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Name That Tune: Ava Yu

Pooja Salhotra
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Ava Yu, Emily Nguyen,

Ava Yu and her friend Emily Nguyen performed a duet at Carnegie Hall last May. (Photo courtesy of Carnegie Hall)

This week’s Name That Tune is brought to you by Ava Yu, a pianist who is currently a summer intern at The Buzz. Ava grew up in Houston and previously attended West U Elementary and then the Emery/Weiner School before going off to boarding school at Phillips Exeter Academy. Read on for excerpts from my interview with Ava, where I progressively become more and more impressed with this 14-year-old’s talent! 

Ava Yu 
Age: 14
Profession: Rising Sophomore at Phillips Exeter Academy 
Instrument: Piano

When did you start playing the piano? 
I started playing when I was five, so I’ve been playing for almost 10 years now. 

That’s a long time! Do you know what made you start playing back then? 
My parents put me in piano lessons, and ever since then I’ve been continuing to take lessons. I even take lessons at Exeter. I just kind of fell in love with the piano gradually as I went on. 

I used to take piano lessons myself. I feel like a lot of kids start taking lessons when they’re young but they end up quitting. What has made you keep going and what made you fall in love with the instrument?
Well, I really like music in general, and I really like listening to piano music. I think getting into listening to [the piano] helps a lot with sustaining – or kind of helping develop – a long-lasting love for the instrument. 

When you say you listen to piano music, do you mean classical music? 
I do listen to classical piano, but I wouldn’t say that specifically. The piece I played for Name That Tune wasn’t exactly classical – it was actually a movie soundtrack. That’s also one thing I find interesting: there are so many ways you can play the piano other than classical. You can kind of transfer different tunes that you like onto the piano if that makes sense. 

It does! Do you do that yourself – hearing a tune and transferring it to the piano?
Yes, I’ll hear it and say, ‘oh that might sound good on the piano’ and then play it.

Wow, so you’re at the level that you can hear something and play it?
Generally I can. And that’s also something I just really like doing. 

Very cool. In addition to taking lessons, do you do performances or play in groups?
In Houston, before I went to Exeter, I did a lot of recitals and concerts and festivals. I also played in some competitions. There was one I did every year – the Houston Music Teachers Association competition. Also, I actually played a duet with my friend [Emily Nguyen], and we entered a competition called American Protégé. We ended up getting second place, and we went to Carnegie Hall for that just last May. That was really exciting. 

Woah! That’s incredible! What was it like playing there?
That was really amazing. It was nerve-wracking right before, but it was also a learning experience – playing in a hall that big is a learning experience. It kind of felt unreal. When we entered [the competition], we didn’t think we’d get anything. We just thought, ‘let’s try this for fun. [Ava and Emily performed a Waltz composed by Valery Gavrilin] 

Once you’ve gotten to your level in piano, what are the things you’re working on in piano lessons? And what are the things you’re focused on in your growth as a pianist?
I think I have a lot of work to do still. In the pieces I play, every piece teaches me something new – like a new technique that I didn’t know. I’m always looking for new tricks and new ways to improve. Like how can I improve with pedal, or how can I improve my dynamics … stuff like that I’m constantly working towards. 

You’re 14 so you have a long future ahead of you. When you think about your future do you see yourself continuing to play and if so in what capacity?
I definitely want to continue playing the piano. I’m not sure if I can see myself playing professionally, but I will say that I actually taught piano lessons this spring for a community service project at my school. That was really fun, and I hope to have more chances to do that. 

Editor's note: See more Name That Tune Q&As and videos here. Play an instrument and interested in submitting a video? Contact us at [email protected]

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