Erik Lin’s voice began to shake when he introduced himself at the launch for the Victoria Symphony Splash.
At nine years old, he had just been named the youngest ever “Young Soloist” to be featured at the event, which draws an estimated 40,000 audience members to the Inner Harbour each year.
He paused a few times, as he told a small audience gathered at the Victoria Marriott Inner Harbour Hotel — including his family and piano teacher Ingrid Henderson — that he was about to play Chopin’s Polonaise.
But when he sat down at the piano, all the confidence was back. Soon he was pounding out the piece, which has a playfulness that seemed to match the personality that was coming out. At the end, he made a deep bow and a wide grin broke across his face.
It might have been a surprise when the pint-sized musician defeated competitors nearly twice his age for the prestigious gig of Victoria Symphony Splash Young Soloist at the concert Aug. 3. But his parents made at least one decision that gave him a strong advantage: They enrolled Erik in lessons with Ingrid Henderson, at age five.
Henderson has taught all but two of the 13 pianists selected as young soloists since the program launched in 1994. The remaining 12 musicians have played strings or been vocalists.
“Ingrid Henderson is one of the most dedicated teachers I have ever had the privilege of working closely with. I have observed over the years that her commitment to her students is without bounds,” said Victoria Symphony maestra Tania Miller, who selects young soloists for the role.
Her students arrive at auditions well-prepared, with excellent applications and high-quality recordings, Miller said. She also gets them started on concerto repertoire early and trains them to reach for higher goals.
“Ingrid has certainly passed on her love of music to her students, and has found a way to bring out the passion for music that they have in themselves,” Miller said.
So what’s the secret to getting a student into Symphony Splash?
“First and foremost, it’s choosing a piece of music that this type of audience would enjoy,” said Henderson, who has taught at the Victoria Conservatory of Music for 27 years. It should be lively or familiar, she said, giving the example of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which her former student Christine Wong played in 2009.
The piece also has to be the right length — there’s no room for 25-minute concertos. And they should be challenging, but appropriate for each student’s ability. In Erik’s case, it will be Haydn’s Concerto in C Major, which fits his small hands, his age and his playing level.
“Each student has his or her own personality, and you need to gauge the choice according to their level of ability, their age and their personality,” she said.
“They have to enjoy it, too, because they have to practise — a lot.”
Henderson learned under some strong teachers of her own. First was her older brother, who sat her down at the piano for two hours every day at age four. He would flash note cards in front of Henderson, who would have to play the correct note in order for the flash card to land in the “good” pile. The bad pile gradually got smaller, while the good pile grew.
In 1971, she enrolled at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, where she studied under Margaret Hendry, Winifred Scott Wood and Rena Sharon.
She developed a performance career of her own, which included shows two nights per week at the Union Club, at the same time that she began teaching.
When she watched Anton Kuerti perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto with the Victoria Symphony at age 19, it moved her toward her current path.
“I realized what importance concerto playing has, and it just inspired me so much. I decided that’s what I wanted to do with my students,” she said.
Since dedicating herself full-time to teaching, she said, it has been rewarding in a different way than performing was.
“It’s rewarding to see the accomplishments and watch them perform,” she said. “I guess with the concerto playing and performing with the orchestra, that’s something I never had the opportunity to do myself, so it’s quite an accomplishment and rewarding to see that in them.”
And if she took anything away from her own teachers, she said it’s dedication.
“It takes an enormous amount of patience and time and, of course, loving what you do.”