Thirteen-year-old prodigy wins hearts, awards

Thirteen-year-old prodigy wins hearts, awards Flora Huan-Ching Chuang of Vermillion is a busy and talented young woman.

The 13-year-old Vermillion Middle School student is also taking classes in violin and piano as a special student at The University of South Dakota.

If that isn't a big enough challenge, she also spends many hours practicing each week and travels to perform in music competitions and with orchestras, locally and regionally.

Flora's mother, Winnie F. M. Tai, knows Flora has special gifts.

"She practices every day, very hard," said Tai, who is proud of all of her children, musically and academically. Her son Ben is an Austin Elementary School first-grader. Daughter Tina, 14, a gifted musician in her own right, has recently been accepted at a high school for the musically gifted in Taiwan.

Tai moved to Vermillion from Taiwan in 1997 to enroll in USD's educational administration doctoral program. In 1998, Flora joined her mother in Vermillion and since that time has taken seven college credits in music, studying piano with USD Professor Susan Keith Gray and violin with Professor John Thomson.

"It's been terrifically rewarding to have a student who is willing and eager to work as hard as Flora does, and has the talent and intelligence, as well," said Gray. "She's so eager and willing to do anything I ask of her, musically."

Initially Gray says there was a language barrier, which Flora is quickly overcoming.

"In the beginning, her mother would come to lessons and translate for her," Gray said. "She's very quiet, but we have these little jokes and I'll create musical images for her, and she'll really grin when she understands something. And, she has such a beautiful, warm smile."

In April, Flora added first prize in the 1999 Genevieve Truran High School Piano Competition at USD to her list of many recent musical accomplishments. Recently, Flora won the Maestro Award in Piano at the 1999 Youth Concerto Competition in Omaha, NE, providing her the opportunity to play the first movement of St. Saens' Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Omaha Area Youth Symphony, the youngest of about 20 competitors on all instruments from the region.

Also during the past year, she received honorable mention in piano at the 1999 Marcia Lehmberg Concerto Competition in Sioux City, IA, and first place in both violin and piano with the South Dakota Symphony's 1999 Young Musician Competition in Sioux Falls. In 1998, Flora performed the Mendelssohn Violin Concert with the USD Community Orchestra.

"When you see a young person succeeding in the way that Flora is, it gives you a wonderful feeling. It makes you realize that there are young people who strive to achieve beauty and perfection, and as long as there are such people around, we can be hopeful about the future," said Thomson.

Flora began studying violin and piano at age five in Taiwan. By the first grade, she was placed in the gifted student music program. In 1996, she won the second prize in the Governmental Violin Competition of Taiwan, and in 1997, won third prize in the Governmental Piano Competition of Taiwan. In all, she has won nine prizes in piano or violin competitions in Taiwan since 1993. In 1995, she traveled with the Kuang Fu Primary School Orchestra to perform in Australia.

"The students here at USD are amazed by Flora's talent. Music professionals, who are familiar with young talent on the national and international levels, are very impressed by Flora's abilities," said Gray. "USD is a great place to nurture her talent. It's the type of environment where we can take the time to work with her one on one."

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