Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Born in China and trained in the United States as a classical pianist, Nie has diverse interest in music. He has performed in both countries and in Europe, has led orchestras and choirs and has been a music director for operas and musicals.
Nie studied with piano professors Jack Roberts at University of North Texas and Leo Steffens at the UW-Madison, and he studied for a short time in Italy with Ian Hobson during Nie’s years at New York University, where he received his Ph.D in 2003.
Principal to his training were his studies with Orazio Frugoni in the late 1970s, where Nie acquired the repertoire and the technical proficiency needed for performing and teaching.
Now in his 37th year teaching at Beloit College, Nie has—with the help of colleagues Jerry Gustafson, George Williams and David Knutson—begun to implement an entrepreneurship component to his music technology class: Music 260 (Fundamentals of Recording and Editing). In addition, he also teaches courses in film and arranging along with providing private lessons.
Nie began the Turtle Creek Chamber Orchestra with the help of colleagues and friends. Now in its sixth season, TCCO provides music during the summer months with an annual strings camp that helps educate young musicians.
To learn more about Nie and TCCO, visit TurtleCreekChamberOrchestra.org.
1. Was there ever a time you considered giving up music? I have never considered leaving music, although I started out trying to be the first non-U.S. born senator to the state of Wisconsin. However, politics on that scale became rather odious, so ... music!
2. Can you describe what it is you get from performing music that people who are only listening can’t possibly understand? There are always two sides to any quest: first, to inform and to ask my listener to consider learning, and second, the ego does take over as you realize that you are able to do what few people are capable of. Also, music offers a cultural and historical perspective that cannot be overlooked.
3. You are an adjunct associate professor at Beloit College. At RateMyProfessors.com, seven of eight reviewers refer to you as “Awesome” or “Good.” Does it bother you that your “hotness” rating isn’t keeping up? The RateMyProfessor rating is from too many years ago, and I have never paid too much attention. What is important is that I effectively serve my present students. How they view me becomes irrelevant, as I am not there to be liked but rather to be effective in offering relevant and useful information and techniques.
4. You are founder of the Turtle Creek Chamber Orchestra. What aspect of the orchestra’s progression makes you most proud? Really, all aspects of the organization make me feel very happy. I have an extraordinary board of directors that has taken a fledgling organization and moved it into its sixth year. I am proud of the members of the orchestra who take pride in being a family that works and plays together. I am proud of the strings camp and all of the teachers and organizers who continue to make this camp a success. I am proud to have started a scholarship competition in my parents’ names to help young talented musicians continue their studies. So, collectively, I am proud of all components of TCCO.
5. People would be surprised to know that I: Am a golfer and a gamer.
6. What is your favorite type of cookie? Chocolate.
7. What prompted you to begin playing piano? It was an accident. At my school in Hong Kong, they asked if one more student could take piano lessons, as they were short one to engage the piano teacher. Yours truly raised his hand.
8. When people hear the words “chamber orchestra,” they often think of classical music. Do you have a personal appreciation for such music genres as country, hip-hop, rap, rock, jazz, etc.? I do. Because of my wife and also through teaching at Beloit College, I realize that if I stay only inside my comfort element I would not be able to connect. Therefore, I pay attention to all types of music and have begun to enjoy them as well as almost being able to perform them.
9. If you could perform in any venue anywhere in the world, where would it be and why? Carnegie Hall. No explanation is needed.
10. If you could accompany any artist in the world, who would it be and why? Jian Wang, the famous cellist. This young man would be famous here in the U.S. if it weren’t for the fame of Yo-Yo Ma. I have accompanied this young man often, and he is a delight.
11. Name a skill you wish you had. I wish I could think more critically. I pride myself on being able to solve problems, yet there are those—like my wife, Emily—who are able to pinpoint the problems quicker than I can, so I am often quite envious.
12. The TCCO hosts a youth strings camp each year. What is the most important thing young musicians need to know about performing? To lose oneself in the music. My teacher, Orazio Frugoni, often reminded me that music dictates the technique. Technique never dictates music.
13. Liberace was from Wisconsin. Was he an over-hyped circus act or an under-appreciated genius? He was really a genius that no one really understood. He took his art into the entertainment industry realizing that he could reach more people with his music through show business than in the concert hall. I heard him in Madison and, after the glitz and glamour, he played Chopin that rivals Arthur Rubinstein.
14. Have you ever tried to solve a Rubik’s Cube? If so, were you successful? Yes and no.
15. What is your favorite season? Fall. I enjoy the change of colors and the beginnings of the brisk air. It is the German side of me.
16. Do you play any instruments besides piano? No. I wish I could play another instrument. Harpsichord and an attempt at the organ is all I can do.
17. When school districts have to make budget cuts, art and music programs often are the first to feel the brunt. Why do you feel districts should reconsider such decisions? Culture defines the nature and the norms of society. Without the arts, cultural cannot exist. We are presently suffering from a lack of cohesive efforts to bring people together. This is a result of our thirsts for money and power. But money and power are fleeting. Art, music and all other cultural elements last beyond one’s mortality.
18. When you’re at the grocery story, what goes into your cart whether you need it or not? Fruit, snacks and wine.
19. When it comes to food, I absolutely hate/love: I don’t hate. I cannot eat yogurt. I absolutely enjoy sausage and bacon.
20. A 2013 study at UC-Berkeley indicates we are wired to make connections between music and color based on how the pieces make us feel. If this is true, share your favorite piece, how it makes you feel and what color you envision it to be. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—power/humanity and orange/red; Mahler’s Third Symphony—creation of the universe/love and brown/green/blue.