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Message in the Music

Meet the Winners of Somerset County’s “Inspirational Women” Essay Contest

Article by Amiya Harish and Pooja Kara

Photography by Liz Polo, Havana Photography

Originally published in Bridgewater City Lifestyle

The Somerset County Commission on the Status of Women sponsored an essay contest that asked middle and high school students in Somerset County to write about a woman who inspired them in real life. Here, meet two local high school and middle school winners and the women who made an impact on their lives. 

“Gloria Chu” by Amiya Harish

It was the month of August a little over three years ago. To be truly honest, I was quite nervous and almost furious at my mother for taking me to see a new piano teacher. I was happy with my old one. I didn’t need a new teacher. Maybe I rarely practiced, and I might have been on the verge of quitting. Maybe I didn’t look forward to my lessons, hoping they might be postponed or canceled. But really, I just didn’t want to change things, didn’t want to meet a new person. I was fine. Yet my mom simply ignored my constant protesting and set up a time with Mrs. Gloria Chu. Grudgingly, I walked up the seemingly endless stretch of stairs to her house, utterly unaware of how my life would soon progress. 

It has been a while since that day, but now I have nothing more to say than that it was pure luck for me to come across a teacher like Mrs. Chu. Inspiration is not just watching someone in awe. It is watching them in such awe that it sows seeds of motivation for improvement in one’s own life. Each moment I spend in a lesson with Mrs. Chu opens my eyes to what could be a part of my future. 

Mrs. Chu has explained how music intertwines both the left and right sides of the brain and activates the same areas of the brain that are used while solving complex mathematical problems. By illustrating the connections between a specific part of piano playing and the hobbies of her students using exceptionally creative analogies, she helps us visualize exactly what we need to do to achieve our goals as pianists. After each lesson, I return home feeling the exigency to practice more and allow my fingers to grasp the next rung of the ladder to success before it slips through my fingers. 

Difficult to mold into a few words of definition, inspiration is something that gives us the courage to choose each path we take in our journey of life and motivates us to persevere through the roller coaster of humanity. To me, inspiration is something that makes me look at the world in a new light and gives me the ability to find purpose in my life. But more than this, inspiration is what gives me the grit to push through the struggles I face. 

Over the few years I have been learning piano under the instruction of Mrs. Chu, I have come to realize that piano is more than an art. It encompasses intellectual and physical endurance, hard work and passion … and without one of these pieces of the puzzle, a pianist cannot bring out the true colors of the instrument. Although there will never be a single person who inspires me each day, when I think of a woman outside of my family that fits the description, the one specific person that comes to mind is none other than my piano teacher. 

Amiya Harish is an eighth grade student at William Annin Middle School in Basking Ridge.


“Mrs. Oksana” by Pooja Kara

 The sound of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” filled the air, the beautiful music tugging at my very soul. I watched in awe as my piano teacher, Mrs. Oksana, demonstrated the piece for me, her fingers gliding against the piano’s keys. She turned to me with a smile, moving over so I could play. Mrs. Oksana watched as my eyes scanned the sheet music, my fingers pressing against the familiar warm keys, my heart beating with ambition. Although my playing did not carry the same grace as hers, stumbling forward like a foal learning to walk, I knew that I would improve with Mrs. Oksana’s encouragement and teaching. She showed me how she made the world a better place, and I wanted nothing more than to be just like her, inspiring others into loving the piano as much as she did.       

Without a doubt, Mrs. Oksana is one of the most inspirational women in my life. All she wants to do is spread her love of piano throughout her life, inspiring as many children as possible to persevere with their passions, even in times of challenge. As a Ukrainian herself, Mrs. Oksana was devastated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, she dedicated all of her free time to use her gift of playing the piano to raise money for Ukraine through churches and charity events. 

Mrs. Oksana carried her passion for the piano into helping Ukrainians, and through her dedication to helping others, she taught me to follow my passion for playing the piano. I followed in her footsteps, performing at piano recitals and winning several outstanding awards, with the hope that one day I would reach the point of being able to also raise funds for those in need with my playing. 

Despite Mrs. Oksana’s uplifting and strong exterior, she was broken by the death of her husband. After several heart-related complications, her husband eventually passed, leaving Mrs. Oksana empty and heartbroken. She felt lost; her daughters were miles away, at university, while she was stuck at home, alone and grieving. Although her husband’s death left her distressed, Mrs. Oksana turned to her piano for comfort. She saw hope in her piano, finding solace in Chopin’s Prelude in E Minor. She persevered, remaining strong as her piano pulled her out of the darkest point of her life. Mrs. Oksana taught me the power of music at that moment, and how impactful it is to emotions, especially sorrow. Before that moment I had never truly understood how doing what you loved could help you so much. 

Now, my fingers waltz across the piano to the melody of “Swan Lake,” no longer as clumsy as they once were. The piano hums with the energy of the song, with all the hope and ambition I pour into it. Mrs. Oksana is seated near me, watching. I glance at her. She smiles proudly at my improvement. She had made the world a better place, and I was inspired to be just like her. 

Pooja Karan is a junior at Ridge High School.

  • Mrs. Oksana and Pooja Kara
  • Amiya Harish and Gloria Chu

"Inspiration is not just watching someone in awe. It is watching them in such awe that it sows seeds of motivation for improvement in one’s own life." —Amiya Harish

"I wanted nothing more than to be just like her, inspiring others into loving the piano as much as she did." —Pooja Kara