An interview with flute player Annie Wu

The Mondavi Center graciously invited me to watch their dress rehearsal for their show, NPR’s “From the Top“, which is an NPR

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radio show hosted by Christopher O’Riley that features young musicians. In addition, I got to interview one of the performers, a rising young star flute player Annie Wu, who is as adorable in person as she is in the video. Widely known as the “beatbox flute player”, I saw this viral video way before I knew she was coming to the Mondavi Center. She is also more prestigiously known as the 2011 high school soloist winner of the National Flute Association. My conversation with her really reminded me of my old high school flute days, and it was definitely a trip back to memory lane for me. Below is a brief interview we conducted prior to her dress rehearsal (edited slightly for content.)

When did you start playing the flute?

I started when I was 8, and I’m 16 now, so I’ve been playing flute for eight years now. I started playing piano when I was five, and I really liked it. But my older sister picked another instrument to play when she was 9 – she picked cello. And I wanted to pick a new instrument too, and I wanted to pick something different from my sister. I had a picture dictionary with an instrument page, I ended up picking the flute from the dictionary randomly. And I’m glad I did!

Tell me about the Three Beats for the Beatbox Flute video.

The piece was the commissioned piece for the National Flute Association competition. When I got it in the mail, I was really surprised. Greg Pattillo [the composer] had been there

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at the NFA the year before, and I saw him perform there. The program was really good and really funny, for instance he performed the Peter and the Wolf with beatboxing and stuff. It was really interesting. I never thought about doing beatboxing for myself, but when I got the music for the commissioned piece for NFA, he sent us videos of him playing the piece. So there were no instructions, but he just played it, and that was our instruction, to watch him play it. When I first saw the video, it was really intimidating because when you don’t have the music in front of you and you’ve never done anything like that before – I was pretty scared. Working on it was pretty crazy because you have to learn everything by yourself, and I only had two months. But it was a great experience in the end because it’s such a different aspect of music, and I think that’s the whole point of the commissioned piece.

How did you learn to beatbox?

I learned from youtube videos and just trying it myself. At first, it was really discouraging because if you don’t get it at first, you feel like you don’t have enough time. What I did was basically search a bunch of youtube videos and looked at tutorials online. As a flute player, I’m comfortable with anything classical, but this was definitely a new experience for me. Usually I listen to classical music, but in preparing for this piece, I tried to

listen to more music with heavier beats.

Whose idea was the costume?

Before the NFA competition, I wanted to have a recital for my family and community to prepare, so I can play through the whole program and get a feel for it. I held my own recital at a church near my house, and I played through the whole NFA program. I wanted to do something neat for the Three Beats piece, and my friends were there, and I wanted to break the ice a little bit. It’s not something that you’re expecting after Dutilleux! And so I just came out with sunglasses and a hat and just had fun with it.

Are you surprised by the attention that this video has gotten?

Yes! It’s been amazing, and I think it’s cool how people focus on the beatbox aspect of the piece. And now I’m

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really glad that it’s a piece that I’ll always have in my repertoire. The beatbox video has also brought back a lot of opportunities for performing – I got to play in Las Vegas, for instance.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I’m a junior in high school, and I’m still thinking about it. It’s a hard question to answer, but so far, I really do want to do music. But at this point I’m not sure if I want to solely do music at a conservatory or a dual program or something at a university. I’m trying to keep all my options open, but at this point, I really want to do music.

Who are the flute players you admire?

First, it’s my teacher Isabelle Chapuis who’s been my biggest inspiration for the past two years that I’ve been with her. I also really like Tim Day with the San Francisco Symphony; since I’m in the youth orchestra, we get to watch a lot of the SF Symphony concerts. And I also like Robert Stallman, and Emmanuel Pahud. This summer, we went on tour with my orchestra and we played in Berlin, and I got to sit in his seat! That was really exciting.

Are you excited about performing in NPR’s “From The Top”?

Yes, I’m very excited! It’s really exciting to meet the other performers and to work with Christopher O’Riley. I listen to the show  and we’ll listen to it when we’re in the car. I’m playing Copeland, and then I’m ending with a part of the Three Beats piece.

Many thanks for the Mondavi Center and for Annie Wu for this interview. Best of luck to you, Annie! We’ll be watching out for you.

NPR’s “From the Top” will be taped live tomorrow night on October 25 at the Mondavi Center, and will air on NPR sometime in the near future.

Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts

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