The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

Violinist virtuoso plays with passion

Behind the thick gray drapes of the low-ceilinged room, students from Music Instructor Jim Mooy’s class hang black and silver orbs from long-necked stands.

“Four mics on the violinist, and she still has to be able to bow,” Mooy says, watching from a distance.

Several tall boys tweak the microphones, setting up for a session for Music 120B, their Sound Recording and Electronic Music class.

Rei Luu slips in during the set up, wearing a white tank top and jeans.

Story continues below advertisement

She carries her violin to a corner and spreads out sheet music. She jokes with Mooy about how he should offer a page-turning class. Then her dark hair falls forward as she leans in, fingering the notes.

Finally, the recording equipment is ready. Mooy calls for silence.

Luu steps underneath the wreath of microphones and brings her chestnut violin to her chin.

Suddenly her fingers are flying through Kabalevsky’s Concerto in C Major, Opus 48. It’s a lively piece with a quick waltz-like tempo and a bright sound.

She sparks through the opening, plucks lightening eight notes, and slides through solemn slurs.

When she finishes, one of the students forgets he is in a recording and bursts into applause. Mooy smacks his hand against his forehead in frustration.

Although she shies away from it, this kind of praise follows Luu wherever she goes. A standout music student and star violinist in the SBCC Symphony, the 18-year-old City College student has stood apart from the rest most of her life.

Rei’s Childhood

At age four, most kids won’t even start Kindergarten. But at that age, Luu began playing the violin.

“I always thought it was cool,” she said, standing in a cluttered music office.

Her violin is in the corner, where she can keep an eye on it. Luu ducks her head around the corner to say hello to a friend, then continues.

The Santa Barbara native said she got her first glimpse of a tiny version of a violin at an Oak Park children’s music festival.

Soon, she started taking lessons.

“If you want to play the violin well, you pretty much need a private tutor,” she said.

Luu did quite well-she landed a spot playing with the Children’s Orchestra at age 6. She didn’t stop there.

Luu later played in the Music and Arts Conservatory of Santa Barbara, a local non-profit organization for youth. Mooy said he remembered meeting Luu there before she came to the college.

“She was playing a very technical piece-‘Scenes From a Ballet,'” he said.

The San Marcos High School student then tested out of school. Someone told her about City College’s applied music program.

She didn’t know exactly what it was, but after a rigorous audition, she was accepted.

Rei’s Friends

The program accepts less than half of the students that apply, but those who get in effectively receive thousands of dollars worth of private lessons for the cost of a few units.

“She [was] a shining star in a shining program,” said Don Krueger, laboratory technician for the music department.

For Luu, however, the program meant leaving her violin tutor, Mary Woodruff. She soon decided to do the regular program instead.

Instructors and students alike say they’re glad that Luu stayed.

“She’s always excited,” said her friend Marya Hernandez, who works at the music department office. “Every time she comes around you know you’re going to have fun.”

“She’s one of our best students and we’re very proud of her,” said Nathan Kreitzer, chair of the music department.

When Luu hears these compliments, she tries to change the subject. Talking about herself does not come easily, and she tends to shy away from the limelight.

“She’s so humble,” said Dr. Margaret Hontos, assistant professor of music.

Hernandez and Mooy added that the one thing Luu isn’t shy about is practical jokes.

“She’s got that shy cuteness, but she’s also a prankster,” Mooy said.

Rei’s Schooling

Musically, second-year student Luu is a rarity in the City College department.

“We don’t get a lot of music majors who are violinists,” said Hontos.

“She’s a great [sight] reader, and a great player too.”

“Violin is a beast of an instrument,” Mooy said, explaining the uniqueness of Luu’s talent.

“She’s got technical expertise and a sweet sound.”

Last winter, Luu performed Mozart’s Violin Concerto #4 in D Major. Usually, only advanced soloists can play a concerto, Hontos explained.

At the symphony’s April 30 spring concert, Luu will sit at the front of the second violins as concert master for Rossini’s Overture: The Italian Girl in Algiers, effectively leading the whole section.

During symphony practice, Luu leans in and chats with Irwin Maguire, the violinist in his 80s who sits next to her.

He is, among other things, a former City College band director. She looks quite young next to all her fellow violinists.

Even in the symphony, surrounded by musical talent of all ages, Luu stands apart from the rest.

More to Discover