high self-image and the nervousness of it all going away by breaking down before his concert. However, with the support of his brother and family, he realized that one performance wasn’t going to dictate who he was and all he worked for. This is one of the experiences that induced immense stress but also opened an opportunity for change.  

Change, according to James, developed a strong work ethic and a deeper love for music. If the ride were all sweet and smooth then perhaps he wouldn’t be where he’s at. And it wouldn’t have contributed to his hope to continue his music education and eventually pursue a career in music. 

His music passion has always been there but his music career is about to start, the question is whether he can endure the upcoming years ahead of him. Can he tolerate the low to highs or fortississimo to pianississimo?