Henry Z Liao
Status: Member
Member Since: September 3, 2004
Last Visit:November 27, 2009

Henry Z Liao

Albert Einstein once said, "If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music... I get most joy in life out of music." For thirteen years of my life, I dedicated my mental and emotional passion to music, but only five years ago did I begin to investigate Einstein's parallel thinking, transforming passion into ambition. From this investigation I obtained a glimpse of what I thought would be my path towards true happiness. With eight to nine hours of practice and listening each day, I began to learn violin pieces I once thought were out of my reach. I could not believe how much I was absorbing in relatively such little time. For the first time I understood the exhilaration Heifetz, Midori, Milstein, Perlman, Shaham, Stern, and Vengerov felt in the practice room, and I found myself going into the practice room quite often, sometimes too often. Music was almost like an escape from this world, a living fantasy.
Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy takes 28 minutes to perform; Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy lasts only 11; my musical fantasy could not trap me forever. Every piece comes with a bit of history and autobiography; eventually I was drawn towards a deeper interest in ideas and concepts in other disciplines, beginning with those in literature and philosophy, and eventually to domestic and international affairs. Ralph Waldo Emerson and T.S. Eliot, two poets with quite contrasting dispositions towards human significance, combined with inspiration from Prof. Richard Rorty pointed me towards a life-changing thought – that I had trapped myself in music. While my initial romantic engagement with music arose from my embrace with the value of human life, I realized that my initial love for music had developed into a form of self-infatuation. Perhaps it was also Fate who led me to these thoughts last fall, when my heart was stolen from me in the form of a musical composition. I sought for solace in another pervasive language, that of science, but it did not contain the kind of warmth I had been so familiar with for years… Not until I gave myself more time to search for inspiration, love, and a new life.

Two of my greatest heroes are healers. Both were tested for their commitment to the Hippocratic Oath during times of intense social upheaval. In 1956, Dr. Robert Fisch, later my pediatrician and dear friend, risked his own safety to treat Hungarian students and Russians alike who were injured in the chaos of the Hungarian Revolution. Up to today, he has worked to help many children with PKU by helping develop a special diet for the condition. In 1989, my father, then a medical resident at Peking University, risked interrogation and detainment by the Chinese government to help students injured during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. I had known little or nothing about both their experiences until after I had entered college when I sought to learn more deeply about their lifelong hopes and ambitions as well as my own. I understood that I wanted to be a healer, of humanity’s physical and social wounds alike. I have completed my undergraduate career in Human Biology and International Relations at Stanford University and am currently finishing a medical apparatus patent.

Sometimes in the practice room we forget about the importance of the real world. I conclude this section with a note form President John Adams:

“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain."

My advice to fellow musicians: Think outside the Bachs!

Why did you pick up the violin?
I picked up the violin when I was around 8 years old. I had loved music very much up until then, mainly through voice/singing, but I wanted to try something new. In fact, the guitar fascinated me a lot more at first, but my parents wanted me to start out with something more "classical" and so I got a rental violin, which I thought was awesome anyhow since I could pluck it like the guitar. I soon became disappointed, however, since I learned it wasn't nearly the same instrument as the guitar AND my first teacher didn't allow me to play on it -- he required that for the first weeks of "practice" that I learn how to hold it properly before even touching the bow or the strings...

What were/are in the influences that made you who you are musically?
I developed my true love for music after I attending a
concert honoring my family physician, Dr. Robert O. Fisch. This was the first time I listened to Themes from Schindler's List, and hearing the pieces accompany the visual art slides depicting Dr. Fisch's life story (www.yellowstarfoundation.org) touched a part of me I never knew was there. This was the first time I cried to a piece of music and discovered a whole new dimension to something I took for granted. Coincidentally, during my spring high school orchestra tour to Europe, we visited one of the concentration camps which he had survived. I spoke with Dr. Fisch (who played violin in his youth) before I left for college and one of the things he shared with me was his mother's advice regarding music: "once music is in [your mind and your heart] you will treasure it forever." Among all occupations, he finds musical composition to be the most admirable. We are still good friends and stay in touch. He lives in the heart of Mpls, right next to Orchestra Hall...
I have fallen in love with music since then, and music has helped me further understand the beauty inherent in humanity, the arts, and life itself.

What were your expriences growing up, both musically and otherwise?
Quite a handful.
Musically, in general:
I loved to sing when I was young (still do), and do what I can to transcribe the things I can do with voice to violin (AND vice-versa).
I remember 4th grade vividly because of the culmination of exciting and amazing events/activities during that year+, including the first time I watched West Side Story (the movie) in class and the first time my schoolteacher played LOTs of classical in the background while we were reading (Vivaldi). I joined choir in 9th grade, shaved my head as Daddy Warbucks for "Annie", interned for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra last summer when Joshua Bell was over (you should see the awkward staff videos I was working with Chuck Ullery on Laughing)...
I love all kinds of music outside of classical, from the old school swingers to country, rock, pop, and hip hop. Have you seen the youtube clip of Sammy Davis Jr. imitating Michael Jackson? Or simply the Elvis Presley debut on Milton Berle's show? Some must-sees for everyone.

