Vicky is an angel sent from viola heaven. There really is no other way for me to describe working with her. I have never worked with someone who has pushed me so hard, supported me so completely, or changed so much of my technique with such results. Vicky does not take anything less than 100% in a lesson. Total concentration is a must, as there are so many things to keep track of in a lesson: tone, continuous sound, intonation, musicality, loose left thumb, dropping fingers, not pressing up with your right thumb, relaxing everything. When I came to Peabody I wanted more than anything to be a better violist, but I also wanted a teacher who I could model my own future teaching on. I found what I wanted in Vicky. Her focus on relaxing everything and finding the easiest way to accomplish musical goals has invaded my practicing and teaching and has totally changed how I approach not only my instrument but also my body. Her teaching, while incredibly demanding mentally and physically, is also incredibly warm and supportive. I never felt like she did not believe it was possible for me to accomplish my goals.
I cannot recommend her enough. She is the sort of woman I want to be someday: talented, warm, sincere, able to draw out the best in others both musically and emotionally, and able to hold a high standard without making them impossibly high for her students. I cannot thank her enough.
Caiti Perdue (MM 2014)
When I look back upon my 2 years at Peabody, I am so grateful for the influence Ms. Chiang had on me both as a teacher and player. I feel like twice the violist I was when I graduated... the tools she gave me continue to benefit my playing, and my practice sessions are still filled with plenty of "aha!" moments. Also, with every student I encounter, I try to channel the wonderful energy and skill she brought to her own studio. I sincerely hope that I can have the same life-lasting effect on my students!
Louis Privitera (MM 2010)
I am really happy with how I've progressed throughout this year due to all of her help. Now with the skills she’s taught me like shifting, ease with scales, the loosening of my body, and setting the proper goals each week, achieving my goals will be easier. I am so thankful that I've been given the chance to study under such an amazing teacher and person. Being her student is the most rewarding experience of my life. She inspires me every week to be the best that I can be. All I want is to be a active violist in the musical world and to have the same impact on people as she’s had on me.
Deidre DeStefano (Sophomore 2012)
I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Vicky, and my experience has been unbelievable in a very literal sense of the word - I never knew lessons could be so helpful, motivating, critical, exhausting, encouraging, unapologetically honest, and SO supportive and loving. Although her input into students just is a marvel in itself, the resulting output is just as amazing. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I had improved after my first month of studying with her, wondered at how I had progressed even more after my first two months, began to be a little suspicious of how well things continued until the end of my first semester, got over it, was pretty excited after my first year with my progress, and now that my second year is over, I really cannot believe how much better I sound because of her. But it would be wrong to give an impression that each lesson is bright rays of sunshine and bottled up solutions to all my problems – I admit that I do sometimes get frustrated amidst all my set-up obstacles, basic technical issues, errant musicality, and ill-controlled pacing (not to mention everything is out of tune), and wonder how I could possibly fix all of these things. One time I asked her about it: “But Vicky, isn’t this basically impossible? My brain can’t possibly process all of this and even if it could, I can’t expect my body to reliably execute all these hundreds of details!” I remember that she looked at me with this expression of total incredulity and as if it was as natural and certain a fact as the sunrise, told me “It’s easy and completely possible; of course you can do it.” That unwavering support and total belief in me which Vicky offers so easily and unconditionally, along with her relentless pursuit to guide and nurture improvement in my playing are two of the most wonderful things anyone has ever given to and done for me. The positive impact her presence has had in my musical and personal life and development cannot be measured.
Joelle Arnhold (MM 2012)
There is no single word; there is no easy phrase that I can offer to describe what studying with Vicky Chiang has been like. Transformative, invigorating, educational, self-exploratory, encouraging, and intense are words that come to mind, but these are somehow not enough.
I came to Peabody to start my Master’s degree with an awareness that I had made certain progress in my playing, but that I had a long way to go to reach my goals. With this knowledge and commitment to hard work, I dove in to my lessons head first, trusting Vicky to help me along the way. Each lesson was engaging and concentrated, and I left every one with a specific goal for the upcoming week. After a few weeks, months, and finally after two years, I discovered that working toward these weekly goals transformed my playing, changed my thinking about music, and broadened my future possibilities.
The amount of support that Vicky offered me during my study at Peabody was exactly what I needed. She helped me with various applications, wrote countless letters of recommendation, and guided me toward the next step in my development as a musician. I am not sure where my studies would have taken me had Vicky not been my teacher.
Studying with Vicky Chiang was a life-changing experience – an experience for which I am immensely grateful.
Travis Baird (MM 2012)
Over the past 7 years, I've had the honor and privilege of studying with Victoria Chiang at Peabody and in Aspen. Her dedication to teaching is truly astounding and inspiring beyond words. Every week she welcomes you into your lesson with a glowing, heart-warming smile and asks, “How was your week?” and it is apparent that she sincerely cares.
In studio class, I sit there amazed to see the progress of each and every student she has worked with from week to week. Vicky has a very thought out, individual plan for each and every one of her students and that is why she gets such effective results. That being said, in my own personal experience with her, she has been able to accurately sense what I need, when I need it. Whether I need encouragement, support, a reality check or a good butt kicking, she delivers.
