Helena Wei sits on a bench next to two pianos

Professor Helena Wei teaches the Emeritus piano program at the San Diego College of Continuing Education.

Internationally recognized professor expands Emeritus piano program

March 12, 2024 | San Diego Community College District

The Emeritus program at San Diego College of Continuing Education offers seniors an opportunity for artistic exploration, including a popular piano course taught by Helena Wei, a professor of music and accomplished concert pianist.

A close up of Helena Wei's hands playing the pianoA true passion for performing came later in life for Wei, an inspiration to anyone who has heard her play Chopin, Mozart, or Piazzolla. Even to the untrained ear, Wei is mesmerizing.

Wei was born in Taiwan and started playing the piano at the age of 5, at the request of her mother. At the age of 9, she was accepted into the first gifted academy in Taiwan, specifically designed for young artists. By the time she turned 12, Wei received a scholarship to attend The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, one of the most esteemed music education institutions in the world ― but her heart wasn’t fully invested.

“I hated performing in front of people; the whole experience just devastated me,” she said.

Despite those feelings, Wei’s mother encouraged her to further her schooling in order to teach. It was while studying at the University of British Columbia that Wei finally felt her emotions connect with her music.

“I met a professor who deeply impacted me. He encouraged me to be vulnerable when I play, and to play for myself,” she said.

Upon completion of her master’s degree at UBC, Wei accepted a lecturer position at Tunghai University in Taiwan and later a post at the University of the Pacific in California.

Eventually, Wei and her family moved to San Diego. With a strong interest to continue educating students, in 2015 she found her way to SDCCE where she accepted a position to teach music appreciation to Emeritus students, bringing with her a relentless optimism to one day build-up the college’s piano department.

Wei’s first piano class at SDCCE only had 13 students. Students from mixed levels were pooled into one class.

“I had to advocate for splitting up the levels to teach more effectively,” she said.

In 2016, SDCCE’s César Chávez Campus housed two sections of piano: beginners and experienced. In the years to come, Wei grew a loyal following with full retention. Her classes expanded to the Scripps Miramar Ranch Library, Serra Mesa-Kearny Mesa Library, and the Mira Mesa Senior Center by 2019.

An accomplishment to celebrate.

Currently, Wei serves as an assistant program chair of the Emeritus program and is a contract faculty member overseeing more than 430 students through six levels of piano courses ― from beginners to advanced ― and two performance masterclasses.

Inside the classroom, Wei is pairing music with art. Her curriculum features master paintings to evoke musical expression.

“My students love it,” she said. “I take them to an art museum and present a concert during each of our lessons.”

A cornerstone of the Emeritus piano program is the emphasis on performance, with students of all levels showcasing their skills. Wei’s curriculum provides her piano students countless opportunities to perform. Weekly outreaches are hosted at Nazareth House of San Diego, while monthly recitals are held at the Scripps Miramar Ranch Library and online through Zoom.

Additionally, all Emeritus students are invited to perform at the Emeritus Benefit Concert hosted once a year at Canyon Crest Academy. Proceeds from this concert benefit the Emeritus Program, which offers free classes for older adults in areas of music, health and wellness, art and social studies.

“Once a mentor told me a good professor is someone who entertains. I love to entertain my students; it delights me to provide effortless learning through amusement and joy… funny how much I love to perform now,” shared Wei, who has toured extensively throughout North America, Europe, and Asia as a soloist, chamber musician, and lecturer.

“It is now my deep passion to inspire my students in discovering the joy of music, just like I had the opportunity to experience so profoundly.”

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