Emily Qiu ’20 Embraces and Overcomes Her Shyness with Playing the Bassoon

Walking into Boston’s Symphony Hall for the first time as a new member of the Repertory Orchestra of the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra (BYSO), 13-year-old Emily Qiu ’20 was astonished and intimidated by the grand architecture and beautiful acoustics of the auditorium.

“I’ve never played in a full orchestra before and it was really hard for me because I was really shy, and in a full orchestra you really have to play out especially when you have a solo,” said Qiu.

Last October, Qiu won first place at BYSO’s 2018 Concerto Competition and later played as the soloist with the Waltham Philharmonic Orchestra in the Kresge Auditorium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I had really bad stage fright, but, [when I played my concerto] having the orchestra behind me, everytime I look back there [were] all these people supporting me. That was what made me successful and now I feel a huge sense of accomplishment, like, wow, besides all these hardships we were able to succeed,” said Qiu.

Qiu began learning piano at the age of five in accordance with her mom’s wishes but did not enjoy the experience at all. She decided to switch instruments in middle school, especially taking a liking to wind instruments.

“I really wanted to join the band at school so I really wanted to play an wind instrument, and one of my mom’s family friends has a daughter that plays bassoon, we went over to her house and I saw her play and I was like, ‘Woah, I want to play that,’” said Qiu.

Qiu was first accepted to BYSO when she was 12, where she began her career in the more elementary Preparatory Wind Ensemble and moved up to the prestigious Boston Youth Symphony, the top orchestra, in two years.

Qiu cites her bassoon instructor of five years, Janet, as a large inspiration and support system throughout her basson career. Janet has also changed Qiu’s perspective on music and how she views herself in her playing.

“[Janet] once told me music should be a reflection of life. So that really resonated with me, and I realized a lot of times music really helps me connect with my emotions and experiences too. A big part of being musical is being able to really tap into your emotions and express them. I feel that whenever I play a piece I need to know how it relates to me so it helps me to understand myself better,” said Qiu.

With playing in an orchestra, Qiu has become much more confident in both her musical ability and herself, according to close friend Victoria Chen ’21.

“Last year though, I listened to her play her concerto for a BYSO concert and it was pretty amazing… She played really assertively and loud enough to reach the back of the concert hall where I was sitting. I think Emily’s become a lot happier and confident because of playing bassoon and I’m really happy to see her change like that,” wrote Chen in an email to The Phillipian.

As a part of overcoming her shyness, Qiu has also become much more open to teamwork and collaboration since she had been a member of orchestral groups.

“It has taught me a lot about collaboration. Music is not only about watching at the conductor at the front but also being able to watch and listen to everyone around you, so a lot of it is about to being able to move together and play together and you really feel connected in a lot of ways. It has given me a really close-knit community that I became a really big part of,” said Qiu.