Sophomore plays accordion to plan


Practicing after school in the orchestra room, sophomore Lilian Shen plays a piece on her accordion. For her accordion championship, Shen and her orchestra practiced for more than 12 hours each day. Photo by Abby Shapiro.

Ready to perform for her AP Music Theory class for the first time, sophomore Lilian Shen sat in front of the class with her accordion resting on her lap and its straps strung around her shoulders.

“I think it’s easy to say the entire class was blown away,” said orchestra director Aaron Kaplan. “And accordion is not an instrument that probably many of them are familiar with, or maybe even ever heard in person. And then not only … were they really excited about the sound but also, she’s a very advanced player and plays very musically, so it wasn’t just any accordion performance.”

For senior Matthew Blonder, who was in the class watching, Shen’s performance was amazing.

“I was so moved,” said Blonder. “Oh my God, I literally started crying.”

Shen has been playing the accordion since she was five years old.

“At first I just [wanted] to study for singing,” said Shen. “[But my parents] said, ‘No, you’re so young, you need to study for a keyboard instrument’ … So I just chose accordion because … so many people [were trying] to study the piano.”

According to Kaplan, the accordion is a very complicated instrument to play.

“When you watch someone play accordion, there are actually three things going on,” said Kaplan. “It looks like there’s just two, but there’s three. Your left hand is doing one thing, and your right hand is doing something independent of the left hand, but the way that the accordion produces sound is that your arms are expanding.”

Since moving from China to the United States in 2020, Shen has traveled back each summer to practice and perform with the Beijing Children’s Palace Accordion Orchestra.

Shen and a small group from the orchestra performed in Shenzhen, China at the 72nd Coupe Mondiale World Accordion Championships and Festival in the summer of 2019.

“It [was nerve-wracking] but also exciting,” said Shen. “I [practiced] for a long time with my friends, and so I [was] really excited to show our results to the whole world and also nervous because [there were] so many people.”

While in Shenzhen for the competition, orchestra members would go outside in the morning to practice until night, totaling more than 12 hours each day.

To continue her accordion practice, Shen currently practices the accordion between 30 minutes to an hour every day and sends videos of herself practicing to her accordion teacher in China.

“I’m really enjoying it,” said Shen. “I can show my emotion from [it], and it kind of makes me feel less stressed.”