Humans of Harker: Finding the right melody

Brendan Wong (12) devotes himself to music and his friends


Sara Yen

“Jazz is all about improvising mainly, and when you improvise, it’s your voice and your melodies and your notes that you play. If I’m in a certain mood or if I’m feeling a certain sort of way, I would play catered to that. I play my style catered to that tone,” Brendan Wong (12) said.

Jazz — syncopated rhythms complementing and overlapping over each other; a blend of timbres, from brassy trumpets and saxophones to the striking piano; the soul-driven improvisation and air of creativity and artistry. This bluesy genre was what attracted Brendan Wong (12) to pick up the saxophone in fourth grade. 

As part of both Harker Jazz Band since sixth grade and Jazz Factor, a student-run band, since over two years ago, and having served as a teaching assistant to music teacher Louis Hoffman at the lower school, Brendan has dedicated himself to jazz. He enjoys expressing himself through the spontaneous nature of the genre.

“Jazz is all about improvising mainly, and when you improvise, it’s your voice and your melodies and your notes that you play,” Brendan said. “If I’m in a certain mood or if I’m feeling a certain sort of way, I would play catered to that. I play my style catered to that tone.”

Brendan’s brother, Markus Wong (‘18), emphasized the role of music as an outlet for Brendan, underscoring the intensity and sensations felt when he plays.

“If you try and get personal with him, he wouldn’t want to open up to you, but, my god, when he’s playing music, you just feel the emotions that he’s putting into that song,” Markus said. “My mom was describing to me how beautiful and how nuanced and how wonderful his performance was with [one of] his song[s]. I was like, ‘Wow, I need to hear what he can do.’ I started making a habit of recording what he played.”

Besides only playing music, Brendan produces his own beats, which he started in junior year. Studying jazz has influenced his style of music.

“Playing jazz has helped me learn the roots of pop music and hip hop music and basically understanding the roots of [music],” he said. “I can use the melodies that I learned in jazz and incorporate it into my beat production.”

Listening to the radio every day had inspired Brendan to try something new and make his own music.

“As a guy who takes on challenges, I would be like, ‘I could probably make that beat’ or ‘I could probably do the same thing that sax player’s doing if I put in some time,’” he said. “I think I have the ability to mimic what I hear on the radio, or do the same things that they do, except in my voice. I’ve always felt I’ve had the ability to be a pro.”

Creating music has not always been easy for Brendan. Before his music would be well-received by his peers and family, among others, Brendan had to put in the effort to learn techniques from tutorials and guides.

“When you first start out, it’s really hard because you want to play something, you want to hear a sound, but you don’t know how to do it,” he said. “[After gaining experience,] eventually you get to a level where you can do anything you want musically.”

Markus emphasized the devotion and time Brendan commits to playing and creating music. 

“When I was coming back to visit over the weekend, we were just chilling for three hours, and he was showing me the beats that he made,” Markus said. “He’ll just be in his room, and he’ll just be working on his beats or just playing the saxophone — he’ll be on that for hours. He’s super dedicated to it.”

In the future, Brendan plans to major in music and take up a career in music if possible. 

“I love playing the sax so much that I would just probably just keep playing even [if] I don’t do it professionally,” he said. “I’d still continue to play, I’d still continue to make music. It’s something that I can use [as] an outlet, like free time basically, while being productive.”

Brendan hopes to be remembered for his musical talent and leadership and is proud to be a mentor for the other saxophone players in Jazz Band and Jazz Factor. 

“In the past, I used to be more reserved and didn’t put as much input [into what I do],” he said. “But now as a senior, I realized that it’s really important for you to be out there and to be a leader.”

Brendan’s love and pursuit of music influences the people around him. His friend Max Lee (12) described the impact of Brendan’s proactive, driven attitude firsthand. 

“Brendan likes certain things, [and] he likes them a lot. He’s going to do them and he’s going to get us to do them as well,” Max said. “When you’re around Brendan, you feel his fire. For me specifically, we go jam out, we go make songs.”

Kevin Chen (12), a friend since kindergarten, described the way that Brendan’s sincere attitude to his friends revealed his devotion to those close to him. 

“[Brendan stands out because] he’ll be completely honest with you,” Kevin said. “If I look bad, he’ll tell me the truth. He’s very straightforward with you, and he doesn’t hold anything back. He’s just really loyal.”

In addition to his dedication to music, Brendan is committed to his friends and classmates and appreciates his relationships with the people around him. 

“I think people should care more about friendship and relations with other people. At the end of the day, basically we only have each other in our community,” Brendan said. “Having a really close group of friends since kindergarten, I value friendship a lot more than maybe some other people who are new or switch friends a lot. In general, being loyal to a group of friends will help you, and they’ll be super supportive of you along the way and throughout your whole life.”