Humans of Harker: From Beethoven to BTS

Audrey Liu broadens her horizons through music

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Nilisha Baid

“I hope people will be a lot more accepting of any genre of music. As the Eastern [and] Western worlds overlap with each other, it’s inevitable that their cultural exports will also intermingle. It’s up to us to accept that these genres of music do in fact exist and are in fact valid. It’s really nice for me, as an East Asian person, to see other East Asian people become more represented in the media,” Audrey Liu (12) said.

A single note rings out from the keyboard. As her fingers fly across the keys, Audrey Liu (12) builds the melody in a crescendo, expressing her emotions through her music, and the sound fills her backyard.

After beginning to play piano at 5 years old, Audrey has turned to music as a method of self-expression, despite a lack of interest when she first started. Eventually, she began to compose and arrange music, and in doing so, she deepened her understanding of and appreciation toward music theory.

“When I started performing more, I saw how my audience reacted to my music and I started to enjoy being on stage. The thrill of being on stage is what makes being a performer such a touching experience, and from that point on, I became a lot more interested in music,” she said. “I found it to be so interesting to learn about what explains why certain songs sound a certain way.”

When composing, Audrey aims to convey the idea that “you have to know the rules before you break them,” drawing inspiration from Beethoven’s work, which challenged the traditionally strict expectations of the classical period. Meilin Yen (12), Audrey’s friend and classmate in AP Music Theory, noted Audrey’s growth in arranging music.

“She definitely took some influence from what we learned in that class and put it into her arrangements, whether they be a joke arrangement she made with me and one other friend or a serious arrangement,” Meilin said. “She always puts a lot of herself into what she does.”

Audrey also views music as a way of connecting with others, and upper school vocal music teacher Susan Nace, who has worked with Audrey since freshman year in the Certificate program and Cantilena, emphasized how she conveys her sense of humor through music.

“Audrey has a wonderful sense of humor, and she loves to tease people in a very gentle way,” Nace said. “She does it musically a lot; for example, she would come into class almost every day and play some little snippets from Mario Brothers games just to have fun.”

After she began playing piano as a volunteer at a senior center in ninth grade, Audrey became interested in the potential applications of music as a treatment for Alzheimer’s and similar conditions after seeing how her audience reacted to her playing.

“Because they had Alzheimer’s, there [were] a lot of things they couldn’t do on their own, but as they listened to my music, their reaction was almost magical. Some of them were singing along to it and other people were moving their bodies to it,” Audrey said. “It was a really touching experience for me, and then I wanted to find out, ‘Is there a connection between music and their neurological conditions?’”

In the future, she hopes to continue studying the intersection of these two fields in order to address growing problems in society.

“By combining neuroscience and music and possibly other scientific disciplines, we can use music as something that’s beyond just an artistic expression. We can blend it with technology to make an innovative entity,” Audrey said. “When I get to college and beyond that, I hope to bridge the gap between my knowledge of these two and hopefully, when I compose and play stuff, pay attention to how that affects people from different listening backgrounds.”

Austin Killam (12), Audrey’s friend since sixth grade, described her deep curiosity and “quiet strength.”

“That’s something incredibly admirable in the sense of taking these two core passions and finding a way to combine them and potentially make something useful out of it. It’s done out of genuine curiosity and a genuine love for not only the subject, but for advancement,” Austin said. “People look up to her given obviously her work ethic, but also her music abilities [and] her willingness to pursue knowledge.”

Overall, Audrey sees music as a way of addressing larger social issues, based on her experiences with both Eastern and Western culture. As an avid K-pop fan, she aims to explore the social commentary behind the music, noting how listening to the genre has made her more culturally aware.

“I hope people will be a lot more accepting of any genre of music. As the Eastern [and] Western worlds overlap with each other, it’s inevitable that their cultural exports will also intermingle. It’s up to us to accept that these genres of music do in fact exist and are in fact valid,” Audrey said. “It’s really nice for me, as an East Asian person, to see other East Asian people become more represented in the media.”

As she looks to the future, Audrey aims to embrace this mindset in all aspects of her life, especially through connecting with her Chinese heritage.

“It’s important for me to become a citizen of the world. To thrive in any profession, you have to force yourself to adopt an open perspective to different cultural exports,” she said. “That’s why, when I listen to music, I don’t really care what language it’s in. A lot of people are like, ‘Why do you listen to music if you don’t understand it?’ I don’t think that’s a valid argument. [If] you all listen to Despacito, why should it be any different for BTS?”