Kasey Shao: musical endeavors


Photo courtesy of: Kasey Shao

Kasey Shao, post Philadelphia Orchestra Concert Meet and Greet/Signing with young audience members.

SENIOR Kasey Shao has been involved in the musical community since the age of six, so naturally, when she came to WHHS as an eighth grader, she was more than eager to be a part of the music department. However, when she discovered that the only way to do so was to take a musical class in place of an academic course, she made the decision to start a club that allowed her to do both.


Shao founded Music Nuts her junior year of high school as a way for musicians with no time in their schedule for a music class to play for an audience, perform in public, have a safe space to perform without being judged and above all, help the community. 


“Everything in my life has stemmed from this idea that community service is so important. I grew up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and my family always had this huge vegetable garden in our backyard that would produce dozens and dozens of pounds of produce every year. So my job every year was to take the leftover produce and give it to my neighbors as kind of a token of thanks. And I always really really enjoyed that because when they open up the door, they would just start smiling,” Shao said. 


Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Music Nuts’ students would perform at nursing homes, children hospitals and elementary schools. “It’s really heartwarming to see the difference an hour of music can make on the audience,” Shao said. 


Shao is an avid believer that small acts of kindness can make a big difference and her passion for community service stemmed from her elementary school teacher.


“We had a nursing home behind my elementary school, and about every month or so, [my elementary school teacher] would bring us to that nursing home and we would perform for them. And as a young kid, it was really eye opening to see that there was this kind of community of elders who didn’t really have the chance to visit their families and they couldn’t really go outside to a fresh market or listen to live concerts so they were kind of just cut off from this world, and it was really heartbreaking,” Shao said.


When Shao moved to Cincinnati and enrolled in WHHS, she was pleasantly surprised by the community feel and wanted to help others experience the same thing, using what she had learned from her elementary school.


“High schoolers especially I think aren’t really aware of the idea that there are so many communities out there that need our help. And I think that there’s this kind of stereotype that like starting a club or starting a fundraiser is so hard to do and that you have to devote so much time to it, but I started a club and I know that that’s really not true at all. If you really have this passion and if you have an idea of what you want to do, the school is actually really willing to help you,” Shao said. 


One of Shao’s goals of getting Music Nuts to perform in front of small audiences is to create an atmosphere where the performers can use music to connect with their audience, instead of feeling judged or intimidated. 


“Any musician, of all genres, all instruments, could come. We would just perform for each other and give positive feedback to each other, especially for those musicians who didn’t really have any performance experiences. Those meetings would be a kind of safe haven where [students] could perform and showcase their talent and art, without the fear of being judged,” Shao said.


Due to the COVID-19 outbreak however, she was forced to bring the Music Nuts performances to a virtual audience, specifically through YouTube. Shao encourages anyone willing to share their talents to send in a video to the Music Nuts email: whhsmusicnuts@gmail.com to be featured in their upcoming performance in March.


Outside of school, Shao is a very accomplished musician herself and competes in various competitions. In the past year alone she won the Cincinnati Overture Awards Classical Music Division, won the gold medal of the classical music division for the National Young Arts competition, won first place in the David D. Dubois International Piano Competition, was a finalist at the Hilton Head International Piano competition, was a second year scholar in the Chopin Foundation Scholarship Program, was a Young Concert Artists International finalist, was named a Young Steinway Artist and won first place in the Matinee Musicale Nancy F. Walker Scholarship Competition


She was also named a Davidson Foundation Scholars Winner for a two year project she made entitled, Music Through Stories: A New Kind of Fairytale, in which she used music to tell stories in order to “turn back the time on the death of classical music,” Shao said.


Shao comes from a semi-artistic background, her mother being an artist, and her father a scientist; and from a very young age was encouraged to listen to classical music, though she had most enjoyed being active and often found it difficult to sit still for so long.


“My mom wanted to find a way for me to sit down and concentrate on something. And so my mom went to the music store and got me an electric piano and that’s how I started,” Shao said. 


At the age of six she began to dream of being a concert pianist and is currently looking into music programs for college.

Kasey Shao onstage after a performance with the Hilton Head Symphony conducted by John Morris Rusell.
(Photo courtesy of: Kasey Shao)

“Just performing and touring and traveling have always been my passions. So I’m looking into those [kinds of] music programs for college. I’m looking into specifically dual degree programs that allow me to continue pursuing passions and my academic passions, because I really think that this kind of dual learning is really unnecessary for me [because] since I was seven, I started this kind of dual path that allow me to continue pursuing my musical passions and my academic passions, because I think that this kind of dual learning is really necessary for me,” Shao said.


With these big dreams comes the necessary amount of planning and balance, and Shao makes sure to maintain her good grades alongside getting in three to four hours of daily piano practice. 


“I’ll go into competitions on the weekends and finish homework after three to four hours of practice every day. So there’s always been that kind of balance for me in my life, and I think it’s been a really important part [of it all]. I’ve taken inspirations from my music over into my academics and I’ve taken inspiration from academics over into my music. So I think that kind of interconnectedness is always going to be there,” Shao said.


As a performer, she believes that the goal is not to enforce music upon the audience, but to connect with them. 


“I think performances are so generalized to the point where, if you miss a note, a performance becomes really bad. And I think that’s really negative, and not only has a huge negative impact on the performer itself but also on classical music in general,” Shao said.


And in order to feel like she is really connecting with her audience, she has come to appreciate the history behind the music.


“Classical music has been so stripped down to it just being notes and lines but I think it’s such a bigger world than that. There’s other artistic influences behind it, there’s a person behind it. There’s a story behind it. And I want to convey all of those things within my performance,” Shao said.


She believes that music is a powerful tool, and that people with a passion for music should pursue it, even if they don’t choose it as a career. “Even if you end up being a doctor or a teacher or a lawyer, music will forever be a part of your life,” Shao said.