The Oracle: Why do you like band/orchestra?
Lily Tsai: It’s an opportunity to share and create music with other people, and we do quite a number of fun activities and concerts, such as smaller ensembles and tours. I’ve found orchestra has a very strong community and mentoring system, especially because we include students from every grade.
TO: How much time do you spend practicing and performing in a given week?
LT: On average, I have a performance, competition, or audition every one to two weeks—it can vary, especially if schoolwork interferes. If I have upcoming important performances, I usually practice two to three hours a day. Sometimes homework becomes an issue, and then I typically squeeze in only one hour.
TO: How did you become interested in orchestra?
LT: I joined my first symphony orchestra in 6th grade (ECYS Symphony), and I later went to SFSYO (San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra) for four years, which was an amazing experience. I’ve recently found my passion to be more in chamber music, and so currently I am only part of the Gunn Orchestra and in a quartet. Part of the reason I was initially interested in joining a symphony/orchestra was to gain experience playing with and leading groups of musicians; collaboration is an essential skill in any type of music-making. It’s like adding a new dimension to music (not to mention incredible repertoire), to share musical ideas with other people, whether it be one other person or ninety.
TO: Do you have any advice for other aspiring artists?
LT: It has been a really long journey—I’ve been working at music for eleven years, and I don’t believe I’ve explored even a hundredth of what violin and music has to offer. There is no end to learning in music—if there is, no one has found it yet. And it’s a tough journey as well; one of the hardest things I’ve had to do is accept my natural limitations and work on developing my individual voice instead of “competing” with others. One of the good things about music is that even though we consider certain artists to be “better” than others, every musician has their own contribution to make, and something worth adding to the world of music. I personally believe that if someone is passionate enough about music, they’ll find a path unique to themselves, even if it’s one they never pictured themselves following. I love music and the violin, and I’d advise those who want to become musicians to work through their frustrations and develop their talents, because even just hard work can take people places they could never have imagined.
TO: What are your plans this summer?
LT: This summer, I will be touring the Washington D.C., London, and Russia with the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America, with Joshua Bell as soloist! I will probably also have a senior recital sometime early in the summer, maybe plan a few sight-reading or busking sessions with friends, and arrange some music for fun. Other than that, I’ll be relaxing in my last summer before college.
TO: What do you enjoy most about playing the violin?
LT: Playing the violin is almost like speaking another language; I started playing before I consciously recognized how much can be said with notes and sounds, but now I know that all that hard work and practice has given me a means to express myself in ways that words simply cannot. Music, for me, has been the second half to my life, often invigorating my spirit after long school hours. While violin can often be frustrating, searching for the perfect tone or developing my fingers and ear— and knowing that I always will have room for improvement—has rewarded me both musically and mentally by teaching me the focus and discipline I know I have now. And of course, the greatest reward of all has been through performance; there is always this post-concert state of elation, knowing that through playing, I have been given the chance to touch different peoples lives.
TO: Do you plan on playing professionally or in college?
LT: I don’t know about professionally, but I will continue to play in college. I plan to double major in music performance and in engineering or another science-related field. In college, other than continuing violin studies, I’ll definitely join other orchestral groups and ensembles. I am not quite sure yet about what I will be doing after I graduate. I do know however that I will never really give violin up—it is much too integrated in my life for me to do that.