Bobby Chen ’10: Cellist Extraordinaire

According to Bobby Chen ’10, his parents originally pressured him to learn how to play the cello. In recent years, however, he’s been more than thankful for that pressure, because it helped him find his passion for music. At Phillips Academy, Chen is no doubt one of the music department’s standout performers. His six years of hard work and musical development have not only proved beneficial to Academy music groups such as the orchestra, but also propelled him to new heights. His talent extends beyond Main Street all the way to the nation’s capital, where he will be competing with America’s finest musicians in an upcoming competition. Chen will perform tonight at 7:30 in the Timken Room in his student recital and next weekend in the Abbot Cabaret. Like all of Chen’s cello performances, his upcoming on-campus performances are sure to impress the crowd as well as demand respect from the PA community. Q: What kind of music do you play? A: I play mostly classical music but there’s some new stuff I’m playing, like jazz, which is really fun to play. I’m playing this song at Abbot Cabaret called “Diary of Jane” with some people which is awesome. On the whole, though, I can pretty much play anything that interests me. Q: Did your parents pressure you into playing or was playing cello something you became passionate about on your own? A: No, no I definitely got forced into playing. I only really started liking to play the cello last year [laughs.] Q: What have you had to sacrifice in order to pursue music? A: Homework [laughs] and I have to practice pretty frequently so I can’t [mess] around all day. It basically takes away from hang out time. I have practice all day Saturday in Boston… I can’t just hang out at school all weekend. Q: Is it hard to continue playing the cello at Andover? A: In the beginning of my Andover experience, I didn’t practice that much at all—I basically stopped playing. Then, I decided that I wanted to keep playing more actively, so in the past years I have been practicing and managing my time more, trying to get better. Q: How many hours do you practice in a day? A: I only play about an hour a day, but I have to go to orchestra rehearsals during the week. I also frequently watch videos online of cello players, trying to learn from them. [All in all, I spend about 3-4 hours a day doing music-related activities, including cello practice.] Q: Have you ever tried playing other instruments? A: I used to play piano but I stopped taking piano lessons and started just playing [songs I heard] on the radio. Q: Do you want to continue playing cello in college? Or further in the future? A: I definitely want to continue playing in college, hopefully in a university orchestra. Looking further into the future, I’m not really sure, but I’m positive music will always be a big part of my life and I hope to continue playing music for the rest of my life. Q: Because you parents forced this on you, and you ended up thankful, is music something you’ll force on your kids? A: I think I’m going to let my kids do whatever they really want. If they want to play, they’d definitely be in a musical environment in my house [laughs.] If they were interested, I would definitely support it, but not force it on them. Q: Have you ever tried writing your own songs? A: No, [laughs] I’ve tried…but it kind of failed. Q: For you, is music more of a relaxation technique or a source of stress? A: Well I’m going to Washington D.C. for this competition so I’m kind of stressed because I have a lot of pressure on me to keep improving so I can compete with my counterparts from around the country. Besides the pressure of competing and performing well, music is definitely more of a relaxation technique. Q: How did you get involved in the Washington DC competition? The competition in Washington is an International Competition for high schoolers, so I guess my teacher and I wanted to see how I could measure up against some of the most talented kids. I had to send in a CD and application, and I guess out of a bunch of applicants they selected 12 semifinalists, including me.?? Q: How are you preparing for the competition??? I’m preparing by setting aside as much time to practice as I can, and watching lots of Youtube videos to study professionals and how they play.?? Q: What are you going to play in the competition??? I have to prepare 5 pieces for the competition, a solo concerto, Bach suite, classical sonata, a flashy showpiece and this new piece that was written just for the competition—and its probably the hardest thing I’ve ever played. Q: What about the trip are you most excited for I did an International Competition in Michigan last year, and I remember being really amazed by how good some kids were, and getting really motivated afterwards [laughs]. So hopefully this experience will be the same, unless I win, which would also be cool because I would get 10,000 dollars as the cash prize. Q: Do you have any funny stories about your experiences as a cello player??? A few weeks ago I was performing a chamber music concert, and in the middle of the piece one of my strings broke. The other 3 people in my group noticed right away and we all started cracking up so the rest of the concert was pretty much a joke, because I couldn’t play any of the notes on that string and we were laughing/sounding like crap the rest of the way. Q: Do you have any pre-show rituals? I shut myself off from everyone about an hour before a performance. I don’t talk to my parents, don’t touch my cell and don’t talk to anyone…I stretch, go through the piece I’m going to play really slowly and really quietly and then I listen to the Olympic fanfare like 500 times until I have to play. [Laughs] something about it makes me get really confident.