Shy teen strums to the top

Music is opening plenty of doors for Richmond’s Alan Liu.

The accomplished, 15-year-old, classical guitarist has attracted the notice of several top-notch post-secondary schools in North America and Europe.

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And on Saturday, he is set to perform in his very first solo recital at Pyatt Hall in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra School of Music, which he hopes will be the first of many more to come in a career performing in concert venues around the world.

But before that, music was simply a way of helping him get over his acute shyness.

“Alan, when he was young, was always full of questions. He wanted to know about everything,” said his dad, Sewell.

“But when people he didn’t know well came over to the house to visit, he would be very quiet. No questions.”

So, Alan’s parents decided to try music to break down that wall of silence. And a visit to see a flamenco guitar player perform captured the attention of a five-year-old Alan.

“He was quite inspirational for the entire concert, which lasted about two hours,” said Alan, a Grade 10 student at McGee secondary in Vancouver, where he is enrolled in the SpArts program for gifted student athletes and performers.

“And I remember thinking what an interesting instrument the guitar was, so I kept nagging my parents to get me one.”

It took about a month before he got his own guitar, but since then, he’s not looked back, building from playing 20 minutes a day age five, to today, where he averages five hours a day.

Thanks to that dedication, Alan has steadily risen through the ranks in the classical guitar community by winning a series of national and international competitions, and earned the opportunity to perform at Saturday’s recital after winning the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Future Of Excellence competition about 18 months ago.

But it hasn’t been an easy progression.

Like many newcomers to the guitar, the first forays were painful on the fingers.

But Alan battled through, changing from steel strings to more comfortable nylon ones as his finger callouses built up, and he continued to forge ahead, learning as much as possible.

“I was able to pick it up because I liked it,” he said. “I wanted to learn, despite the pain.”

He also enjoyed performing, although his first time on stage did have its challenges.

“I forgot my music halfway through,” he said with a quiet smile.

“I was about six or seven. I was very nervous and didn’t know what to say and I just stopped playing.

“Hopefully, that’s not going to be the case on Saturday.”

While that’s unlikely, Alan said he does have a unique manner of immersing himself in a performance that helps keep him on track with the music.

When he practises, Alan said he has to focus on accuracy, speed and musical interpretation.

But once he knows the piece he’s playing well enough and is on stage giving a performance he tries not to think too much about his fingers.

“What happens in my brain is that I try hear what I want to hear,” he said. “So, I’ll play it first in my head and then my fingers will catch up. “That’s my ultimate goal.

“I kind of just let them do what they’re inclined to do.”

And that, he believes, produces a natural performance that an audience can more fully enjoy.

“I know people who practise for an RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music) exam as an ultimate goal,” he said. “While that’s a good place to start and perform in front of an instructor, the real goal is to express yourself in a way that the audience can really connect with you.”

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