Redmond resident Christopher Lu is heading to Albuquerque, N.M. in March to compete as one of seven national finalists in the MTNA (Music Teachers National Association) Junior Piano Competition.
An eighth grade student in the PRISM (gifted) program at Odle Middle School in Bellevue, Lu earned the spot at nationals by first winning top honors at the state level of MTNA, then at the regional competition in Portland.
He took up piano eight years ago, although he seemed to be mesmerized by music at a much earlier age. His maternal grandma often played for him from the time he was six months old, “and she always said he was such an easy baby,” his mom, Mei Lu remarked.
Chris currently studies piano with Dr. Peter Mack, professor of music performance at Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts. And he recently made a debut with the University of Puget Sound Orchestra under the direction of Christophe Chagnard.
When we met at his home recently, Chris appeared very much the typical teen — one who loves Xbox 360 and Wii. He said he also likes ping-pong, badminton and playing the cello.
But talking about the piano, which he practices about 15 hours a week, Chris stated, “Once you start, you can’t really stop. You get addicted to the sound.”
Listening to him play, one indeed could get easily addicted to the sound. His talent is formidable.
And what truly sets Chris apart from other young performers, said Mack, is his way of capturing emotion when he plays.
“We talk about conveying the emotions that the composer was trying to convey,” Mack explained. “He understands the emotion so well, he doesn’t sound like everyone else.”
When playing a piece by Bach or Chopin, or even a living composer, how does the youngster interpret their emotions so well?
“I listen to how professionals play it,” Chris modestly responded.
“His teacher can guide him, too,” said Mei.
We asked Chris if playing piano is an emotional release for him, as well — for instance, if he’s feeling stressed.
“It is,” he said. “When I’m frustrated, piano helps me think better, clears my mind.”
And what do his peers or other teachers think of his musical prowess and his willingness to practice a lot?
“My friends may think I’m a little crazy,” Chris laughed, “but teachers can be amazed or want to accelerate my accomplishments.”
On the trip to Albuquerque, Chris will be accompanied by his parents and his younger brother Alex, an equally gifted piano student, according to Mack.
What about goals after the MTNA Junior Piano Finals?
“I want to always keep piano as a hobby,” said Chris. “I want to play ‘Islamey’ by Balakirev, a very hard piece. Maybe do some out-of-region competitions or maybe do service hours … and then became a lawyer or financial advisor.”