Undergraduate study

Playing the piano is just the beginning

Our undergraduates hail from a variety of backgrounds and pursue majors as varied as Computer Science, Biological Sciences, Food Science, German Studies, and Independent Majors. Many choose to major and minor in music as well. Here you can meet some of the studio members and listen to a sample of the work produced in the past few years. Several of the winners from the annual Cornell Concerto Competition hail from the piano studios, and as a result, we got to listen to performances of Beethoven, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, and Barber with the Cornell Symphony Orchestra.

Photo of Xak Bjerken with former students Fred Dong and Kyuree Kang
Xak Bjerken with former students Fred Dong and Kyuree Kang (now married!)

Featured Performances

Andy Sheng, from San Jose, CA, has been playing the piano for 16 years. His first teachers were Anna Polonsky and Frank Levy, and most recently he has been a proud part of Prof. Xak Bjerken’s studio. At Cornell, Andy had the fortune of winning the concerto competition his sophomore year and performed Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto with the CSO. In the spring of his senior year, he also gave a lecture recital, performing Schumann’s Fantasie op. 17, as a part of the “I Heart Beethoven” Festival. He also had the exciting opportunity to explore his interests in conducting, studying with Prof. Chris Kim, rehearsing and conducting a performance of Dvorak’s 9th Symphony with the CSO and several pieces by Grieg with the CCO. Andy recently graduated from Cornell with physics and math majors and a music minor and now looks forward to pursuing a Ph.D in physics from UMD College Park. Here is Andy performing the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 4 in G, during the finals of the concerto competition.

Sarah Sun hails from Cedar City, UT. She just finished her freshman year in the Dyson School and is currently taking an 18-month leave of absence to serve a mission for her church. She has met some of her closest friends through this studio, and her appreciation for music has grown tremendously under the mentorship of Professor Bjerken. Aside from piano, she is involved in the Undergraduate Student Assembly, Prison Reform and Education Project, and the Speech and Debate Society. Here is Sarah performing Robert Muczynski’s Toccata. On the homepage you can hear her playing Liszt’s La Campanella.

Jasper Liang (Computer Science, Math, ’22) from Vancouver, Canada, started learning piano at the age of 5. He studied under Donna Fishwick, receiving additional teaching from Nicholas Rada, Wayne Weng, and Dr. Sasha Starcevich. He has competed at the national level, earning 1st and 2nd in the Canadian Music Competition in consecutive years. Jasper has performed in venues such as the Chan Centre in Vancouver, the Teatro del Pavone in Perugia, the Liechtenstein Palace in Prague, and Carnegie Hall in New York. Besides piano, Jasper enjoys listening to rap music, playing video games with friends, and editing videos. Here is Jasper performing Liszt’s fifteenth Hungarian Rhapsody. On the home page you can see him play Debussy’s early Nocturne on the 1878 Blüthner “Aliquot grand” piano.

Ellie Cherry recently graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences with a degree in Latin and Music, composing an opera based on the text of Book 4 of the Aeneid of Vergil for her honors thesis. She will be heading to Scotland in the fall to pursue a Masters of Music Composition at RCS. She began teaching herself piano at age 12. She also enjoys performing on a number of early instruments, including viola de gamba and baroque recorder. When she’s not sitting in windowless practice rooms gnawing on pencils, sloshing coffee on staff paper, and shouting profanity at Finale, there’s a good chance you’ll find her fly fishing in a stream or climbing trees. This video is from the performance of her opera Queen of Carthage, composed in 2019.

Aditya Deshpande (Computer Science and Music, ’22), from Houston, TX, started taking piano lessons when he was seven years old. He spent a considerable amount of time improvising at the piano and reading scores, piano and orchestral. He is quite fond of a number of musical genres besides Western Classical music, such as rap, jazz and soul music. Within classical music, his tastes span Chopin, Scriabin, Bach, and Beethoven, but he feels particularly close to the music of Franz Liszt, whose first piano concerto he most recently performed with the Cornell Symphony Orchestra as a winner of the Cornell Concerto Competition [see video on right for this performance].

Sophia Roshal (Computer Science and Math, ’22), started playing the piano at age six. She loves to listen to and play music of the Romantic period, especially works by Schubert and Tchaikovsky. Her current place of solace is Schubert’s Die Winterreise song cycle. She has also recently started to learn to play the organ. When Sophia isn’t in the basement of Lincoln Hall or working on yet another problem set, you can find her at the climbing wall. Actually, you can find her there even if she is working on that problem set! Here is Sophia performing Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte.


Joshua Sadinsky (Music, German Studies, College Scholar [Sound Studies], ’19), originally from Fayetteville, AR, studied with Xak Bjerken at Cornell University and is currently an MFA piano student with Vicki Ray at the California Institute of the Arts. While at Cornell, Joshua became interested in field recorded sound and became deeply involved with outdoor recreation. He guided backcountry excursions for Cornell Outdoor Education. Because of the skills he acquired in Outdoor Education, he was able to take field recordings in places such as Olympic National Park and state forests in upstate New York. At CalArts, he is taking coursework in piano technology and traditional music and dance from Ghana, for which the video on the right was made. On the homepage you can watch his setting of Elisabeth Kulmann’s text “An die Wolke.”

David Chu (Computer Science and Math, ’19, from the studio of Andrew Zhou) is originally from Boston and is currently pursuing a Ph.D at UC Berkeley. Here is an excerpt from the first half of his senior recital in 2019, on which he performed the complete Brahms Ballades, op. 10 (no. 4 begins this video) and Thomas Ades’s Darknesse Visible.

Sally (Mingyan) Yu (Electrical and Computer Engineering, Music Minor ’16, from the studio of Andrew Zhou), was born and raised in Yunnan, China. While at Cornell, she was the vice president of the Cornell Piano Society. Sally completed her first Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering at Columbia University in 2017. Before starting her second Master’s degree in conducting at New England Conservatory (NEC) in 2019, Sally worked as a full-time Radio-Frequency Integrated Circuited designer. She decided to turn her passion for classical music into lifelong career pursuit after taking conducting lessons with Charles Peltz and Mark Shapiro. She was selected as a conducting apprentice for Prague Summer Nights Music Festival in 2020 and will be leading rehearsals of Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni in summer 2021 in the Czech Republic. Sally is currently finishing up her second year at NEC, with a minor in music theory under the supervision of Deborah Stein and Lyle Davidson. This is a performance of Karen Tanaka’s Water Dance, composed in 2008.