Music Chair Receives Prestigious Howie Award
Sophomore Katherine Strakna hadn’t played piano in years when she signed up for lessons with Hsien-Ann Meng, assistant professor of music and chair of the music department at Howard Community College.
“I didn’t know where to start,” said Strakna, who is studying voice performance.
Her uncertainty subsided as soon as Meng walked into the room. The accomplished pianist quickly assessed Strakna’s abilities and came up with a learning plan. More importantly, Strakna said, Meng assured her she would reach her goals.
“She’s always positive and encouraging,” Strakna said. “She cares about the success of her students and will make adjustments to help everyone.”
That dedication to students’ success is just one of the many reasons the Howard County Arts Council recently awarded Meng with its Outstanding Artist Howie Award. The annual award recognizes leaders who support the arts and local artists.
Meng received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University and her doctorate in musical arts from the University of Maryland in College Park.
She joined Howard Community College in 2002. Since then, Meng has taught hundreds of music students through piano lessons and classes like “Fundamentals of Music,” “Music Theory” and “Music Literature in Context.” In 2010, she became chair of the college’s music department. Soon after, she started a music orientation program to build camaraderie between new students, returning students and faculty members.
Meng is also director of The Music Institute, HCC’s noncredit music program, and HCC’s concert series, where she plans more than 40 student, faculty and guest artist performances each year. In connection with the guest artist concert series, she also established guest artist master classes to give students a chance to perform and learn from internationally renowned musicians.
“I’m always looking for opportunities to expand the horizons of our students,” Meng said. “With the master classes, we’ve had classical and jazz musicians come in, and students get to perform for these musicians. Then the musicians will work with them, improving their techniques or making suggestions on musicality or the direction in which to take the music next. It’s really a wonderful performance opportunity for our students.”
Outside of work, Meng founded the Octtava Piano Duo with friend and fellow faculty member Wei-Der Huang. The pair performs in the United States and around the world.
Colleagues say they respect her professionalism and attention to her craft.
“We often talk about our teaching methods,” Huang said. “(Meng) knows there’s not just one way to teach. She sees what students’ personalities and abilities are to learn music, and even though some students are very difficult, she has a way to work with them.”
Meng, who grew up in Taiwan, said she has always had a love of music and teaching. She began playing piano at age 5 after seeing a fellow kindergarten student stay after school for lessons.
“I think I just liked the sound and the fact that I was able to pick out different tunes on the piano,” she said. “If I heard something in a cartoon I was watching, then I could go to the keyboard and pick out the notes to the melody.”
The daughter of two teachers, Meng also recalls spending hours playing school with her neighborhood friends.
“I would be always the teacher, hosting the class,” she said.
Throughout her education, Meng said she had inspiring instructors who encouraged her – even when she wasn’t at her best.
“My teachers helped me overcome my difficulties and encouraged me when I was disappointed,” she said. “I feel like I can do what I’m doing today because of my teachers. When your student is making progress, it’s the most exciting thing that you will feel. It is so motivating.”
That excitement is obvious every time Meng sees one of her students.
“My students often ask me, why are you smiling?” she said. “I tell them, ‘I wasn’t smiling like this a minute ago. I’m smiling like this because now I see you.’”
But it’s Meng’s students who say they’re the ones left smiling, thanks to her support.
“Dr. Meng is very happy and loves her students,” said Benjamin Sheeley, a music student studying jazz piano. “Anyone who meets her will walk away feeling good.”
Wherever you want to go, you can get there from here.