Artist spotlight: Violin and viola teacher Joli Wu

For violin and viola teacher Joli Wu, playing the viola is much more than a hobby or a way to earn money. Wu has had a lengthy career in music and music education, tutoring at schools such as Harvard, Yale, and Westminster.

“I love that I am able to share with students what I have learned from my mentors,” said Wu. “I am also grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of this learning community where the exchange of teaching ideas and information is openly encouraged and valued.”

Wu also has an extensive career outside of teaching, in positions such as acting as the principal violist for the Atlanta Opera and annually performing in the orchestra for the Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker. She has also won multiple awards, such as the Aspen and Tanglewood Music Center Fellowships, two prestigious learning grants to study music.

“She pushes me to try harder, play better,” said sophomore Ashley Ahn, one of Wu’s viola students. “We communicate really well together, and I think she understands my personality and the way I play, which makes her a better teacher. I have come a long way from the first time I met Ms. Wu, and she has a lot to do with that.”

Since an early age, Wu has been playing classical music. She started at the age of four with piano and started playing violin at age nine. She switched to the viola at age 13, and has stayed with the instrument through high school, college, and her adult life. Her devotion to music earned her a spot in Juilliard, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in music performance.

“I fell in love with New York City while studying at The Juilliard School,” said Wu. “I was completely surrounded by arts and culture not just at school but all over the city.”

For graduate school, Wu moved to New Haven to study at Yale. She studied with the Tokyo String Quartet, a group of professional musicians originally based out of Juilliard that has performed in some of the most prestigious concert halls worldwide. She also performed in the New Haven Symphony Orchestra and taught at the Bethwood Suzuki School of Music.

After Juilliard and Yale, Wu tutored at a residence hall at Harvard University. She mentored 350 students and coordinated musical events on campus. While at Harvard, she also performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra. She then moved to Atlanta in 2003.

“I was enchanted by the urban forest, and loved the feel of the city,” said Wu. “Atlanta seemed to have everything I needed: cultural opportunities, reasonable cost of living, and great restaurants.”

Wu now teaches at Westminster and also provides independent music lessons for interested individuals who want to work on their skills.

“Joli Wu is a spectacular musician, and she’s a very effective educator,” said Upper School instrumental music director Scott Stewart. “Of all of the teachers I’ve worked with, she has some of the highest standards of musical excellence. She really pushes the students to produce as much as their potential allows, and sometimes they’re surprised at what they can do if someone holds them to the fire.”

Along with her teaching career, this is Wu’s tenth season performing with the Atlanta Ballet Nutcracker’s orchestra as principal violist. In those ten years, Wu has performed in over 200 shows of Nutcracker alone, which includes difficult pieces by renowned Russian composer, Tchaikovsky.

“I don’t think of myself as a principal violist when working with the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra,” said Wu. “In order to play well as a section, it is most important to get along, respect one another, and work together. My role as the principal violist is to promote a positive work environment while performing at the highest level.”

To prepare for Nutcracker, the orchestra is only given one rehearsal due to the busy schedules of everyone involved. Wu leads the viola section in practicing difficult passages and fine-tuning slight inaccuracies. This year, the Fox Theatre is showing Nutcracker from Dec. 11 to Dec. 27. The live symphony of the Nutcracker is an integral part of the performance, with the music and dance elements adding to the power of the story.

“I feel so lucky to be able to do what I love for a living,” said Wu. “I enjoy sharing my gift with others through teaching and performing. Music is a place of refuge for me, and my practice and playing gives me a true sense of accomplishment and peace.”