When she arrived at Hopkins in ninth grade, Lu’s main instrument was the piano. “It was the one I spent the most time on,” she said. To her, the violin was an afterthought. “I joined the orchestra because I really enjoyed playing in large ensembles, but for me, the piano was the one that I
would go home and practice for two hours almost every day.” However, at the end of her ninth-grade year, Lu discovered a new passion for the viola. “The summer before tenth grade, I took home what the orchestra calls the ‘Amazon viola.’ I brought it home, learned to read the clef, and found that I enjoyed it a lot more than the violin.” She continued, “A lot of people can’t tell the difference just by looking at the two, but it is very different in terms of the sound, the way you play it, and obviously the clef. I found that I enjoyed it way more. For a while, the piano was still my main instrument, but that changed over the course of junior year and going into senior year.”
One of the ways Lu decided to explore her newfound passion for the viola was by auditioning and competing for spots in the Connecticut Music Educator’s Association (CMEA) Festivals, starting at the regional level, then working her way up to the all-state level, and finally, just this past year, the national level. “I’ve been doing regionals since ninth grade because Hopkins students are very strongly encouraged to try out for these things. I found the festival to be a lot of fun because I really like playing in large ensembles.” During her first two years in high school, Lu did not make it past the regional level; however, during her junior year, she not only participated in the All-State festival but even continued to audition for All-Nationals,
which took place from January 22-24, 2022. Lu said “I knew I wanted to go as far as I could just for the sake of having all of this experience and being able to perform in all of these different contexts. In junior year, I finally got intoAll-State. The festival itself was not very memorable because it was on Zoom due to Covid.” Lu found the All-Nationals Festival much more engaging over zoom, describing how excited she was to meet other violists from around the country.
Lu also used her acceptance into the All-Nationals program to determine that music was something worth pursuing after high school, and decided to apply to several schools for viola performance. “I’ve applied to several schools where they have a prescreening and then, if you pass the prescreening, you go to a final audition. I passed the prescreening for two-thirds of them which felt pretty nice. Now I’m recording for auditions.” While Lu has decided to pursue an education in music, she is unsure if it will be her main focus. “I’m not going to a music school because I’m completely certain that I’m going to be a violist when I grow up, but the thing about music school is that they offer so many different types of experiences in terms of music education, music, performance , and probably a lot of experiences I haven't even considered yet.” Lu credited some of her success to the invaluable mentors that have helped her grow as a musician throughout the years, especially her piano teacher. “My private teachers had such a massive impact on me in the way that I grew up as a musician and in the way that I grew up as a person. I’ve had a lesson-teacher for piano since I was eight, when I moved to Connecticut. She’s extremely strict and expects you to get everything done and done well. For example, if she corrected you for a rhythm in the middle of a lesson, if you did it again she would start yelling. She was very intense about it, but I really did appreciate that because I grew to unlearn a lot of bad habits.” One of the key parts of being a musician is not only being able to unlearn bad habits, but also relearning better habits, according to Lu. Unfortunately, since the start of the pandemic, Lu has not been able to meet with her piano teacher because of her age. She has, since then, however, begun viola lessons with her brother’s cello teacher: “It has been a really amazing experience because he had such a unique way of looking at music. In terms of intonation, he always encourages me strongly to just trust myself and not get caught up in trying to do the intonation.” Practicing viola has broadened Lu’s understanding of what it means to be a musician too: “At a certain point it’s not about knowing the techniques, but more about trying to hear the sound in your head and then recreate the sound. It’s not so much about just being able to play the notes, but also to be able to play them in a way that elicits something from the audience.”
During her time at Hopkins, Lu also credits Mr. Smith and Ms. Schroth as being instrumental in her success and growth as a musician. She said, “Mr. Smith creates such an amazing classroom environment in the orchestra and there’s such a feeling of camaraderie throughout the class. There’s a lot of engagement from the class and it’s because he has such a cool teaching style that encourages engagement from the students and makes it feel like less of a class and more of a rehearsal with lots of group-building.” To aspiring or possible musicians, Lu suggested “learning an instrument to be a great way, but not the only way, to become a musician. It’s such a massive field with so many different things to learn, and the most important thing you can do is explore.... There is something in music for everyone. Try things out and realize that, yes, sometimes there is a right way or wrong way to do things, but sometimes, you just have to treat it like this giant massless art form and figure things out and see what happens.”