Vicky has taught me to aspire for nothing less but the best in myself as a violist, teacher, and person. I look up to her with admiration, respect and gratitude. She has become one of the most influential people in my life, and I look up to her as a teacher, colleague and second mother. She goes above and beyond to ensure my success in the future as a violist, and I am forever thankful to have her as a part of my life.
Jaclyn Dorr (MM 2012)
I can't believe the last two years is over and that I'm done already, but I am finally starting to play at a level which I am (sometimes) happy with. I didn't think I would have ever gotten to this level without working with Vicky. She has really been a phenomenal teacher for me.
Justin Eichler (GPD 2012)
Vicky's studio class is really fantastic. We cover technique, musicality, stance...everything! Our studio is very close and friendly, and all the comments come and go very easily, we all understand that everyone has something to fix and there's no need to obsess over a remark that was clearly meant for one's playing and not one's personality. Anyone who wants to play in an upcoming class just has to talk to Ms. Chiang in their private lessons, and typically there's no problem. I do have to admit that holding Gwen's head still while she plays her Hindemith is a little baffling, but Alex understands...he had to hold her shoulders while I held the head. Sorry, Gwen. Above all, it's great to see the different player's playing levels increase on all counts throughout the course of the year. It's very encouraging to see Ms. Chiang's teaching take hold and do its thing.
Gregory Luce (Peabody class of '06)
"My lessons with Vicky are epiphanies in better technique, broad expansions in musicality, occasional loving spouts of motherly whoop-ass, and always infectiously inspirational, leaving me itching to improve."
Jason Fisher (Peabody class of '05)
I came to Peabody as a freshman, stuck up and with a bad attitude. Chicago has a good music scene, and I had grown up around kids who went off to college at Juilliard or Curtis, or who got symphony jobs straight out of CIM. No one I knew went to Peabody—it was unheard of, and therefore bad. But I went there anyway, to study with Vicky for a year before transferring to another school.
I had studied with Vicky in Aspen, the summer before my senior year of high school. I was the less good of the two high school kids she took, and was giddy the whole summer by how new and cool everything was. But I came away from it confused, because while Vicky and I got along really well, she was different from my high school violin teacher, and that was weird. She was impressed by things my high school teacher took for granted, like memorization and scales, and she didn't scare me into practicing in the same way. She didn't say any of the same catch phrases, she talked about "fixing" different things. I knew I couldn't stay with my high school teacher forever, but studying for a summer with someone else made me nervous about college.
I ended up getting into the schools I had wanted to, but not with any of the teachers... except Peabody with Vicky. All I knew of the other teachers were rumors, while Vicky sent me an email, asking if I was serious about Peabody, and saying in what ways she thought she could help me. Just the email was comforting and supportive, and a little magical: "Gwen, I think you could be a great player." I was worried that she wouldn't push me as hard as my high school teacher would; I was worried that I would hate Peabody. I was worried that I wouldn't get much better, but I wanted to know what a year with her would do.
"She's like the Oracle," I tell freshmen, now. "It may not be true, but she always knows exactly what you need to hear." Three years later I've met my best friends in the world, and I have a life I couldn't be happier with. "I'm a Peabody success story," I say, but I stayed because of Vicky.
The Vicky who taught me at Aspen and the Vicky who met me at Peabody approached teaching me completely differently. She was still understanding and supportive, and we still got along really well, but never again would she be impressed by memorization or scales. She took those for granted, and while she didn't use fear to get me to practice, I'd never had to work so hard before. The first year was rough, and frustrating. I had thought I was good when I came to school, but each lesson she'd talk about concepts I had never heard of... each lesson I'd walk away feeling like I couldn't possibly get it, learn to play well, fix my bow hold and left hand and have sound and pull and Relax! She didn't want me to play hard and fast, she wanted me to learn how to play well for the rest of my life... there was no immediate gratification, just the effort of rebuilding everything for long-term progress. I liked playing hard and fast and instantly feeling good.
But I knew some of her Peabody students from Aspen, and it was pretty incredible to see how much they'd improved in a year. That, more than anything, kept me believing that she did know what she was talking about when I couldn't see it in myself. She has this vision of everyone she teaches—she'll see where they are, see where they could be, and want, more than anything, for them to get there. The frustration and the work that required were tough for me, but deciding to trust her and change everything just because she thought I should was the hardest part.
Things started coming together, slowly, the second year. By the end of it I felt like I could at least play pretty decently again. And occasionally I'd have these epiphanies, where something she'd been telling me to do for months suddenly made sense, and she'd be thrilled. Vicky was always thrilled by any sort of progress, and she could notice the tiniest detail of improvement. Except, of course, when she felt like I was slacking, and then the hard lessons would come. Those also started the second year.
