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Graduates Testimony

The following letters are from Aimusic School and Firebird Youth Chinese Orchestra graduates each year.


Karen Zhu

11 years

I have been with FYCO for the past 10 years, although it certainly does not feel quite that long. Somehow, a decade’s worth of Saturday nights have passed and I cannot help but feel eternally grateful for the amount of joy that these nights of practicing Chinese music has brought me. My instruments, the Liuqin and Zhongruan, have taught me lessons of dedication and perseverance. I have also learned to appreciate the results that come from hard work.  It is always fun to go to performances with the rest of the orchestra and show off our unique music after hours of practicing together. Although it feels bittersweet to leave after being part of this orchestra for so long, I am excited to come visit in the coming years to see how FYCO will grow.

It has been a fun ten years; from racing to snack-time to traveling to Taiwan, from blistered fingers to nerve-wracking finals, and from practicing alone to playing with friends—thank you.

Amanda Yee

9 years

FYCO has shown me that music is more than just an activity – it is a way of thought. It has the power to tell a story that can influence others in inconceivable ways, breaking down the barriers that set us apart. You learn to hear the melodies with local ears and immerse yourself in the rich heritage hidden beneath each measure. The East and the West do not know much about each other, but through traditional Chinese music, I was able to gain a deeper appreciation towards my heritage. Words cannot express how thankful I am for all the time and effort that the teachers, parents, and students have put in to make this orchestra thrive..


Jonathan Gu

10 years

I joined FYCO since I was in elementary, my mom was in a Chinese orchestra when she was a student and loves Chinese instruments, so she brought us into this music world. I was ok with it then, but didn’t have much idea about what the Chinese music will be like. Throughout these long years, I learned and played different instruments; DiZi, Chinese drum set, Big Drum, Timpani, Cymbals, etc.; attended various stage performances, joined the community services and the unforgettable Taiwan culture exchange trip. I am very glad that I have this precious opportunity to learn the Chinese music in my life and to be part of the FYCO big family, people also told me I become a more outgoing person since I was very quiet when younger.

One precious memory in my FYCO performance is for the time I was playing the Chinese Drum Set and the Big Drum for the song – Harvest Drum “豐收鑼鼓”. From a fully quiet audience atmosphere, my big drum starts the music, from a big loud sound to lower fast speed 滾奏 and back to the middle loud fast speed, and then quickly change to play the Chinese Drum Set of five small drums for fast speed and the percussion solo. It’s a big challenge to me, the whole song starts with me, and I need to do it right, for tempo, speed, strength and the most import thing - cooperating with my conductor. I had never been so serious before, for the first time in my life I was practicing hard by myself, I want to make my “滾奏” sounds better and better. I followed the CD link to practice and assembled some wood plates at home to practice as my five drums. I learned to cooperate with my conductor tightly, before I was a person easy to lose focus, now I don’t anymore. I also had to pay attention every single second while I was playing. I got many good words after the performances from my FYCO team, my family, and the audience. One important voice in my mind is that I can do it, and I become more confident in myself. I really want to thank to my FYCO conductor putting trust in me for this chance, as well as the teachers’ great guidance and my parent’s big support.

I gained most of my new friendship in FYCO by joining the Taiwan Culture Exchange trip. Along the trip, I had more chances to talk and play with other instrument groups. We watched other professional Chinese Orchestra Concerts together, some songs we even played before. We got the chance to know how other groups translate the same music, I am not an ordinary audience any more, I can notice the different instrument section roles. We also got the chance to play with other orchestras together, I started to appreciate the Chinese music more and more, every single Chinese instrument is unique, and their music is also pretty and unique. We learned and had fun at the same time, it’s a very precious experience for me. I am going to join the FYCO China trip this coming summer, this is also the last trip before I graduate from FYCO, I am very looking forward to it and knowing its important value in my mind.