Studied with about 5 teachers on/off in New York, New York. Studied with two more in Minnesota until sophomore year in high school. State/regional competition awards, MN All State Orchestra 2 years, first as 2nd violin and then 1st violin (3rd chair, after cramming in practice at the last minute Laughing). Got a chance to play with the MN Orch under Osmo Vanska. Most recently toured Australia and New Zealand with the Stanford Symphony Orchestra.
After I stopped taking lessons and subsequently "fell in love with music," I decided to study independently. Right after the Mozart 5 and Praeludium and Allegro, I picked up the Paganini 24 Caprice and practiced it insanely for 8hrs/day for the summer. Having learned that helped me pick up pieces I had only dreamed of touching... and not too long after that I found violinmasterclass.com.
My younger brother has "inherited" the full size violin I have been playing on for years and I'm currently adjusting myself to a $200 violin (case+bow included) I got last year. I am trying to introduce him to some unorthodox methods of study, since neither of us plan to go "pro" through the traditional route anyways (he wants to play basketball). Hopefully he'll learn the Bazzini before he hits 14.

I would have to say that my first teacher was my best teacher, despite the fact that I disliked the strict lessons when I took them with him. I honestly believe he would have been recognized among the greats (he is THAT good) had it not been for personal/financial troubles involving immigration and citizenship in the US.
Only recently did I find him again (check past threads Wink) and learn he studied with Nathan Milstein (and it was not THAT long ago that I first learned who Milstein was). Perhaps that is why he tolerated my initial lack of discipline (Milstein once said, "mother organized violin lessons for me in order to prevent me from thrashing the children of our neighbors")?

Streets of New York. Bronx, Riverdale, Douglaston. Sound familiar to anyone? Public schools in NY. Awesome.
Middle school and High school in MN. Played traveling basketball as a center. I was TALL relative to my class then... a couple of years later, the guy whom I easily guarded during scrimmage gained like a whole foot and towered over everyone. I can still dunk :-)
I used to talk with a NY accent, as my peers in MN noted.
Now people in California think I have a Midwestern accent.
I will be entering my junior year at Stanford University as a Public Policy Major, Human Biology Minor/(or double major if I coterm in International Policy Studies for a Master's). I'm looking at Law School... Did you know my decision between practicing the Paganini B minor and the Tchaikovsky D major for competition coincided with my decision between law and medicine? B minor = barrister, D major = doctor. I choose the former. Strange eh?

The friends I've made over the years have had an invaluable influence on my life. Some of them I've been able to find after years of disconnect (thank you facebook.com... JOIN UP).
Oddly enough, a girl I knew from K-1st grade before I moved to a different neighborhood in the Bronx I met just last year at college IN MY CLASS! I recognized her/remembered her too, because she was pretty much the genius in our class in elementary.

You can find great inspiration almost anywhere. I have volunteered at a Veterans Affairs center for some time now and the stories our vets have to share are simply amazing. I got a chance to work for Children's Heartlink (www.childrensheartlink.org) last summer (based in Edina, MN) and the letters you read from children are filled with a love that one wishes were more prevalent in the world today. In both places I was able to discuss with others some of the simplest yet most deep and meaningful things in life.
Strange yet awesome things happen, you just have to notice them.

Who were the teachers/mentors that influenced you?
Music: Zhong Jay (above). Kathleen Casey for introducing me to Kreisler and phrasings in the music. DeVonna Murrin and Julia Bartsch in high school orchestra.
I loved all of my teachers in school and hope I get to see them again someday. Steven Bloom in 4th grade (I think he won teacher of the year two years ago...he used to throw a tennis ball really high up during recess and if anyone in our class caught it coming down, we'd have no homework for that day LOL), Shari Spiegler in 5th, Elizbeth "Betsy" Cussler in 12th who made me fall in love with literature, Heung Taek "Ben" Hur who taught me physical and mental discipline and several Taekwondo terms in Korean, I have so many people from my childhood and teen years I want to thank and I leave that for me to do person.
More recently, Prof. Richard Rorty for giving me a whole new perspective (the Romantic one) of life and "reality," Prof./Sec. William Perry for sharing his knowledge, experiences, happiness, values, and simply those wacky Powerpoint Slides and Medieval times/Civil War clips, and Prof. John Cogan for telling me the stories behind the statistics and letting me work with him this summer.

I can't get the West Side Story lyrics out of my head... perhaps after I finish writing the contemporary version, "West Bank Story."


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2006: Jul.