In Her Words: Anna Boonyanit’s From the Top Experience

Anna Boonyanit

This is pianist Anna Boonyanit reflecting on her journey to performing on NPR’s From the Top with Host Christopher O’RileyShow 281. She was 14 years old at the time. 

My Home – February 9, 2014 7:19 pm

My name had just been announced through my antiquated JVC radio propped on the floor of my bedroom. I had probably heard the words “Anna Boonyanit” thousands of times, but for the first time ever, it was announced on National Public Radio to thousands of people. As I lay in bed, my head spinning, I no longer felt like a typical high school freshman.

My Home – December 3, 2013 5:20 pm

I had just gotten home from school. Scrolling through my phone, I checked my Facebook. My heart skipped a beat as my eyes skimmed over a message from Tom Vignieri, music producer at From The Top, a National Public Radio (NPR) show. It said, “Give me a call when you have a sec. Want to talk to you about coming onto the show!” Hands shaking, I quickly dialed his number. After a few rings, he picked up and shared with me news I had been hoping for since I applied for the show two years ago. As a young child on cozy Sunday nights, my parents and I frequently tuned in to our local classical station KDFC to listen to From the Top. The young artists played with conviction and shared inspiring anecdotes about their musical journeys. I had long dreamt of the day I would be the one inspiring others. Vignieri then told me the radio show had a spot for me on the January 18 show in Costa Mesa, CA and that he would like me to play Stravinsky’s Chez Petrouchka. I couldn’t believe that I would have the chance to go perform at the magnificent Renée and Henry Segerstrom Hall, the same place my idol Yuja Wang had shared her music. A few weeks later, once the show would be publicly released, I hopefully would also touch the souls of thousands of listeners worldwide. My childhood dream was finally coming to life. I could see it happening before I had even arrived in Costa Mesa.

Practice Room at Sergerstrom Center for the Arts – January 18, 2014 8:15 pm

I glanced up at the wall clock as my fingers ran up and down the keys playing scales and chromatic octaves. A copy of my annotated sheet music of Chez Petrouchka, lay flat in my flimsy binder against the stand. I skimmed through a few of the technically rigorous passages and then firmly shut my binder. Realizing it was probably almost my turn, I gingerly stood up and began walking to the door. Right then, one of the stage managers came knocking on my practice room. The choir had started singing already, and I was the next act. My heart racing, I was forced to leave the comfort and safety of my practice room and head to the menacing back stage. I paced back and forth, took deep breaths, and shook my arms out violently. The choir’s passionate singing filled my ears, increasing my onset of an adrenaline rush. Ending on a high and powerful note, the singers received an enthusiastic ovation.

Knowing it was almost time, I told myself in a mantra-like fashion, it wasn’t about right notes, fast fingers, or perfect shaping, aspects of music that many inexperienced musicians have overly emphasized. Several years ago, I was one of those pianists; my playing was a showcase of immaculate technique and perfect notes, which in fact undermined the true purpose of music.

But since then, I have realized that music was about something greater than all that; it was about spontaneity and imagination, taking my audience on a journey with me, taking them from the hall into a new world, a new place, wherever they felt like it should be, maybe even taking some of the weary souls into a therapeutic session.

Stage manager Elizabeth DeVore opened the stage door, gesturing to me that it was time. I put my fears away and transformed from a shy 14-year-old to a concert pianist aspiring to accomplish the impossible: abstract expression without words. I strode onto the stage faking a smile and bowed to the applauding audience. The beams of stage light shone brightly onto my face as I carefully sat down onto the leather bench. I sat in silence for a few seconds, balmy palms on my plum gown, trying to ready myself for embodying the character of the piece. I had played this piece hundreds of times. It was almost like a best friend, a person I knew deep down. Then, for the zenith time, I simultaneously placed my left pinky onto an F# and my left thumb onto an F#, an octave higher. A split second later on the opposite end of the keyboard, my right hand found its way to two G’s, similarly an octave apart, and a C sandwiched between the two notes.

Then, the music flowed out of me like it never had before. I thought I had given my best performance of this piece at a competition six months ago, but I was proven wrong right then. I never felt so one with any music I had ever played. I created sounds I didn’t even know I could make. I don’t know if it was playing in such a lavish hall or maybe the anticipation that led to this moment, but I felt like I had transformed from playing like a 14-year-old to an artist. After I finished hitting the last chord and throwing my hands up in a dramatic fashion, I smiled a genuine smile. It was the most fun I had ever had on the piano.

As I got up from the bench and bowed, the audience burst into applause and cheers. Show host Christopher O’Riley then asked me a few questions about a few of my musical experiences. I walked to the microphone and awaited my first question from show host Christopher O’Riley. He asked me about “a really, really special response to one of my [YouTube] posts.” I then told my story of an extremely kind comment I had received from composer Seymour Bernstein, a respected pianist and composer. O’Riley then asked me to talk a little bit about my mentorship from Van Cliburn Gold Medalist Jon Nakamatsu, so I told the audience about Nakamatsu’s significant impact on me during a master class, lesson, and many emails exchanged with him. These experiences were some of my greatest, but I knew I could add one more to the list tonight.

As performers, we must be the ones who translate the composer’s emotions and concepts through our sounds. We are the medium, the bridge between the music and the audience. We are the ones, who recreate the magical sounds invented centuries ago.

And tonight, for the first time ever, I believed I had truly succeeded; I never felt so emotionally in sync with the music. It was an indescribable feeling: one that I only wished was eternal, one that made my sacrifices and hard work over the course of the past nine years all worth it in the end.


To learn more about Anna, click here.