Now I am playing Dizi in the Orchestra, before I thought it requires a lot of air to blow and it’s hard, really need to thank my Dizi teacher’s great teaching and patience, now I get to play my best. With so many wonderful songs and the techniques of the dizi, I enjoy it more while I am playing it and appreciate the music which is really different from western music. Looking back at the time in FYCO, every Saturday or/and Sunday we went to FYCO, it became a routine for me and my family. Feeling that suddenly after this summer I will be graduating, from FYCO and from my high school, it’s a big page in my life. I learned a lot from music to my personality, it’s a big impact for my growing path, really appreciate my mom bringing me into FYCO and thanks to all FYCO’s members, teachers and parents. I wish FYCO keeps growing and brings the beautiful Chinese music to more people in the world.

Kevin Li

10 years

I joined FYCO in second grade with my friends Dan Su and Royce Yang. I started out playing the Liuqin in second grade, and later moved on to the Zhongruan, and finally the Daruan. Pretty soon, Dan and Royce became my best friends, and I would look forward to Saturday afternoons. Rather than work, I began to think of FYCO as a place to hang out and enjoy ourselves by playing music. When I think of my best memories from elementary school, it will always be those times in the old theatre building with Dan and Royce, when we’d play music and Pokemon in the rooms during our breaks. Back then, I never knew I would stay in the orchestra for so long. Over the years, people have come and left, including my friend Royce, but I never considered quitting, because FYCO had become an integral part of my life. In more recent memory, one of the best memories I have with FYCO is our trip to Taiwan. Between night markets, long sleepy bus rides, and food poisoning, our two week adventure in Taiwan seemed much longer than it was. In addition, every community service concert gave us a chance to meet people who truly appreciated our music, which made me enjoy them. It’s a real pleasure to perform a solo or a duet in front of a great audience, and being in FYCO has given me that opportunity. I’d like to thank Dan Su for being with me all these years, and Lin Laoshi for watching me grow into all sorts of different instruments. Finally, I’d like to thank everyone in FYCO for being such a great community to be in.

Mavis Zeng

8 years

I vaguely recall the first time I came to visit and saw FYCO at practice – that was probably around seven, eight years ago now. My grandfather had come to visit over the summer from China and brought with him his erhu, which had endlessly fascinated me because it sounded so much like a violin yet looked so different. A family friend then encouraged me to explore FYCO to further expand my interest. Although I first went to see more of those “Chinese violins,” I was shocked to see so many other traditional Chinese instruments too. And somehow by the end of that day, I ended up learning how to play the liuqin (Chinese lute) instead.

One of the opportunities FYCO has given me is the ability to connect to others through Chinese culture and its music. I noticed on many of my runs at Lake Elizabeth, the local park in my neighborhood, that there is always a group of elders playing Chinese music on Saturday and Sunday mornings. After watching them practice week after week, I was finally able to converse and impress them with my knowledge of their instruments, and they invited me to join them any time. It is exciting experiences of meeting new people and learning new things that brought me back to FYCO each year.

So many years of watching the FYCO family change has gone by, and I finally find myself leaving for college as well. Whether or not I continue my interest in music activities in the future, I will never forget all those nights I spent with friends playing Chinese operas, regional folk tunes, celebratory songs, and all that makes up the music of FYCO!

Sandy Pan

2 years

Music has always been a part of my life. I’ve been playing the dizi for a total of six years now. I joined FYCO during the beginning of my junior year in 2014. Although I’ve not always been in FYCO for the most of my music career, however, within these two short years, I truly learned a lot as a musician and as a person. Playing music is about listening to each other and working together to produce the best possible melody; FYCO really taught me how to be a team player. I started out not knowing how to play staff on my dizi, but now I can easily translate traditional staff notes into numbers. I’ve made a lot of new friends and learned a great deal about my cultural heritage. FYCO has been a great experience and I am truly glad that I was able to join this big family. Without FYCO, every Saturday night would not be the same again. These two years have been short, but I’ve definitely made memories that I will treasure for a lifetime.

Valerie Tan

8 years

The last 8 years at FYCO has been an incredible journey full of unforgettable memories. From our Taiwan Tour to community service performances, I am grateful to have bettered my understanding of my culture while pursuing my musical interest. I am thankful for the family I have found here at FYCO as we’ve grown together through the highs and lows. Starting from being the little Erhu player hiding in the back of the section, I am glad that I’ve chosen to be part of FYCO until the end of high school as I’ve learned many valuable lessons I would not have learned otherwise. It has been a great run, and I am excited to see the places FYCO will go in the future!


