For this month’s Teacher Feature, I had the pleasure of interviewing singer, pianist, and songwriter, Andrew, who’s one of the newer teachers on our team. A recent Musician’s Institute (MI) graduate, Andrew is now sharing his musical gifts with some lucky students!
MM: How did you get started with music, and how long have you been singing and playing the piano?
AP: When my sister and I were younger, my grandma taught us Vietnamese children’s folk songs and we sang them all the time. We used to put on mini concerts for our family from out of town, and we even did some local competitions. I’ve been singing since I was about 5: I sang at numerous charity events and for different cultural organizations. And although I sang for many years, I really started to take it seriously, and into my own hands, when I was about 15. I’ve been playing piano since I was younger, but I took a break from it until I started to really start singing. I didn’t know how to accompany myself, which I really needed, so I started to learn the piano again. Ever since then, playing piano has been a huge part of my life, and I’ve grown to love it more and more.
MM: Who has inspired you musically?
AP: My grandfather was one of my inspirations. I didn’t know it until he passed, but I realized how happy working on his music made him. It’s inspiring to see people do what they love, and it inspired me to do so. As far as artists go, I knew performing was my dream when I watched Kelly Clarkson sing her coronation song at the American Idol finale. You could see the passion within her, and it felt so majestic, and I wanted that.
MM: What are some of your favorite instruments and musical genres, and why?
AP: My favorite musical genre is probably pop, but not bubblegum pop. I like, what I call: “smart” pop. The tracks I like have pinches of classical motifs, darker and more mature sounds, and a well-thought out composition. My favorite instrument would definitely have to be the cello. I played it in elementary, and I wish I continued, but I just love the rich tone of the instrument.
MM: What are your current musical projects?
AP: I currently work with Lac Hong Performing Arts Group (Vietnamese Traditional Arts Development Organization) as a teacher and a student. We do performances throughout the year for community events, charity events, etc. As for my personal musical projects, I’m getting together musicians to play with me for gigs in Orange County since I’ve just moved from Los Angeles. I write songs constantly, but I’m currently composing and producing a few tracks for my EP, hopefully finished by this year.
MM: How do you help yourself practice, and how do you balance music with some of your other life goals? How do you help your students practice?
AP: My life goal is to have a musical career, so I make time to do it as much as I can. If I have downtime, then I write. For singing, I always go through vocal warm-ups in the morning, and I practice my own songs daily. One of my favorite things to do to stir my creativity is to learn covers, but give them a twist.
To help my students practice, I ask them to work on their warm-ups (whether it be piano or voice) before any practice. For my vocal students, I give them breathing exercises to do throughout the day or right when their day starts because it’s silent and you can really practice it anywhere, although it might look a bit weird sometimes. To me, technique is the first thing that needs to be done to excel at creativity, so I emphasize having my students really tune into their skills rather than what pleases their ear.
MM: What has your experience at MI been like? Do you have a favorite/most influential class you’ve taken there? What has been the most meaningful experience or thing you’ve learned there?
AP: My experience at MI was unlike any other. I’ve met some of the most amazing artists and musicians there. I not only got to learn from peers and instructors, but guest speakers were constantly there… and sometimes random auditions would come up, and I would be able to audition privately, at the last minute, for producers of different programs such as The Voice. My favorite class was a one-on-one songwriting lesson. I took the same teacher for my stay every quarter, and it eventually evolved into having an Artist Development mentor. There’s so much I have gotten from him, both opportunities and knowledge, and I definitely don’t think I’d be the artist I am today without his guidance. There was a moment in one of my songwriting classes where my teacher, who works music licensing for TAXI, stopped me in the middle of my song and said, “You have this natural ability to find a great melody. All your songs have a strong sense of it, and you could really get your music out to the masses if you just put some laser-focus into your lyrics. If you want to be a songwriter, you already are, your material is wonderful, but if you want this is as a career, keep going because you’re on the right path.” And in that moment, all my insecurities went away and I knew I was doing what I’ve always thought I was meant to do.