School of Music Competitive Piano Award Winners

Author: School of Music
February 1, 2020

(Photo left to right: Reece Owens, Hewen Pan, Jiaze Ma, Melody Chen, Jeong Lee, Brite Zhou, Alexa Thanos)  

Update:  Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic all recitals have been postponed at this time. 

The School of Music is pleased to announce the winners of its annual piano competition. Winners receive a cash award and are presented in recital.


Each year the Award is presented to an outstanding piano student at San Francisco State University in memory of Michael Seagrove Avalos, who earned his Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees in piano performance at SFSU. Because of Michael's special love for Hispanic music, the winner of this award includes music by a Hispanic composer both in the competition for the award and in the award recital.

Melody Chen was born in Canton, China. She graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music with a Bachelor’s degree in piano performance. Melody is an enthusiastic piano player and a dedicated person with many years of experience playing the piano. She has studied piano with YingYing Zhao, PG Zhao, Sharon Mann, and has had master classes with Ernest Barretta and Robert McDonald. Now, she is studying piano with Dr. Neve. She won “Swayder” HongKong Youth & Children Piano Competition Chopin Group: Second Prize; The International Chinese Music and Piano Competition Bach Youth group: First/Golden Prize; the Professional group: First Prize; and The Fifth International Chopin Competition for Young Pianists in Beijing with The Best Performance Award.

The Avalos Award Recital will take place in Knuth Hall on Monday, April 27 at 1pm.


William Corbett-Jones is a celebrated pianist located in the San Francisco Bay Area. A distinguished artist/professor at San Francisco State University, Corbett-Jones has performed throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Africa, Australia, and Asia as soloist with orchestra, recitalist, and in collaboration with internationally renowned colleagues. This scholarship is aimed at providing financial assistance to talented and deserving piano students at SF State.

Brite Zhou started piano at age of four and has been a student at SFSU since 2018, studying piano performance with Dr. Neve. He participated in the Conero International Music Festival in Italy (2019) and James Ramos International Piano Competition (2019). Brite is also currently the accompanist for SFSU Treble Singers choir group. Aside from school, Brite teaches a studio of 20+ students.

The Corbett-Jones Award Recital will take place in Knuth Hall on Saturday, May 2 at 2pm.


The Carla “Carol” Ferrando Memorial Endowed Scholarship is awarded to promising piano students pursuing their education at San Francisco State University. Blind at birth, Carol Ferrando began piano lesson at the SF Conservatory of Music at the age of six. Carol later studied at San Francisco State University where she earned both her Bachelor and Master's degree in Music. After her studies Carol often performed throughout the Bay Area. She also opened her own music studio where she taught until her death in 2011. You can learn more about Carla’s life and love of music in her mother’s book, A Young Girl from a Little Village at the Foot of the Alps.

Jiaze Ma learned to play the piano with Professor Xie Yuan from Tianjin Conservatory of Music in China during her youth. Jiaze has had a lot of performing experiences in the fields of solo, chamber music, and with orchestra. She got her BM in piano performance from SFSU in 2018. Currently, Jiaze is in SFSU's Master of Music degree program with an emphasis in Piano Performance, where she is studying with Dr. Victoria Neve. She is the awardee of numerous prizes. She is also teaching private and group piano classes in the Bay Area.

Jeong Lee is studying piano at San Francisco State University with distinguished pianist and professor, Dr. Victoria Neve through her invaluable insights and guidance to the art of piano performance.

The Ferrando Award Recital will take place in Knuth Hall on Friday, May 8th at 1pm. 


In memory of Paul Andrieu, this annual scholarship is awarded to a Junior to help fund the senior year in preparing for a career in piano performance or piano education. The Scholarship is furnished by the Ross McKee Foundation. The Foundation has its beginnings in the Music and Arts Institute of San Francisco founded by Ross McKee. Upon Mr. McKee’s death, the Institute closed and the property was sold. From the sale of the property, The Ross McKee Foundation for the Musical Arts was created to continue Mr. McKee’s legacy of supporting young Bay Area Musicians.

Alexa Thanos is a transfer student studying at San Francisco State University with Dr. Victoria Neve. Though this is only her third year of formal classical piano training, she is pursuing a Bachelors of Music in Piano Performance. She began her study of piano with Professor Jane Jackson from College of San Mateo, while completing Associates degrees in both Math and Accounting. Before college, Alexa led a musical life all through her public school years, thanks entirely to her musically enthusiastic parents. She began teaching across various instruments at sixteen and hasn’t taken more than a semester’s break since. Through college, she is pursuing as much music theory (invariably her favorite pen-and-paper class), composition, and music history as she can while primarily focusing on performance.

Originally from Fresno, Reece Owens, recently completed the first semester of his Bachelor of Music degree with a focus in piano performance as a student of Professor Roger Woodward D.Mus. He is currently music director of the First Congregational Church of the San Francisco United Church of Christ. He is also a proficient organist, choral director, performer of chamber music. In addition to his studies Reece works full-time as Maître d' at a leading San Francisco restaurant. His aim is to conduct great orchestras and to that end, already completed early training with a student of the legendary British conductor Sir Adrian Boult. He performs Bach organ works, is currently studying Die Kunst der Fuge BWV 1080 and a range of piano and orchestral works by contemporary American and European composers.

Alexa Thanos's Andrieu/McKee Award Recital will take place in Creative Arts 146 on Saturday, May 16th at 2pm.

Reece Owen's Andrieu/McKee Award Recital will take place in Fall 2020.   


The School of Music would also like to congratulate its students who have participated in award competitions outside of the university.


The James Ramos International Video Competition (JRIVC), a joint project of CAPMT and Social Music Works, explores the global accessibility and community building of music making through the use of social media. In 2013–2014, Social Music Works launched the International Video Upload Competition (SMW IVUC) with James Ramos as Director of Innovation and Ideas. James passed away on May 25, 2016 after a courageous battle with brain cancer. SMW IVUC had been on hiatus since the middle of 2015, when James stepped down to receive treatments and therapies. The James Ramos Memorial Fund was established at CAPMT, and in 2017, CAPMT and Social Music Works re-launched the Competition in celebration of James’s life with new rules, guidelines, and categories to honor his commitment to creativity and access.

Hewen Pan was named the JRIVC winner for Category G (ages 26 & above, Amateur Adults). She started playing piano from the age of six and continued throughout her youth. After moving to the United States, Hewen was accepted to San Francisco State University and earned her Bachelor’s degree in piano performance. Currently she is studying for a Master degree with distinguished piano soloist Victoria Neve at San Francisco State University.

William-Corbett Jones Scholarship winner, Brite Zhou, received an honorable mention in Category G.