Catherine Chan

8 years

What? I’m graduating already? I’ve already been driven to FYCO and back every Saturday for eight whole years? I’m in a perpetual state of disbelief because I can still recall the day I went to San Jose City College as a 4th grader for the audition, excited to pick up another instrument after the piano. I had always wanted to play the violin, and learning the erhu was the next best thing to me. What I never would have guessed is that along with taking up the erhu, I would learn more from making music together with others who are like family to me now. There’s an easy camaraderie that comes from creating something as a team, and it is a part of FYCO that I will sorely miss. I gained a sense of cultural pride, learned and earned trust in my fellow musicians, and soaked up the sense of satisfaction you feel when you hear a song finally come together after everyone else has worked hard to learn their part. As I gained more experience over the years and more responsibility along the way, I also learned important life skills from my position as one of the erhu section leaders, like patience, cooperation, when to push and when to back down. FYCO has given me a great number of things that I will be forever grateful for. I hope other eager 4th graders in the future will be as pleasantly surprised as I was when I joined.

I want to thank my parents for giving me this unforgettable experience and for driving my brother and me there and back every single Saturday (we’ve had perfect attendance for eight years straight), Liu-laoshi, my absolutely wonderful and ever-patient erhu teacher, and Gordon Lee, mastermind composer and conductor, for allowing me to join this family.

Claire Liu

8 years

At a library community service performance was where I first saw my partner – elegant, exotic, and enchanting. I had never seen anything like it before and immediately knew that was who I wanted to work with for the next seven years. This partner is my pipa. Like all partnerships, we had our times of glory as well as times when we hit rough patches. Despite my broken hand sophomore year, I wanted to come to rehearsals. It was then that I noticed the massive amount of teamwork and dedication that FYCO members had. FYCO taught me about traditional Chinese music, but more importantly helped shape me into the person I am today. I learned how to contribute to a team and even had the honor of teaching musicians from the Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood groups who will be the future of FYCO. I have proudly dedicated myself to practicing every weekend with fellow musicians and friends, but rehearsals are much more than just that – it’s a time when we bond. Inevitably, rehearsals may become seemingly repetitive, but we manage to have fun in our own way – playing our “How Many Instruments Do You Know” and “Huangmei Capriccio” remixed version, dodging 劉老師’s flying baton, and even marveling at the pure determination of our wind instrument players who are sometimes clearly on the verge of passing out during rehearsal.

I am very thankful to 謝老師, 張老師, 劉老師, and many others who have given me countless opportunities. The memories I have made in FYCO will be with me forever and I hope the memories I leave will be positive as well. I will truly miss this group and nothing will replace my experiences in FYCO. Thank you all for everything.

David Nie

10 years

To get a sense of the unique experience that FYCO can offer, we will start with some basic numbers: there are about 20,000 youth orchestras in the United States. Of those 20,000 youth orchestras, about 1,000 are located in California. Of those 1,000 youth orchestras that are located in California, fewer than 10 offer classes on traditional Chinese instruments. And of those 10 orchestras, only one provides excellent musical education taught by world-class professionals combined with the comfort of a family-like community—FYCO.

I joined FYCO in 2004, where I learned to play my first instrument, the sheng, under Master Guo. Over the course of nine years, I have participated in numerous community service performances, concerts, and trips. My most memorable experience was the recent 2013 Taiwan Tour, in which our orchestra visited various parts of Taiwan such as Hsinchu, Tainan, and Taipei to perform with local orchestras, to learn about the Chinese culture, and to have fun. Part of this trip that made it so memorable was the variety of musical experiences and activities—as we were traveling to different parts of Taiwan, we spectated concerts performed by professional orchestras as well as middle school and high school orchestras. One performance in particular that stood out to me took place during the 2013 Hsinchu Chinese Music Festival, in which the Suona players played with so much vigor and energy that it cured me of my jet lag. On the social aspect, being part of the FYCO community provided me a sense of content and belongingness. I recall those days in Taiwan when we went shopping at Taipei 101, wandered around a night market and somehow ended up in a bowling alley, went hiking in the rain with flip flops, and ate instant ramen at 2 in the morning (such nostalgia). Even on a personal level, my FYCO friends are by-far my closest friends and I'm very fortunate to have met some of the coolest people at FYCO. Ultimately, these experiences and memories with my FYCO friends will truly last a lifetime.

