Column

Humans of Saint Francis: Ashton Liu

by Will Li (’23) and Kasper Halevy (’24) | March 21, 2022

Photography by Matthew Tran (’23)

Strolling into the Commons, one can never miss the energetic student sporting tinted aviator glasses, playing an assortment of melodies from Baroque sonatas to the Minecraft soundtrack on the piano. 

Dubbed “The Piano God,” Ashton Liu (’22) began his musical journey at age four. “My mom taught me a lot of the basics, like reading and memorizing notes,” he recalled. At age seven, he began studying at Almaden Music School and later transferred to the Pacific Music Academy, both based in San Jose. 

“At Pacific Music Academy, they do rigorous training and all these exercises to build your technique. You also build your emotion, a main part of playing piano,” he explained. Liu transitioned to private lessons in middle school, but pandemic-induced online lessons were “horrible,” he said. The teachers “couldn’t really see my hand movements, and they would vaguely listen through the Zoom microphone.” 

As a result, he decided to “hold off” on structured lessons: “I might sign up for a piano minor in college, but right now, I pretty much play for myself, just learning whatever.” 

His favorite piece is Chopin’s “Fantaisie-Impromptu,” which consists of an extremely rapid melody coupled with a similarly quick accompaniment of an entirely different rhythm. “I’m a very big fan of Romantic [music], and a very big fan of Chopin,” he explained. 

Having played the piano for fourteen years, Liu prides himself on his host of achievements. He has passed the eleventh and final stage of the California Certificate of Merit exams, providing him with certification to mentor others. He has also won six awards in the US Open Music Competition, which includes divisions where pianists can showcase a song of their choice or even learn a song in a short timeframe.

Liu will also showcase his musical ability by playing the keyboard in the upcoming Saint Francis production of Mamma Mia. “Previous piano experiences [have been] very stressful [with] getting your piece down to each exact note. You also have to memorize each piece. But Mamma Mia is the opposite,” he explained. “You can actually look at your music, and you get to accompany others.”

Aside from piano, Liu is also a board member of the 3D Printing Club, Audio/Visual Club, Programming Club, and Lancer Robotics. “I’ve always had a passion to 3D model and 3D print,” he noted. Although printing at school came to a stop during the pandemic, Liu was able to reinvigorate the craft during his senior year, creating fidget toys, a wearable gauntlet exoskeleton, the “Pythonic Staff of Enlightenment” (consisting of a staff with a Python logo on top), hearts with internal revolving gears for Valentine’s Day, and an “Infinity Cube” which can be turned forever. 

One of his favorite experiences at St. Francis was running down the track as the flag-bearer for the robotics team at the Back-to-School rally on September 24. “We created a T-shirt cannon and fired T-shirts at random areas [in the bleachers] for the [students] to catch. My job was to reload, so I got to run with the robot. It was a special occasion,” he explained. He is also the team’s driver for the upcoming international First Robotics Competition.

But throughout his four years, playing piano for others has been his greatest pleasure. “I like to really just entertain,” he said. ”I like giving to people, and I like to give enjoyment as well.” 

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