By Dawn M Chiossi
Families: There’s something special about them. People inherit so much from all of the generations who have come before them, even without realizing it: Hair color, a shared sense of humor, even something as simple as gestures and expressions can be passed down through DNA.
Qualities such as creativity, talent, and even the interests they gravitate towards and the things they consider important can be imprinted by family. This is certainly the case with Christopher and Michelle Chen Kuo—otherwise known as Two Piano Duo. This extremely talented mother and son piano team share a gift for piano playing, a love and appreciation for music, and so much more.
According to Christopher Kuo, the desire to make music is in their blood. Both he and his mother find inspiration and rejuvenation at the piano, getting swept away by it. There’s something beautiful about the piano and its selections: From Chopin to Rachmaninoff, and everything in between, the piano offers a grace that cannot be denied.
At any given time, the Kuo’s will be on tour, performing in concert, spending hours at their pianos, tweaking their selections, making sure that they are as close to perfect as possible, working on programs, or enveloping themselves in music. So much more than just playing the notes, this mother and son make music from their souls.
It takes hard work and devotion, but for Christopher and Michelle Kuo, their music and the Two Piano Duo is much more than a chance to express their creativity–it’s a chance to give back to others who need it and make the world a better place. For the Kuo’s, their altruism and deep desire to aid others and make a difference is the most important quality they could share.
Formed in 2016, this Morris County based mother and son team began a mission, seeking to make the world a better place. At the piano, through their music, digging deep into their well of talents, they fundraise to help raise money for nonprofits. Everything from hunger relief, to education to important social programs, the Two Piano Duo fundraises for it all.
“We seek to raise awareness about the issues in our society,” Kuo says simply. “Through doing what we love, we seek to make an impact to make our world better.”
Their journey has taken them all over including Texas, New York, Massachusetts, California, and Florida. In New Jersey, the Two Piano Duo has raised funds for Halos for Angels, (an organization that help families affected by sudden tragedies), the Red Cross, and Goryeb Children’s Hospital (helping patients affected by pediatric cancer) and Intervarsity Rutgers (Christian fellowship rescuing leftover cuisine to help restaurants feed the hungry). All in all, they raised an impressive $280,000 for charity.
Wherever there is a need, the Kuo’s are right there, entertaining, reaching others with their music, and fundraising to make a difference that resonates.
“We are so proud to partner with anyone to help,” Kuo asserts. “We are so excited to see how far we can go with this.”
He jokes that they are “a couple of overzealous volunteers,” but he is extremely serious when he appeals to any local New Jersey non-profits and organizations who are looking for a boost or for some developmental expertise from the Two Piano Duo and he is looking forward to working with any of them to do “amazing work.”
The Two Piano Duo is all about giving back, and ironically, Kuo shares that he came up with the idea of he and his mother playing piano as a team when it stemmed from his own deep desire as a way to give back to her — the same woman he inherited his musical talent and love of the piano from.
“My mom loved music, she was 28 years old and at the top of her game. She had been a child prodigy winning piano competitions in Taiwan and Hong Kong. She even attended the prodigious Juilliard School, and had a promising career.” he explains emotionally, “But when she had children, she let go of her past life as a concert pianist and became a teacher and was devoted to her family. She seemed resigned to her life, and it broke my heart. I wanted to help her realize her dream again,” he shares.
Kuo for his part, grew up with music, listening to his mother play. Soon he realized that he had just as much passion and zeal for the piano as his mother did. From there the Two Piano Duo was born. Kuo relates that his favorite piano selections are from Rachmaninoff, and in talking to him, it is easy to see his utter devotion and ambition to do his best, something that he also inherited from his mother.
“Every day is a chance to be better and improve,” Kuo asserts, explaining that they are even enhancing their program to add music dances from Spain, Argentina, and France.
“These are exciting and diverse tunes, very upbeat and high-octane music, something different from the somber piano selections.”
He mentions that feedback about the Two Piano Duo has been overwhelmingly positive. “Everyone has been great!” he says. In looking back to when they first began in 2016, Kuo is proud of what they’ve accomplished so far. “It’s been amazing!” he enthuses.
When asked about his thoughts and feelings on the Two Piano Duo’s journey so far, Kuo is both pragmatic and emotional. “This is so important; I wouldn’t spend my time any other way.”
For Kuo, the Two Piano Duo has always been his gift to his mother, an opportunity to realize her dream. Something observed it for himself when the Two Piano Duo played at Carnegie Hall in New York City for a benefit concert. Amazingly it took place on Michelle Kuo’s birthday. “We played the Rachmaninoff collection in front of a 600 seat venue.” Kuo shares. “It meant a lot to her, and it came full circle for her. “My mom is so happy, she’s having a blast!” He says.