Furthermore, only a few places, such as FYCO, can offer this rare experience: FYCO has provided me an unrivaled musical experience that is characterized by passionate instructors, dedicated parents, and a caring student body that makes you feel at home.

Eric Huey

10 years

I have been with FYCO for at least ten years officially, and perhaps even 12 years unofficially. To be quite frank, FYCO has been not only a community but also a family. Sacrificing my time to learn the Dizi has not only proved to be fun and interesting; it has helped bridge a gap to another world. Through FYCO I connected with my cultural heritage from China in 2004 and Taiwan in 2013. These visits opened my eyes to my background and to a whole different side of the music world where I delved into a world of masters.

FYCO became a family to me due to my connections with several generations of FYCO members; each graduate musician came and passed while my musicianship grew. Before long FYCO wasn’t a class anymore, it became something to look forward to, and Dizi became a way to express myself rather than just another tool to make noise.

Overall FYCO is a group I can accredit much of my own values to, some of the most important ones include: Musicianship, Leadership, Courage, and Teamwork. While Musicianship is very particular, the latter three values are crucial for working towards a better society and business leading. Perfect for my planned major in Business Management.

Jessica Li

9 years

The first time I walked into a FYCO rehearsal, I had no idea what was happening. I looked around the ensemble room only to find many strange looking instruments and intimidating older teenagers. I had no idea how to make music out of four skinny, metal strings or read the funny looking numbers that I later learned was Chinese music staff. That was 9 years ago; now FYCO is a place where I feel completely comfortable. I used to groan and grumble every Saturday evening when I would be forced to attend rehearsals, but now the hours fly by as I learn to appreciate them more and more. The hours of practice have taught me patience, the years gone by have taught me perseverance, and living with the same group of people for three weeks in a foreign country has taught me the meaning of friendship and loyalty. I value my fellow FYCO members as if they were my family, and I’ll definitely miss this community of musicians working together to create beautiful harmonies. Even though I will be leaving for college soon, I know I’ll never forget my experiences here. I never could have completed this extensive journey alone, and I’d like to thank everyone who supported me and encouraged me along the way, whether it be through giving me rides to San Jose City College, convincing me to attend performances, meticulously planning events and concerts, teaching me, or even just having a simple conversation with me throughout my time here; separately, we are one line of music, but together we are a song.

Josephine Liang

8 years

When I first joined FYCO 8 years ago, I was mostly tentative, unsure of how much I would like the unfamiliar instrument I was learning to play and the new community I would be joining. FYCO, however, warmly welcomed me into the family, and I quickly began to look forward to the weekly sessions. All these years later, I am still deeply in love with the music that we make, and will definitely remember the many Saturdays that I spent in the FYCO community.

Through FYCO, I have developed a better understanding and appreciation of music, especially Chinese orchestra music, and learned to be more perceptive of elements of music such as pitch, rhythm, and dynamics. I know that my work ethic has also been strengthened by FYCO — observing other musicians and teachers' perseverance to perfect their music has made me even more determined to not only play music to the best of my abilities, but to also improve in all other areas outside of FYCO. I have found a family of musicians and music lovers alike that constantly encourage each other to embrace and improve both their creative and technical sides, to aspire to make exceptional music. I love feeling the emotions that stream through every song — the feeling of connection to the rest of the orchestra is indescribable. Though I am graduating this June, I am grateful and honored to have had the opportunity to learn from and perform with such an amazing group of musicians.

Justin Poon

8 years

Eight years ago, I was just a regular kid with a lot of free time. I was introduced to FYCO and since then my life has changed dramatically. FYCO teaches more than just musical skills. I have experienced far more than what I expected, such as leadership and especially deep friendships.

