Chris at the piano
Chris at the piano
Whether it's studying classical piano or protesting society's injustices, Chris Bangert-Drowns, a senior at Albany High School, tends to dive in head-first.

"When he decides he wants to do something and he puts his mind to it, he's very successful," said his mother, Diana Bangert-Drowns.

Just take Chris' recent victory at a Chopin competition in Latham: He beat out about six other master's level pianists in his age group - including a college music student - with his renditions of the composer's scherzo and etude.

Chris has been playing the piano since first grade and competing since sixth grade; he studies classical and jazz piano, practicing for at least an hour a day and performing at up to six studio recitals a year and with a jazz quartet.

Chris also plays at the annual Voices of Hope fundraising concert in Delmar and, at Albany's Avila retirement community, with the Avila Young Artists Series, which he joined six years ago along with other parishioners of St. Vincent de Paul in Albany.

Chris plans to study biochemistry and nanotechnology in college; his goal is to return to Albany someday with the resources to fix what he calls the city's broken educational system.

High school help
He explained that high school, with its "busy work" and grade-centered culture, "doesn't help anybody's creative process. So, that, I take into my own hands" by researching international affairs and politics.

For instance, Chris recently read up on the 2008 stock market crash, the fall's teachers' strike in Chicago, the conflict in Syria and the Occupy movement, an international protest against social and economic inequality.

The Occupy movement piqued his interest so much that he joined the protesters in Albany and started participating in marches and general assemblies this fall. Though some of his classmates are interested, he's among the youngest in the group.

He said Occupy's "collective sense of, 'We are in this together,'" was attractive: "There was really a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood and solidarity - just the sense that we're here for a reason."

Occupy Albany has been advocating for the nation's economic crisis, a fair minimum wage in the state and the consolidation of wealth and power - or as Chris puts it, "taking out the unneeded hierarchies that foster greed.

"There are a lot of problems with society," he noted. "All struggles are related. As an entire movement, we've changed the discourse of the country. For me, talking to experienced activists helped me a lot because, as [teens], we have a sort of shortsighted view."

Career plans
Chris believes that a science career will help with his activism.

"You can be a layperson and study politics," he said, "but I feel like I could accomplish a lot more outside of the system. Though I love science and nanotech, it's really a stepping stone to change what I feel is needed."

He knows the most lucrative sector of nanotechnology is microelectronics, but he said he'd "rather go into some of the fields that either haven't been discovered or haven't been populated."

Besides, by the time he finishes graduate school, "I'm sure the entire industry will have had quantum leaps. Every day, there's a new discovery."

In the meantime, Chris writes for his school's journalism club and jots down short story ideas and political theses at home. He plays some paid jazz gigs, but always wants music to be a side activity: "It's more than a hobby, but it's not a profession.

"There's certain [musical] pieces that work your mind, but in a really relaxing way," he added. "It's also just fun sometimes, too."

Chris is obviously talented; he learned the difficult etude that won him the competition in two months.

"There's a certain beauty to his tone," said his mother, who studied piano as a child and young adult. "He has an ability to bring out the essence of a melody that's beyond just the right notes. He has a lyrical touch and an ability to listen to himself."