'We Try To Help Each Other': Upper Valley Sisters, Pianists Roxane And Maxine Park

Aug 25, 2019

Two sisters. Both under age 15. Both talented pianists. And both juggling being kids with becoming master musicians.

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One warm, late afternoon, Roxane Park, 11, and her sister Maxine, 14, practiced piano at the Norwich Congregational Church. Distant sounds of a cello lesson drifted in as their mom, Ellie Kyung, watched from a pew nearby.

Roxane Park, 11, and her sister, Maxine, 14, regularly practice playing the piano at Norwich Congregational Church.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR

“Part of what’s really helpful in terms of practicing on – we call them ‘foreign pianos’ – is that as a pianist, you have to play on the piano that’s at any given location,” Kyung said. “Practicing on your piano at home actually doesn’t sometimes help you learn how to adjust.”

Maxine explained that the “foreign piano” at the church was a Steinway B.

Maxine Park, 14, plays the piano with feeling and has performed in spaces such as Carnegie Hall in New York City and Boston Symphony Hall.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR

“So it has really nice action,” she said. “It has a really beautiful sound that really carries really nicely. It also is a church so it gives us kind of this peace of mind that’s really nice to have when we’re practicing for competitions that are pretty stressful.”

Maxine Park, 14, has been playing piano since she was seven.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR

Maxine has been featured as a soloist with several orchestras, including the New York Concerto Sinfonietta at Carnegie Hall. Roxane has performed at Boston Symphony Hall and other big venues like Dartmouth’s Spaulding Auditorium.In some families, two sisters having so much in common might lead to a little sibling rivalry, but both girls say not in theirs.

“We’re not really competitive,” Roxane said. “But sometimes it’s nice if I beat her.”

“Like, that’s never happened,” Maxine said.

“Yeah, that’s never happened,” Roxane said as both she and her sister laughed.

“We try to help each other,” Maxine said. “And sometimes the help comes in different forms. So sometimes I’m practicing and Rox is, like, lying on the couch and she’s like, ‘That’s wrong!’ like really loudly and I’m like, ‘Thanks, man.’ But it’s more of a supportive environment.”

Piano playing sisters Roxane Park, 11, left, and Maxine Park, 14, right, like to both help each other.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR

“She helps me a lot when I need help,” Roxane said. “Because she has more experience and stuff.”

During the week, the two sisters focus on work and school. That keeps Roxane mostly near Crossroads Academy in Hanover, New Hampshire and Maxine at Philips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire.

Watch Roxane Park play Bach's Partita No. 6 in E Minor:

(On mobile? Click here to watch)

But as is often the case with Upper Valley residents in search of specialized instruction, not to mention performances and competitions, both girls’ weekends involve a lot of travel according to their mother.

“So the girls have been studying with Mila Filatova in Manchester, New Hampshire, since Roxane was four and Maxine was seven years old,” Kyung said. “And Maxine also takes lessons with Professor Alexander Korsantia, who is a professor at the New England Conservatory. So we end up kind of a – with a crazy weekend where we travel between Hanover, then we pick Maxine up at Exeter, then go to Manchester or Boston, and then take her back to school, and return home.”

Watch Maxine Park play Bach's Partita No. 2 in C Minor:

(On mobile? Click here to watch)

Both parents say music has always been part of their lives and something they hoped their daughters would also embrace. The girls’ father, Andy Park, said he and Kyung met at a piano in college.

“I was a sophomore and she was a freshman,” Park said. “It was after a party. There was a piano in the room, so I started playing Chopin’s first concerto and I was hoping to impress her. So she came over and we talked. Later on, I found out that she was actually a much more accomplished pianist than I was, but I – like I enjoy telling the kids – it didn’t really matter because it worked.”

Ellie Kyung and her husband, Andy Park, watch their daughters practice piano in the Norwich Congregational Church. The couple met in college, and met - where else? - at a piano.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR

Their daughters both hope to make music a part of their future, at least in some way. Roxane imagines living in a big city like New York City after college, with access to lots of music. She expects her parents will still live in Hanover so she could come back, at least to visit. She said the piano and classical music will always be a part of her life, but in fact, after practice, Roxane has a fencing lesson right next door to the Norwich church at Tracy Hall.

Andy Park sits in the pews of Norwich Congregational Church while his daughters, Roxane and Maxine, practice the piano. The family started using the church piano about four years ago, and Andy has since started attending as well.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR

“Yeah, I really love to fence,” Roxane said. “And I also really like writing, and I like math too. I like going to math competitions and stuff. My favorite class is history and I like board games – and sushi.”

Maxine hopes to double major in college, because in addition to music, she’s also passionate about writing and science.

Both Roxane and Maxine see music in their future, though the Upper Valley girls have other interests, too, like fencing, writing and science.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR

“I was working in an immunology lab at the med school at a Dartmouth,” Maxine said. “And that's in Dr. Yina Huang's lab. And she very kindly allows me to learn about immunology and also about lab techniques. Also, recently, I got into biking with my dad. I got a new bike, and we went really far, and I’m still sore.”

Maxine said she never wants to stop learning and creating music, but career-wise, she’s not sure where exactly music will fit in.

For now, the sisters have caught the attention of producers of the weekly NPR program, From The Top. Maxine was featured last year, and Roxane’s performance in Dartmouth’s Spaulding Auditorium will air nationally – and on VPR Classical – on September 8th.

This story is part of our series, Young At Art. Every Monday this summer we'll hear from artists under 40 about what inspires their work and how they view the future for artists in the state. Support for Young At Art comes from Quantum Leap Capital.