I only expected to gain some basic music theory. Boy, I couldn't have been more wrong. My skills on the Sheng couldn't be possible without the devout dedication of Wanpeng GUO, my wonderful Sheng instructor. He has never failed to keep me going, no matter how difficult the piece. His philosophy was simple: have fun. Although I could never compete with the other top Sheng players, I never put my Sheng down if I could help it. The Sheng is too fun, just from its versatility and sheer awesomeness. Seriously, what other common wind instrument can play chords on a whim? GUO Laoshi, thank you for teaching me these long eight years.

When FYCO traveled to Taiwan over the summer in 2013, I was exposed to much more than I expected. As one of the most 'veteran' members on the trip, I had to keep the other students in check. That was an eye opening experience. My respect for other leaders definitely rose after that trip! Ultimately, that trip did more than just rejuvenate my respect for others. A month long trip with many other students my age does some interesting things.

Some of my best friendships have originated from FYCO. When times turn rough, I know I can turn to my fellow classmates. Life will not run smoothly for anybody. Friends can help mediate these issues. I may not be pursuing a career in music, but FYCO has left a great impact on my life. Don't ever leave programs without looking for a hidden experience. That experience may change your life.

Kelly Wang

8 years

Hi! I'm Kelly. I have been at FYCO for the past eight years. I can still remember the day I first auditioned to be in FYCO. I saw the Guzheng on many Youtube videos and I thought it was the most beautiful Chinese instrument of them all. When Gordon asked what instrument I was interested in learning, I completely forgot the name of the instrument. He kindly suggested the Pipa and I agreed because I wasn't sure what that was. I'm glad that I forgot the word "Guzheng" because I wouldn't trade my Pipa for any other instrument in the world. I want to thank all the wonderful parents for putting in so much time into giving us the opportunity to perform and learn. I want to thank all the teachers for patiently working with all of us even though we do get loud. FYCO has helped me develop my leadership skills as well as a greater appreciation for Chinese music. Because of FYCO, I was able to escape the social bubble that living in a suburban area creates. I met some of the most talented and intellectual people at FYCO. Because FYCO is an environment where we can truly socialize with people that have a common love for music, we are able to make connections that can better prepare us for the future. I plan to bring my Pipa with me to college and hopefully share it with my floormates. This fall, I will be studying Biological Sciences with an aspiration to enter medical school. Fluorine, Uranium, Carbon, Potassium, Thorium, Iodine, Silicon, Molybdenum, Uranium, Thalium, Astatine, Erbium. Bye FYCO!

Sharon Chen

11 years

I have been part of the FYCO family since I was seven years old. I really want to thank the friends and teachers that have helped me and accompanied me for the past eleven years. I have enjoyed spending time at FYCO whether performing at the state capitol or a Buddhist temple, sharing our music with the world. I play the yangqin, and part of the job of a yangqin player is to act as a substitute conductor during small community service performances. At first just the thought of it would make me nervous and cause my sticks to tremble before I gave the signal to start, but this responsibility gradually helped me move away from the shy girl I used to be as I gained the courage and confidence to lead. Chinese orchestral pieces have many time signature shifts and sharp tempo changes. This calls for all musicians to listen to each other and be ready to adjust within a split second. Through years of orchestra rehearsal, I have learned to be more sensitive with my ears both inside and outside of orchestra, attuned to the tiny shifts and tempo changes of everyday conversation. In the fall I will be attending Stanford University, and I hope to keep using my careful ear to stay curious about others and their world views.

Warren Zhu

9 years

FYCO is a bit strange. It's shown me a side of music that I've yet to see elsewhere. From the bumbling newbies to the practiced veterans, FYCO embodies a type of purity about music. The squabble for seating and parts that's found in other music groups is hardly present within FYCO. Most students are content to simply pick up their instrument and give whatever piece they receive their best shot. Perhaps this is why I enjoy performing with FYCO so much. I can blast out music on my instrument, good or bad, to my heart's content and not worry about anyone getting overly annoyed (maybe they do, and I just don't notice). Because of this, I don't really think of music as a performing art. Rather, it comes to me as a form of meditation. The melodies that I perform are for my entertainment only, and if anyone else cares to listen, let them. Through FYCO, music has become more than just a skill. It has become a mindset, a way of thought. It has helped me organize my mind in ways I could have never done without it and has given me another love in life. Also, massive thanks to Wanpeng Guo for being an amazing teacher throughout all these years.