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Grace Cheng plays her way to first place – again

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Westbor- ough – For the second year in a row, Grace Cheng took first place in her age group in the Massachusetts Music Teachers Association's Annual Bay State Contest.

In the 40th annual contest, held May 10 at Fitchburg State College, Grace played pieces by Prokofiev and Liszt in the 8-year-old division.

Last year, she took first place in the 7-year-old division.

A student of Dorothy Shi of Newton, Grace started her music career with the violin, which she still plays in the band at Hastings Elementary School, where she recently completed third grade. She practices each instrument most days for an hour or more, she said.

"I practice almost every day for about an hour, and my mom checks and if it's not very good, sometimes I practice more," Grace said.

Preparing for the Bay State Contest requires even more concentration, she said.

"I work hard, especially when I worked for the competition," she said. "For the competition, I started practicing in January."

Grace, now 9, also plays for her own enjoyment, and that of her listeners.

"Piano is fun to play, and I like to play for other people. It's very entertaining," she said. "I like to play with my little sister and when I play the piano, Lizzie likes to dance. I played for Lizzie's school and I played some kids' songs, and they sang."

Grace's parents, Tina and Rich Cheng, are proud of their daughter, and although their son, Michael, also plays the piano, his real strength is in the martial arts, Tina said.

"We actually didn't know music before the kids took lessons," she said. "I feel very blessed [that] now we're learning to enjoy it."

Despite the work involved, Grace said, she enjoys the piano. "Sometimes the music makes me feel happy," she said, "and sometimes it's just so beautiful."

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