Leah Zhao: Bringing Violin Across the Globe


Vincent Bellissimo

Leah Zhao practices her violin to prepare for her upcoming concert.

By Abigail Davis, Staff Writer

Being born and raised and China and immigrating as a teenager is a huge transition for many students at West, however it was not an obstacle senior Leah Zhao couldn’t overcome. Taking her passion for playing violin across the world, Zhao has an advantage when it comes to her talent.

Although the major culture switch was difficult at first, Zhao now sees how she fits into society.

“Moving from the country where you have lived for many years to an unfamiliar environment felt uncomfortable. I came with my mom; the rest of my family is still in my own country. Due to the need to study, I seldom have the chance to go back,” Zhao said. “Different cultures and different languages mean that I need to spend a lot of time learning and trying to integrate into this society.”

Zhao compensated for her unfamiliarity with America by using her instrument to help guide her through an incredible life transition.

“When I was a freshman, I will never forget how flustered and nervous I was sitting in the classroom during the first couple months,” Zhao said.  “Although language was an obstacle, it didn’t stop me from learning and playing music. Instead, it was a great opportunity for me to have a brand new experience at something that I pursued in all my life – the violin.”

Since she was a child, violin has been an enormous part of Zhao’s life, and she has become accustomed to multiple hours of rehearsal daily.

“I started to learn the violin while I was five. Under my teacher’s tutoring and my mom’s strict supervision, I won a couple competitions before I turned 10. My favorite part about playing violin is enjoying the moment when I eventually stand on the stage in front of everyone after hours of practice. I don’t like practice, but it’s kind of become an inseparable part of my life,” Zhao said.

Close friend, fellow violinist, and sophomore Irena Petryk sees Zhao as more than just a stand-out musician.

“Watching her practice and perform makes me want to be a better musician. She’s always pushing me to be the best I can be,” Petryk said. “My favorite thing about Leah is her sense of humor. People who don’t know her think she’s quiet, but she’s actually very funny and very mischievous.”

Orchestra teacher Dajuan Brooks is impressed by all of Zhao’s outstanding accomplishments.

“Leah learns her music at the best level that she possibly can and always is willing to model for our students. She is an amazing player who is funny and hard working. Her skills are very strong, and she helps others when they need it. Leah is a fantastic concert master, and I am so proud of her in every single way,” Brooks said. “She plays for the Chicago Youth Symphony, she is in a student run string quartet, she has made All-State Orchestra in Illinois for multiple years and continues to play in solo recitals and other amazing musical opportunities.”

Violin is a part of who Zhao is, and she plans on carrying it with her for as long as she can.

“Many young adults don’t have a passion to provide a direction for their life,” Zhao said. “Not so for me. I was given the passion by an unrecognized gift 15 years ago – my first violin. So my mind and passion are clear; I wish to pursue studies in performance music in college and hope it will be my career in the future.”