Now my friends in the studio and I will talk about our lessons. Now we'll compare how intense she is on what days, what stuff she says when, and we'll laugh at what's the same and what's different. I know now that she's "intense" for everyone, periodically, and I've seen that for me it comes when nothing else has worked to get me to improve. The first lesson like it, where nothing was right and I had to do stuff again and again striving for Something better, only to get "Are you listening to yourself? Come on! You can do this! Why aren't you?" made me feel like a petulant kid. I didn't want to practice afterwards, out of spite. But once I did, something clicked, and by the next week I could do everything she had asked, and fast. "Wow, Gwen, that's great!" she said, beaming.
The more I learn from Vicky, the more I see how much I didn't know and couldn't do when I came to school. The better she helps me get, the more I see how much I need to learn, to be where I'd like to be. But at this point it's much more fun than frustrating, and lessons are a chance for me to show her what new stuff I can do. The thought of studying with someone else in grad school—someone who would talk and think about different things—makes me nervous…who knows how weird it would be to study with another teacher. I still wonder if I'll ever entirely fix my left hand, bow hold, sound, pull, and Relax! but now I think maybe yes, I will. She certainly thinks I can. And when new people join the studio, changing everything and feeling like they can't play, I can honestly tell them to stick with it, because it's worth it.
Gwendolyn Fisher (Peabody class of '05)
I feel very fortunate to be able to say that Vicky Chiang is the first viola teacher I've ever had. I came to Peabody as a violinist, but after a semester of that, I quickly realized that I needed to pursue my dream of playing viola. Luckily, Ms. Chiang agreed to teach me, starting at Aspen that summer. Switching to viola is one of the best decisions I've ever made, and I've never regretted it for a second. This is largely because of Ms. Chiang.
So what's it like studying with Vicky Chiang? Wow...well, I've never had a teacher like her. She's so positive and encouraging that I always look forward to my lessons. I've never gotten the impression from her that she didn't want to be there. When you're studying with Ms. Chiang, you might feel overwhelmed with everything you need to "fix," but she helps you set attainable—yet definitely challenging—goals. For example, over breaks, like Christmas or summer, you are given an assignment of what you're going to learn/memorize, and a couple things to "obsess over" (great sound all the time while keeping a loose left hand, etc.). She always makes sure it sounds do-able, and sometimes it might not seem like it at first, but she always convinces me otherwise!
A great thing about being a Chiang student is the studio experience. We always get to play in studio class when we're ready, and after playing, people are asked to give feedback, which always consists of one thing we liked and another thing to work on. Everyone is very supportive, so it's a lot less scary than it could be, but makes us nervous enough that it's a good performance experience. After people play, the rest of the class is devoted to technique, and the great thing about this is that we have to do things arpeggios at 120, shifting exercises, scales, etc.) in front of other people which is really difficult!
You might be getting the impression that Ms. Chiang is really technically oriented, but her ultimate concern is the music. I think her main goal is to get all the technical problems out of the way so they don't hinder the music. If you're relaxed this should be no problem! Much easier said than done. If I could, I would study with her even longer because there is so much to learn from her. She has a rule though that after four years, you need to move on and study with someone else, so spend your time with her well! When you leave Peabody, you'll be a MUCH better violist.
Jessica Alberthal (Peabody class of '04)
"I know exactly that only after I enter Ms. Chiang's studio, I "start" to know how to play the instrument which I've already studied for 14 years."
Yi Ju Chen (Peabody MM '03)
Victoria Chiang was my teacher from 1999 until 2001, and from the first day she became a master of thinking for me, and not only thinking how to play the viola! I decided to put all my conviction in believing and trusting everything she would teach me, even when she was sure that a very thin 5 foot 3 inches girl could have the biggest sound! My best reward came few weeks ago when a couple came to my quartet concert, and discussed about the difference between the violin and the viola, and the lady saying, well, it's obvious! The viola sounds much louder!
Victoria is there for every student, making us believe that we are so important, and making us believe that anything is possible. And it worked! I am a happy professional, playing both in an orchestra and a string quartet. There is not a day passing now without me being thankful for all I learnt from her (from playing arpeggios at 120, which I still do everyday, to playing in a sensible way the trickiest musical phrase).
Thank you again and again Vicky!
Karine Rousseau (Peabody MM '01, Member of the Quebec Symphony)
The time I studied with Vicky Chiang has proven to be one of the best investments I could have made in my education. She has a keen perception for the subtleties of viola technique; her suggestions always made sense to me and always made an improvement in my playing. Vicky Chiang taught me to be a better critical listener and therefore, how to better teach myself. Her focus in our lessons was incessantly on my viola playing and on making me a better musician.
Cathy Lynn (Member of the Atlanta Symphony)
While I was at Peabody I had the tremendous opportunity to study with Vicky Chiang. Through her teaching, influence, and time spent practicing my musical ability was exponentially increased and my confidence and competency as a violist was brought to a new a level. As I am now beginning my career as a violist, I continue to implement the principles and lessons that Vicky taught me, and she remains an invaluable source of encouragement, inspiration, and guidance. Vicky is a consummate professional and also one of the most generous and loving individuals I have had the privilege of knowing. Through her impact my life has been greatly enriched both musically and personally.
Amy Davis (Member of the Virginia Symphony)