Blind piano teacher to perform at Trinity Methodist

By Kirk Boxleitner
Posted 4/17/24



Trinity Methodist Church in Port Townsend gained a musical artist for its 6-8 p.m. concert on Thursday, April 18, when Christine Schoper‘s piano teacher agreed to travel …

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Blind piano teacher to perform at Trinity Methodist




Trinity Methodist Church in Port Townsend gained a musical artist for its 6-8 p.m. concert on Thursday, April 18, when Christine Schoper‘s piano teacher agreed to travel to Washington state from Vermont where he lives and works.

That might seem like a significant trek, but it actually constitutes one of the shorter trips taken by 26-year-old Tony Lu, who was born in Wuhan, China, then moved to the U.S. when he was 16 years old, earning his high school degree in St. Louis, before heading as far back west, within the U.S., as Bend, Oregon, from 2021 to 2022, and Petersburg, Alaska, in February of this year.

Lu’s willingness to go so far afield to play the piano perhaps owes something to how much of his life he “plays by ear” — literally, since Lu was born blind, so the only way he could learn to play the piano was by listening to songs.

Schoper attends Lu’s piano camps each year in Bennington, Vermont, where he earned his bachelors’ degrees in music, math and history simultaneously, with the same facility for multitasking that he demonstrated when he began teaching the piano to younger students during his own senior year of high school.

“When you study multiple disciplines at the same time, it helps broaden your worldview,” Lu told The Leader. “For me, teaching people the piano is not just about them learning to play a musical instrument. You’re empowering people to think for themselves, to improvise and develop their own interpretations of musical compositions.”

Lu’s encouraging attitude toward student experimentation is among the reasons why Schoper described him as “a kind and sensitive teacher,” whose “adventurous spirit and welcoming personality” make him “inspiring,” even when he delivers scholarly lectures at the Sonata and Summer Sonatina Piano Camp that he started when he was still an undergraduate at Bennington College.

It’s also why he hasn’t returned to China since he visited his family there in 2019, in between college and graduate school, when he taught free classes for children and teenagers in his former home country, and his fellow piano teachers lodged complaints about his more freeform teaching style to the Chinese government.

When Lu went to catch a flight from Shanghai to the U.S., he was stopped by immigration officers, who told him he’d been blacklisted for supposedly spreading “Western ideology” through his teaching, so Lu’s family took him by slow train to Hong Kong, where he bought a plane ticket back to the States.

On a more mundane note, Lu has also taught semester-long courses in college at Bennington, and graduate school at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee, where he earned his master’s degree in piano performance, as well as online.

Although COVID stranded Lu in Bend from September of 2021 through May of 2022, it also afforded him the time to work on his transcriptions of compositions that were originally written for bands or orchestras, and adapt them so that a solo pianist could play them.

Lu pointed out that, while modern performers of classical compositions often adhere strictly to their sheet music (which he never had the eyesight to read), the original composers themselves tended to play their own music differently each time.

With this less-formal spirit in mind, Lu hopes the attendees of his April 18 concert at the Trinity Methodist Church will feel free to relax as they listen to the evening’s music, while Schoper would welcome donations to the church for admission.