Interview with Theo Luu, our 2017 #Note4Note pianist
Meet Theo Luu
This will be Theo’s second #Note4Note performance, and we’re thrilled to have him back again! Last year he premiered American composer and former From the Top Music Director Tom Vignieri’s composition along with rising star violinist and alum Chad Hoopes.
You may also recognize him for our Pokemon Go! music video.
What was it like giving a world-premiere performance of the 2016 #Note4Note piece by Tom Vignieri alongside violinist Chad Hoopes?
I was excited when From the Top asked me to help with another project – honored to play an original piece composed by Tom Vignieri for the 2016 #Note4Note Campaign and thrilled to work with the pros: violinist Chad Hoopes, conductor Yoichi Udagawa, and the From the Top staff!
Mr. Vignieri shared his thoughts on the piece. He described that the “repeated notes signify the idea of giving money for notes” and “notes steadily multiply until it’s a musical, fundraising downpour.” He also gave me feedback on how the piece was played – how cool is that?! He told me to have “visual fun” with the alternate left/right hand repeated notes. In retrospect, I should’ve made these notes more crisp and fiery. It was nice how Mr. Vignieri weirdly, in a good way, juxtaposed the piano and violin parts. The accented note interjections during Chad’s violin solos were fun to play!
Are there any differences between performing a piece everyone knows and performing a brand new piece of music? Does it change how you practice the music?
With a piece that is well-known, I can easily search for different interpretations of the piece on Google or YouTube and pick out the parts I like and emulate them. With a newly composed piece of music, I have to be more creative and come up with my own way of playing the music with feedback from my piano teacher, Dr. Lilit Karapetian-Shougarian.
The amount of focus I give the piece is the same regardless if I’m practicing a well-known piece or a brand new piece. However, the short time frame to prepare the piece before the rehearsal and final video shoot requires me to strategically plan out after-school and weekend activities so that I have the maximum amount of time to practice.
You are up to all kinds of awesome things outside of music. Can you tell us about your Python User Group?
After 2 years of independently learning Python, I wanted to code with others so I asked people in my school to come over for hackathons at my house. So far we’ve had three meetups. We work on solving math problems from Project Euler with Python, since the problems are too labor intensive if we try to solve them by hand.
The thing is I only had 2 other people at these hackathons, so I explored other options. I found that the Boston Public Library, Copley Square, and Belmont Public Libraries had Python workshops and hackathons run by MIT graduate Robyn Allen, so I went to them. Then I talked with the Weston and Wellesley librarians about setting up Python User Groups for middle school students with adult mentors such as Robyn and they’re interested! We’re currently working out the logistics.
Plus! You’ve started a new math tutoring program! Why did you decide to start it, and how is it going?
Going into 7th grade I noticed that there were lots of coaches for sports teams that met every day after school. I compared this with the after-school Math Club that was cut from two days with two teachers to one day with just one teacher. I thought, “math is as important as sports!” I asked my math teacher if he could run more after-school math sessions. Sadly he couldn’t, but he connected me with high school student Andrew Yao, the #1 scorer in the U.S. and #4 scorer among HS students around the world at a recent Harvard-MIT Mathematics Tournament. I told Andrew how it would be helpful for him to solve problems in front of students and think aloud as he solved them.
Fast forward a bit: today a small group of 7th and 8th-grade students meets after school every Monday to talk about problem-solving strategies, binomials, combinatorics, etc. On days that we don’t meet with Andrew we work on the Art of Problem Solving.
Do you have any upcoming performances or projects that are exciting?
This past summer, my family went to California. At the hotel we were staying at, there were Beach Butlers who provided pedicab rides to/from the beach with all the beach gears and helped set-up chairs, towels, umbrellas and anything else. On the last day of our trip, we still hadn’t used this service and had one last chance to do so. We had to decide between going to the beach or visiting a homeless encampment in Santa Ana that our aunt Anh from the L.A. Times has been reporting on.
My brother automatically said he wanted to see the homeless and help them. I, on the other hand, looked at the beach and thought, “On the last vacation day, do I want to end on a sad note of reality?” At the end, I chose to go to the encampment. The thing was, since we were given short notice, we hadn’t brought anything to give the homeless and relied on our aunt’s collected donations – 30 bags in total.
I noticed that we weren’t giving out many items that were useful but random donated things – emoji keychains, rugs, fidget spinners and other gadgets – that people had given. Then I had an idea – my brother, cousins and I would raise money to buy needed things for the homeless like water and toiletry items. After brainstorming, we decided to raise money by doing a benefit concert in a location near the encampment.
Our aunt connected us with Nguoi Viet Daily News for the event space and local music teachers. All the planning, organization, performances are done by us and other teens with mentorship from Dr. Do and Dr. Sherry. The concert music is based on the theme of hope/despair with short videos – recorded by us – about the homeless in the background. We call our project DogBone because we were surprised to see lots of homeless dogs at the encampment and because dogs are nonjudgmental and love their owners unconditionally. Currently, we’re coming up with a different project name (because some people may see the name DogBone in a negative way) and working on potential pieces for the concert.
How do you find time to practice and do all these other great things? Do you have any advice for other kids who are trying to juggle many activities?
There’s always going to be something I want to do – whether it’s sports, an activity or project, an event, or a party. I find that it’s important to have goals and prioritize things or I get sidetracked. Secondly, I have to learn how to manage my time. After school, I come home and get going!
Help J.P. finish his piece so Theo has a part to practice! Please donate to the #Note4Note Campaign today.