Aaron Zhang was so inspired by his first-grade music teacher’s motions and how they transferred into percussive, melodic music that he got a piano for his 7th birthday and started taking lessons.

“Every class, I watched her play the piano with her fingers flying in such an elegant way, and I really wanted to learn to do the same,” said the 16-year-old Lakeside School junior.

While singing in the American Choral Directors Association Northwest Children’s Honor Choir, he experienced wonder at how the sound was more than just the sum of each person’s part.

The mingling and reaction of tones and timbres awed him.

After listening to a friend’s piano composition, he was struck. 

“It amazed me that I could, in theory, do the same thing as Mozart, Bach and Rodgers and Hammerstein, and it amazed me further that my friend was already doing the same. I wanted to do it! I wanted to plunk out melodies and incorporate my material, the material of masters, and new material into writing.”

And that’s what the Bellevue teen has been doing since.

After his composition “Interstellar Clouds” won first place in the statewide contest, it took second place in the National Federation of Music Clubs 2021 Junior Composers Contest.

 The award comes with a $175 prize and is one of a series of NFMC contests for Zhang. He had already advanced to the regional level in the competitions. Zhang hopes to use this prize on his July trip to Vienna, where he is set to perform his composition at Ehrbar Hall as part of the Golden Key Music Festival.

After graduation, Zhang thinks he will keep playing and pursue the arts and their intersection with business in some capacity, perhaps starting a music-related company that could make classical-music education more accessible.