In Profile: Alec Chien

Timur Dikec ’16

Alec Chien, a professor of music at Allegheny, was born with the congenital heart defect Tetralogy of Fallot. At the time, the surgery success rate for correcting this condition was about 50 percent, so for nine years at the advice of the family doctor in Hong Kong, Chien lived with a hole in his heart. It wasn’t until hewas 10 years old that he received corrective surgery for his condition, and thanks to the efforts of Denton Cooley and his team of surgeons at the Texas Children’s Hospital, Chein returned to Hong Kong healthy.

“I remember friends and families of ours immediately when they saw me coming back they saw a difference. They said I was pink. Before, I was pale,” Chien said.

Due to his condition, Chien wasn’t able to spend much time doing physical activities like other children.

“To this day I can’t swim… I’m doing the so called right moves and if I do that I go backwards!” Chien said.

Although Chien never took to water, he took to music at a very early age. The youngest of three children, Chien grew up listening to his sisters playing piano.

“I still remember what pieces they were playing,” he said. “I didn’t know what they were then but afterwards I remember knowing. And I remember imitating them on the table top while they were playing. I was imitating as if I was performing.”

When Chien’s parents saw his interest, they decided to sign him up for lessons. By the age of seven, Chien was giving advice to his much older sisters on how to play some of the pieces. Eventually, the family moved to the United States. Chien later entered the Julliard Pre-College Division and eventually graduated from Julliard with three degrees while competing in piano competitions worldwide. One of Chien’s most significant competitions was held in Santander, Spain. Despite being an early favorite with the judges, Chien did not place at the competition.

“I did not win first prize, I did not win second, I did not win third. I came in fourth,” Chien said. “But the point is after the competition, there was a lady, a Spanish judge, Rosa. People called her Rosa. She said publicly that she thought I should have won.”

While Chien did not come within the first three prizes, he was offered the opportunity to come back to Spain to play as many as 12 concerts in 14 days. When Chien called one of the Spanish families he had befriended to tell them when he was arriving, the family asked if Chien had heard about the recent plane crash. They told him that the previous Sunday, one airplane attempting to take off from the airport collided in midair with another plane that was attempting to land. The collision caused a massive fireball as the fuel tanks ruptured and there were no survivors. Only two weeks earlier, there had been an identical accident in which again there were no survivors.

“The first plane crash killed Rosa. The second plane crash killed the first prize winner from the competition

This moment served as a great moment of faith for Chien who identifies as a Christian.

“Now this is where God used that. I relate that to myself because some people thought I should have won. Now granted, had I won first prize I might not have been on that flight, but he was going back for a concert for that [prize]. […] The point is God used my pride, because I thought they were right,” Chien said.

As Chien explained, he believed the people who told him he should have won despite the fact that he never listened to the other performers when competing in a competition.

“If someone never heard any of the other competitors, how could that same someone feel they should have won? But yet I felt that. When people said I should have won I believed them and that’s pride… I think God was using that for me to learn to deal with my own mortality,” Chien said.