Exploring Music in Nashville, Alumna Willow Zhu ’21 Plans Performance in Return to Andover

Since moving to Nashville, TN in mid-January, Willow Zhu ’21 has been able to learn and evolve as an artist through the city’s music scene.

Head to Coffee House on Sunday, February 27, to see performances by Willow Zhu ’21, Lev Wilson ’23, Jack Warren ’22, and Indigo (Jason Zhang ’23, Sebastian Altomare ’23, Iris Guo ’23, Dylan Oh ’23).

After releasing her Extended Play (EP) “High School” in May 2021, Willow Zhu ’21 is proving herself  to be a musical force, and she has shown no signs of stopping any time soon. Taking a gap year to focus on music after graduating from Andover, Zhu moved to Nashville, TN in mid-January. Throughout this past month, she has been able to immerse herself in the city’s musical scene, learning and evolving as an artist.  

“This is something I’ve wanted to do since freshman year, since I came to Nashville for the first time. I’ve always thought to myself, ‘Okay, this is what I want to do before college.’ Because of [Covid-19] I didn’t know if it was going to be able to happen. But it ended up working out well, and here in Nashville I’ve been doing a ton of music, songwriting, performing, and networking,” said Zhu. 

Despite having only been in Nashville for a month, Zhu believes that she has been able to grow both musically and stylistically thanks to the city’s welcoming and inclusive environment. Supported by fellow musicians and artists, Zhu finds herself constantly inspired to create, grow, and try new things. 

“I absolutely love Nashville because I think it is a city of creators. There’s a place for any sort of musician, whether you’re a writer, artist, or both. I have found that it is such a great environment to create in, because everyone around me is constantly pushing each other, and supporting each other to be the best that they can be,” said Zhu. 

Especially after the release of her EP last year, Zhu believes that Nashville has been important in determining  where she wants to take her music next. Surrounded by various types of music and embarking on new adventures, she thinks that her experiences have both enhanced and inspired the content of her future work. 

“I’ve taken the time to relax a bit and live life in Nashville while being in the process of discovering what’s next for me. I’m just trying to take in as much as I can, and hopefully use the experiences and lessons I’m learning here in my future music and my songs. Because I’m always writing, I’ll hopefully have some cool projects come up soon,” said Zhu. 

This year, Holly Barnes, Instructor of Music and Director of Performace, is inviting Zhu back to Andover to perform at Coffee House, an event for Barnes’ students in MUS 480 (Songwriting Workshop) to perform their music. Barnes hopes that Zhu can inspire her current students who are hoping to pursue careers in music.

“It’s kind of cool to have an alum come back, especially one that’s doing it either at a degree or professionally in some way. A lot of [Zhu’s] songs are sort of story songs… there’s something about the text and the authentic way that she sings it. It’s very connected to her emotions. That, I think, is appealing to anybody, particularly this age group, but really anybody. Whether you like country music or not, you can’t deny a great performance,” said Barnes.

As a  former member of Barnes’ songwriting class, Zhu is excited to see what current students have written and hopes that they feel supported while performing. Since missing out on Coffee House last year, Zhu is most looking forward to playing in-person at Andover again.

“I’m so honored that they want me back. Ms. Barnes is an incredible instructor at PA, but she’s also just been an incredible mentor for me throughout my experience at Andover, and she’s always been so supportive of my music. I’m happy to experience the in-person Coffee House again,” said Zhu.