Wesley Chu is a pianist, but he is also kind of a rock star. By age 5, he had completed the entire Canadian Royal Conservatory Examinations curriculum, and was performing for the likes of Nelson Mandela. Wesley was recently selected for the USC International Artist Fellowship Program, through which he joined Thornton School of Music’s Master’s in Piano Performance.
As an International Artist Fellow, Wesley has been identified as one of the most outstanding young artists from the Pacific Ring, South Asia, and Latin America. This was more than enough reason for the OIS Communications team to invite him over for coffee and an interview.
1. How did you first get started playing the piano?
Both my parents are music teachers. My father teaches music theory, and my mother teaches piano. Although I started playing the piano as soon as I turned three, my mother always likes to tell me that my piano education started well before I was born. She has a theory that whenever she would be teaching a lesson, I would be listening and learning from within her belly! Perhaps this is why the piano feels like such a natural instrument to me.
2. By age 5, you had completed grades 1-10 of the Canadian Royal Conservatory Examinations and performed for Nelson Mandela. How did you experience your early success at the time and how do you look back on it from where you are today?
It is not uncommon for pianists to begin their education at a very young age. I don’t like to talk about this much, but my completion of the Conservatory Examinations was record-breaking. I’m sure the standards have gotten stricter though. As far as my professional performances go, I have to say that at such a young age, I was not fully aware of the full weight of what it means to play for someone like Nelson Mandela. Mandela was a very special audience member, but in the end no different than the entire audience gathered there for their love of music. Looking back at my early success, I feel very fortunate to have had these experiences. They taught me to hold myself to the same standard of quality, no matter who my audience is.
3. What led you to choose for Thornton School of Music, and did the city of LA have anything to do with your decision?
The Hollywood reporter ranked Thornton as the third best music school in the country. That in itself is reason enough. On top of that, I love video game music, and aspire to one day compose such music myself. Finally, I just love the warmth and easygoing pace of Los Angeles.
4. Aside from the piano, what activities do you pursue in your free time?
Many people think that pianists are overly introverted and do not like being in the presence of other people. I totally do not recognize myself in that stereotype. I love hanging out with friends; especially over dinner. Speaking of which, I am not snobby about my food. One time, I dined at a michelin star restaurant in New York, but had to go straight to McDonalds afterwards because I was still hungry. Just give me a good restaurant with filling dishes on the menu and as many of my friends as possible joining me at the table!
5. Being a world renowned pianist takes huge amounts of dedication and practice. Do you have any tips for our student body on how to channel such motivation in their own lives?
No matter what career path you apply yourself to, remember why you are doing it. I did not become a pianist because I like wiggling my fingers, I became a pianist because I want to bring joy to other people as well as myself. If you don’t know why you’re doing something, perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it.
6. Now as one international student to another: how do you plan to get the most out of your studies here in the U.S.?
I have everything I need at my fingertips here at USC. I want to make use of those resources to make my mark before I am forced out into the wild world of professional musicianship. I feel extremely fortunate to be here in Los Angeles, and want to make sure that I do not squander the luxury I have been afforded.
7. Finally, I have to ask: you’re stranded on a desert island with access to only one piece of music. You choose…
It would definitely have to be something that would help me through my isolation. I know you might be expecting me to choose a piece by a classical composer, but I am going to have to go with my favorite videogame soundtrack. I would go for Ancient Cistern, from the soundtrack of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
For a sample of Wesley’s piano performance, check out the video below: