Toby Liu’s growing music career

Freshman Toby Liu and his violin have braved the stage of Carnegie Hall before an audience of hundreds of people. They have played alongside and competed against the best musicians in the state and even the nation. Although he has played the violin for eight years and already earned countless prestigious awards, Liu’s budding musical career is just taking off. Liu’s love for music began when he first started to play the violin at five years old under the instruction of a private teacher, as well as with the support of his family.

“Music has impacted every aspect of my life, ever since I was really young,” said Liu. “My mom is a piano professor and my [older] sister had already started playing the piano and violin, so even as a toddler, I wanted to play an instrument and interact with the music that I constantly heard.” As he grew up, Liu continued to expand his affinity for the instrument as he practiced diligently and participated in numerous competitions. When he was ten years old, he earned the opportunity to perform solo in Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall in New York City after winning the second place prize of the American Protégé International Piano and Strings Competition.

“At Carnegie Hall, I met other students of all different age groups and experiences,” said Liu. “That was the first time I got to know other musicians who were as passionate about music as I was, and they inspired me to work harder and pursue what I love. That impactful experience encouraged me to develop my passion for music.” Liu is also a multi-year winner of the Georgia Music Teachers Association’s String Competition, a title which has earned him numerous solo performances at the GMTA Annual Conference as a Convention Recitalist. Aside from these awards, Liu has also participated in Westminster’s middle school and upper school orchestras.

“Toby is a very active member of the orchestra and always has been,” said Scott Stewart, the upper school band and orchestra director. “Toby has studied privately for many years, so he comes with a great deal of technical experience and training that is very beneficial to not only him, but the entire orchestra.” In addition to his role in Westminster’s music program, Liu also participates in the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra, also known as the ASYO, where he passed through an intense selective application process for a chance to play alongside some of the best musicians around the state. These experiences have all shaped Liu into the exceptional musician that he is today and helped him hone his skills and techniques.

“As a musician, Toby is very well practiced and trained,” says Stewart.“He has been with great teachers who have expected a lot out of him, and he is a very disciplined individual who devotes regular time to practice, and therefore has a pretty wide range of musical skills from a very strong tone in all the registers of the violin, a strong sense of articulation in the bowing, and strong technique in the fingerings in his left hand.” However, technical skill is not the only important characteristic of an exceptional musician.

“Toby also is developing a sound that is very individual to his personality,” says Stewart. “Whatever his personality is becoming, his musical personality is developing along with that at the same time. He is able to play music that is playful or mischievous or somber and serious, full of the same variety that his personality is part of.” In order to become the phenomenal violinist that he is today, Liu has faced many obstacles as he balances being a student, an athlete, and a musician. Being a violinist requires dedication and commitment to the orchestra, with its time-consuming rehearsals and performances, as well as countless hours of preparation outside of class.

“Of course, there is the challenge of practicing, which is necessary in order to maintain your skill,” said Liu “I try to practice at least two hours a day, and maybe the entire day on weekends. Time management is critical, and I need to juggle this with all of my schoolwork, swim practices, and other extracurricular activities.” However, for every challenge that being a musician presents, there are multiple reasons to love playing an instrument or perfecting a piece of music.

“In my mind, the benefits of being a musician outweigh all of the liabilities,” says Stewart. “Musical skills, emotional intelligence, creative skills, and general life skills that result out of being a performing musician are some of the main reasons we teach what we teach.” Sophomore Jonas Du, a clarinet player in the Westminster Symphony Orchestra, has played with Liu and experienced the magic of playing music alongside with friends and peers.

“The most rewarding part is getting to play with other people,” says Du. “It is such an eye-opening experience because it forces you to think beyond your own playing, to listen to other people, to match them, and work together with them as an ensemble, rather than an individual, and that’s a skill that’s important for every musician.” To Liu, the most important aspect of music is not getting the right notes or the perfect rhythm, but the ability to convey an emotion to and connect with an audience.

“I love music because music is a language that you can use to communicate with your audience,” says Liu. “I don’t play the violin to achieve the perfect technique. Although that is necessary, what I really love about it is being able to communicate with the people you are playing for and the people you are playing with.” In the future, Liu plans to use his skill and talent for the violin to reach out to the community and spread a message.

“I want to expand the realm of classical music because it is a genre that is slowly fading away in the modern world,” says Liu. “I’m not sure if I will become a professional musician, but playing violin already has helped me to grow so much as a student, a leader, and a person in general. I am sure that no matter the circumstances, the violin will always play in integral part in the rest of my life.”