Sitting at his digital keyboard, Oliver Hu isn’t just thinking about playing the notes. He’s thinking about violins, violas, drums and other instruments that make up his latest musical composition, “Liberation of France.”
The endeavor is his latest in a musical career that spans most of his young life, earning the Ben Franklin
Elementary student top honors in national music competitions at the age of only 12. A musical talent, he has played the piano since the age of five and has since learned how to play the bassoon and guitar.
“I like to make my own music,” Hu said. “When I listen to it, I would get the thrill of making it myself. I can make it just how I want it.”
Earlier this year, the National Federation of Music Clubs awarded him a second place prize in the National Junior Composers Contest and first-place from the Washington State Young Composers Project, along with many other awards in between. Later this month, Hu will perform the final section of his work to an audience at a state Music Teacher’s Association Convention in Bremerton.
He dedicated the music to honor the veterans of WWII, a time in history in which Hu has taken a keen interest. On a recent family trip to Hawaii, he met several former service members on a tour of the Pearl Harbor Memorial.
“It’s still a very interesting time, still so recent,” he said.
Hu has a range of youthful, boyish interests intertwined with the syncopation and flavor of music. He enjoys movies and his X-box 360, but especially the accompanying musical soundtracks. He’s also an athlete, excelling at the choreography of fencing.
His music composition teacher, Sharon Van Valen, said Hu’s skills as a musician and ability to weave his ideas together into music are unique. She said her challenge with students writing music is the ability to tap into the “right and left sides of the brain.”
“You must understand harmony, formal construction and how to build a story,” she said. “Coming up with an idea or sound, that’s the easy part … How to take that idea and give some meat to it, that’s the difficult part.”
While her son heads to Kamiakin Junior High next year, Bei Guan hopes to also enroll him in the David Diamond Young Composers Workshop in Seattle. The prestigious workshop, hosted by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Benaroya Hall, is a launching pad for teenage musical talent.
The young composer first let his father, De Hu, and mother know he was interested in music at the age of three when he asked for a violin. But Guan said the prospect of him learning musical pitch on a string instrument gave her pause, and she asked him to wait.
A few years later at his mother’s urging, the five-year-old Hu learned how to play the piano. He still takes music lessons three hours a week and spends hours more at his keyboard and computer nearby, composing his next musical work.
The family is planning a summer trip to visit relatives in Shanghai, China, shortly after his performance in Bremerton. Born in the U.S. Hu is fluent in Mandarin Chinese, but still thinks of China — and its music and culture — as a foreign place.
“They’ve been trying so hard to make him feel Chinese,” Guan said. “They’re always asking, ‘What are they teaching you there in school to love America so much?’”
Using Sonar and Sibelius music notation software, he emulates his favorite composers, Hans Zimmer or Chopin, by recording the notes for different instruments, creating a duet or a symphony. He’s just started writing a guitar and piano duet.
And his next piece might appeal to our neighbors to the south. Hu’s just started working on his Spanish music.