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Katherine Liu

Katherine Liu

2022 Davidson Fellow Laureate
$50,000 Scholarship

Age: 17
Hometown: Wellesley, MA

Music: "Innovation and Worldviews: A Challenge to Consistency and a Call for Change"

About Katherine

My name is Katherine, and I am a classical pianist. I am a rising senior at Wellesley High School, and I am also a student at the New England Conservatory Preparatory School. Piano has been one of my life-long passions. Performing with the Boston Pops Orchestra at Boston Symphony Hall under the baton of Maestro Keith Lockhart has been one of my most inspiring and thrilling experiences. I was honored to be able to make music together with the amazing conductor and orchestra members, and I felt so grateful that I could bring this concert to the homes of the virtual audience. Within 2022, I also placed first in the Arthur Fraser International Piano Competition, the Harvard Musical Association High School Competition, and the Bellagrande International Piano Competition. With the recent loosening of social distancing guidelines, I have dedicated my time to performing solo piano and chamber music works at local senior citizen residences. 

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"Becoming a Davidson Fellow has been a dream of mine for several years, and I am beyond grateful for this mind-blowing opportunity to continue pursuing my education—both academic and music—at a higher level. I am so thankful that the Davidson Institute found meaning in my work, and I hope that my project will in turn encourage people to seek discovery and be unafraid of stepping into the unknown. "

Project Description

For many people, society teaches us from a young age that practice makes perfect; habits and routines allow for a tangible sense of progress in our work, which helps simplify significant goals into more concrete steps. Yet, the new realizations and sparks of inspiration that drive innovation are often derived from change—like how breaking up a morning routine can lead to the discovery of a more efficient one. If consistency and change are both needed to achieve goals, when is it essential to stick to habit, and when is it essential to deviate from them? In my project, I explore the creative process and use my experience as a classical pianist to frame the balance between consistency and change, demonstrating that changing up an old routine neither implies an admission of previous error nor entails the destruction of self-identity; flexibility simply gives room for growth and development. By broadening our worldviews, being amenable to change helps us find more efficient ways of reaching our goals and identifying the goals that truly matter.

Deeper Dive

In my project, “Innovation and Worldviews: A Challenge to Consistency and a Call for Change,” I explore the pianistic creative process as a lens through which the significance of flexibility can be understood. In the past fourteen years of playing the piano, I’ve discovered that being open to changing up a routine or method often sparks inspiration. Whether it means revamping my interpretation of a piece or producing sound at the keyboard in a different way, being flexible has helped me overcome many of my musical obstacles. However, flexibility was by no means an easy mindset to adopt. The idea of deviating from my preconceived expectations of my work process was daunting, and my subconscious understanding of a need for change as a sign of previous failure made it difficult to stay flexible. Most importantly, while hard work and consistency can be measured quantitatively—in the hours dedicated to work, in the number of music pieces learned—there is no such way to calibrate flexibility. This rendered the balance between flexibility and consistency an especially challenging concept for me to grasp. Over time, as I started to truly believe in the positive aspects of change, I found that being flexible began to come easier to me. Through accepting the inevitability of change in our modern society and understanding flexibility as a tool that gives us enough room to grow, I found that the path to reaching my goals can become much more self-tailored and efficient. Going beyond the sphere of personal aspirations, being flexible on a societal level can also mean higher levels of collective open-mindedness. Perhaps being flexible with age-old prejudices can help dismantle systemic and structural inequalities that target marginalized groups. Perhaps being flexible can create a more understanding society where every person feels seen and accepted.

As a student attending regular high school, balancing my academic and musical workload was challenging for me. In addition to the many hours of homework each night, participating in different piano competitions and festivals around the world further complicated my schedule. Interestingly, my topic of flexibility was incredibly relevant during the process of working on my project. Since I was traveling overseas for a piano competition during that same time frame, I needed to be flexible in the way that I managed my work. Using my time spent in airports and on airplanes to study my music scores, finish last-minute homework, and plan my Davidson Fellows project, I created for myself a mobile and flexible workstation. The COVID-19 pandemic also posed a significant challenge. With schools and recital halls closed, for the most part, I had to record my piano repertoire at home. While some piano competitions remained in-person, many performances were moved online or canceled. The electrifying experience of live and in-person music-making had always been a source of inspiration in terms of expanding my sound color palette and broadening my artistic interpretations, and coming out of a year with mostly virtual performances pushed me to find more ways of experimenting with sound.

I hope that my work encourages others to seek new experiences. It is so easy for humans to stay in their comfort zones and avoid the uncertainty of situations that involve change. However, through openness to different ideas, being flexible can help people mold their routines and processes to what fits them best, which can lead to not only a more efficient but also a more creative and fun approach to reaching one’s goals. During an era where so much of society has been transformed since the beginning of COVID-19, flexibility can help people adapt to these ever-changing circumstances. With social distancing guidelines in place, so many people were unable to mourn the deaths of their loved ones in the traditional way of attending a memorial service or a wake. With a flexible mindset, however, one has the ability to make peace and say their final goodbyes in their own ways. In wake of the tragedy caused by COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and the recent school shootings, many people around the world—including my family—are struggling with grief. It seems like flexibility is relevant, now more than ever. Whether it is being applied on a personal level to deal with challenges or on a societal level to solve global conflicts or to help with collective grief, flexibility has the power to effect positive change.


What is your absolute dream job?

My absolute dream job is to be an ice resurfacing driver (also known as a Zamboni driver). I spent a lot of my early childhood in the ice rink, so this has been a dream of mine ever since I was 7 years old.

What is your favorite tradition or holiday?

I love Chinese New Year because I enjoy watching the traditional dragon and lion dances. The food is also delicious.

What is your favorite hobby?

I’m not sure if this counts as a legitimate hobby, but I like taking the passenger seat on long road trips and listening to music while watching the scenery around me.

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In The News

Wellesley, Mass. – The Davidson Fellows Scholarship Program has announced the 2022 scholarship winners. Among the honorees is 17-year-old Katherine Liu of Wellesley. Liu won a $50,000 scholarship for her project, Innovation and Worldviews: A Challenge to Consistency and a Call for Change. She is one of only three students across the country to be recognized as a Davidson Fellows Laureate and one of only 21 scholarship winners in the 2022 Fellows class.

Download the full press release here