Hailing from Monterey Park, California, Steven Liu is a freelance bassist from the University of California, Irvine where he received a Bachelor Degree in music performance on double bass and a Masters in Fine Arts in Jazz from the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, where he studied under David Young, Doug Bayse, Darek Oles, and Kei Akagi. While maintaining a busy schedule between numerous small orchestras and operas throughout Southern California, regular jazz performances, recording sessions, and contracting private events, he simultaneously became heavily involved with the education departments at several orchestras. From 2006-2010, Steven worked with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Education Department as a Teaching Artist and became involved with the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles at the Exposition Center as a substitute bass instructor. From 2009-2010, he workined as a Fidelity Futurestage Coordinator, by which he assisted teaching artist faculty with assignments in partner schools, facilitated meetings between classroom teachers and teaching artists, and coordinated performances for the school ensembles. Between 2007 and 2009, he was also an Artist in Residence for the Pasadena Symphony and co-taught a course called, “The Science of Sound,” which sought to integrate music with other educational disciplines by making instruments out of everyday objects. In 2006, Steven was also the Pacific Symphony’s Mentorship Program Coordinator, by which he sought to create a bridge between aspiring musicians and professionals via lessons, side-by-side performances, concert attendance, etc. As an instructor, Steven has had the opportunity to work with youth from ages 4-21, as an adjunct professor of bass at Irvine Valley College (2009-2010), Bass Instructor for Wildwood Music Camp (a short summer camp which serves underprivileged children from Greater Los Angeles) (2005-2010), conductor and chamber music coach for the Four Seasons Youth Orchestra (2004-2006), music substitute in Irvine Unified School District and Capistrano Valley School District, and as a private instructor.
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A Talk with Steven Liu
1. Why did you apply to the Abreu Fellows Program?
Throughout my experiences as a musician and community activist, I have found there tends to be a minimal level of cross-over between music programs and community empowerment organizations. The Abreu Fellows program and the El Sistema model are providing an amazing opportunity to use music as the vehicle to create stronger and unified communities by working with the children who have the least access, and I want to be a part of this movement.
2. What tools do will you develop during this fellowship and how do you think these tools will be useful in your future post?
Although I have done a significant amount of arts education work and community service, I have had a limited number of opportunities to develop administrative skills for an arts program. I am hoping that the Abreu Fellowship will provide me greater insight as to what type of logistics, networking, conflict-resolution, and community outreach efforts will be critical for creating a long-term sustainable El Sistema inspired program.
3. Where do you see yourself in five years? What will you be doing and why?
In five years, I would like to be continuing my personal development and work as a musician, while simultaneously working with an El Sistema inspired program as a director, program manager, and/or a teaching artist.
4. Why do you think that music education is important to a child’s development?
There are so many intangible lifelong skills that all of the arts have to offer our children, which include (but are not limited to) discipline, expression, the pursuit of something that will NEVER be perfect, and being an integral part of a larger community. These are skills that transcend disciplines, careers, and socio-economic status; these are skills we all require to live in any society. Neglecting to develop these skills for our children would be an absolute shame for future generations.
5. Write a short analysis of the present state of music education for children in the US. What has been done right and where do you see room for improvement?
Due to the fact that state budget allocations are driven by school test results, the priority of funding can frequently be turned away from the arts and towards easily quantifiable disciplines, i.e., math, reading, and writing. As a result, many of the programs that exist regularly face the reality of being cut unless private funding can come in. However, private funding isn’t available in the lowest income areas, and as a result many of these students will very likely not have an opportunity to explore the arts. I believe we could improve the way the arts are implementing these testing standards, and how we value the arts within our community in order to allocate these budgets more appropriately.
6. How did you learn about El Sistema?
I first learned about El Sistema through the teaching artist work I have been doing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
7. Why do you think El Sistema is unique? What elements made the El Sistema program successful where others were not?
What makes El Sistema unique is that it emphasizes community development and empowerment using complex orchestral music as a vehicle. If an El Sistema inspired program can successfully engage the community and have the underlying ideals embraced by active and passive participants, then the community will inherently value the program.
8. Have you worked with or mentored children in the past?
Yes, and yes. I have been fortunate enough to work with children between the ages of 2 through 21 on multiple levels including: Teaching Artist work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at secondary schools, Teaching Artist for the “Science of Sound” through the Pasadena Symphony, adjunct professor of bass at Irvine Valley College, bass sectional coach at several high schools, Wildwood music festival (attendees between ages of 8 and 18), a guest speaker for elementary/middle/high school and universities, a private instructor, and with my three beautiful nieces (ages 2-4) who are all expressing interest in music, singing, and playing instruments with me. Regarding mentoring, I was actively involved as an officer and member of several student organizations that targeted disadvantaged communities. Several of these organizations had mentorship programs where the mentors would be paired with high school students, in order to encourage them to pursue higher education. I was also involved with a university tour-guide group called Campus Representatives, which featured an internal mentor/mentee support network to help the newest members during their training.