Winning isn't the goal when playing music, but for Marilyn Qian Li, 15, who recently placed first among ninth-graders in the Georgia Music Teachers Association's Piano Competition, winning isn't that bad.
"I jumped, I was thrilled," she said. "I was telling (my mom) how happy I was. I was going to tell the whole world."
The Lakeside High School freshman settled for phoning her father instead.
Marilyn has earned wins at other competitions, but few of her peers have witnessed her piano prowess.
"My friends have never had the opportunity to hear me," she said. "They know I play the piano and that I'm kind of good, but they've never heard me play."
Although hearing classical music isn't exactly on most teens' to-do list (Marilyn said she regularly listens to Chinese pop music) it's something to experience when she plays the piano.
"Marilyn is very, very talented ," said her piano instructor, Lydia Porro Milham, who has been teaching music for more than 30 years and has taught Marilyn for the past two.
Not only does Marilyn have a delicate touch on the piano but she also has astonishing technique and a way with Beethoven.
Her performance from memory of two difficult pieces, the maestro's 8-minute sonata Opus 53, known as Waldstein, and a portion of Chopin's Etude in A Minor, were likely keys to her win in the statewide competition, held in April in Athens.
"Those two pieces are some of the foremost pieces in music history," she said. "A lot of scholars - students studying music in college - have a hard time with it."
Marilyn, who has played piano since age 5, makes it look easy.
Thanks to an hour or a half-hour of practice every day for the past year under Ms. Milham, Marilyn perfected the pieces.
"I told her that it would be hard to learn but she learned it," Ms. Milham said. "She's been very, very dedicated to her piano studies and that's what makes the difference. Sometimes talent is not enough."
Now, the native of China is setting her sights on learning even more difficult music.
Although Marilyn doesn't hope to become a professional pianist, she said she isn't ready to leave the keys.
"Music, for me, is just amazing. There's so many things in it I can't express in words," she said.
When pressed to try, Marilyn said music, particularly the piano, is the perfect pastime and tool.
"It makes me excited; it expresses my mood," she added. "I love the piano."
Marilyn will perform at the southeast regional piano competition in the fall.
Reach Kamille Bostick at (706) 823-3223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.