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In a moment of stage fright, the most unlikely person helped her to shine

 Angela Zhao poses at a piano competition in Beijing in 2023.
Yang Yang & Jun Lei Zhao
Angela Zhao poses at a piano competition in Beijing in 2023.

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series, from the Hidden Brain team. It features stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.

In 2020, when she was just 10 years old, Angela Zhao entered her first piano competition. On the day of the event, each participant had to go up onstage one by one and perform their piece. At first, Angela was excited. But when she was next up to play, doubts began to flood her mind.

“What if I played the wrong notes? What if I forgot the notes? What if I just [mess] up?” Angela remembered thinking.

As these worries raced through her mind, Angela watched another girl perform. Once the girl was finished, she walked offstage to where Angela was waiting and did something unexpected.

“She looked at me and smiled with [a] thumb up,” Angela said. “Her smile made me think that the stage is just right for me, and the piano is just right for me. Most importantly, that smile made me think that today I'm just right and I can perform on the stage.”

Angela walked out to the piano and performed her piece. When she was finished, she saw her competitor clapping for her. Seeing such a show of support has stuck with Angela over the years.

“As a competitor, she gave me respect and helped a shy girl to face the stage,” Angela said.

If she could talk to that girl again, here’s what Angela would say:

“If you can hear this, I just want you to know: You changed a moment of my life, and your kind smile remained in my memory. And I’ll take that smile as a precious gift.”

Copyright 2024 NPR

Autumn Barnes
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Laura Kwerel
[Copyright 2024 NPR]