Kwan Finds Passion, Contentment in Music

Lindsay Wilson, Lifestyle Editor

A boy sits in front of a computer, typing into the search bar fervently. As soon as the “California Band Director’s Association” website pops up on the screen, he frantically clicks on “audition results,” desperate to get to the next page.

When the screen loads, he bends towards the computer and scrolls through the alphabetized names, searching for his own.

He finds it.

A grin covers his face; he throws his hands up in celebration and begins to cheer. Thankful that the suspense has dissipated, ecstatic that his countless hours of rehearsal have paid off, and, most of all, exhilarated that a door of such great opportunity has been opened to him, senior Newton Kwan takes in the moment, relishing the victory.

On Sunday, January 4, Kwan received news that he had not only been selected for the Contra Costa County Honor Band and Contra Costa County Honor Jazz Band, but also the California All State Orchestra.

In addition, Kwan is one of two bassoonists in the All State Orchestra.

Essentially, he is a member of the youth orchestra elite.

As many great students, athletes, and musicians, Kwan had a humble beginning. He began playing the clarinet in 4th grade. The following year he switched to the alto saxophone. He immediately fell in love with the instrument and discovered his passion for music.”If I didn’t have music, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Not even close,” he said.

Kwan is a “double-threat.” He plays two instruments beautifully. Freshman year Kwan took initiative by stepping in as the lone bassoonist for the school band. He had never played the instrument in his life but was willing to take a chance. After hours and hours of practice, Kwan came to find he was a natural, and that he enjoyed it.

Looking back, he feels that playing the bassoon took him in a direction that he might not have gone otherwise. “It has taken me a lot of different places,” he explained.

Since freshman year Kwan has taken jazz band, a “0” period class, in addition to band. But, every day, his musical education continues long after the final bell rings.

On Mondays, Kwan drives to Berkeley for Young People’s Symphony Orchestra (YPSO) and plays first chair bassoon for 3 1/2 hours. On Tuesday, he doubles up, going to Jazz School for 1 1/2 hours to rehearse his alto saxophone and then receives a private music lesson for an hour at home. On Thursdays, he has another lesson.

To top it all off, Kwan practices individually every day for 2 hours.

Kwan remarked that he can’t remember the last time he went a month without playing in some sort of formal setting. On average, he participates in two performances per month, including concerts for YPSO or Jazz Band, musicals, school events, and private gigs. Kwan has also taken to performing at a local non-profit organization that supports jazz called the Soundroom in Berkeley. While there, Kwan and 6 other high school students play songs that they have either written themselves or selected.

Kwan loves what he does.

He feels that the performances are both a culmination of his dedication to music and moments of enchantment. “They are usually very emotion-filled. A lot of hard work goes into them, so it’s a magical experience,” he explained.

Kwan believes music brings him contentment. He attributes this to music’s ability to unite the world through listening to pleasant sounds and harmonies.”I think that it is a different way to express yourself. I believe that music is the universal language.” He especially enjoys the bond that forms between the musician and audience.”It makes me feel good, and it makes the people who listen to it happy,” he explained.

Kwan believes that his passion is a definitive part of his identity. “It brings me joy. It’s definitely a large portion of who I am,” he said.

Band teacher Johnny Johnson praises Kwan’s talent and leadership. “Newton is an amazing student, and he is one of the strongest leaders in the entire program that we have,” he said. “He runs one of the jazz combos, and he’s the first chair alto saxophone player, so he runs the section. He is also the principle bassoon.”

Kwan is also the Band president. As Johnson aptly notes, Kwan has “layer upon layer of leadership.”

According to Johnson, Kwan is a remarkably talented individual, ranking as one of the most skilled musicians in California. “He is the best bassoonist in the county, and he is clearly one of the best in the state,” he said.

Kwan’s musical journey continues with his recent acceptance to the Contra Costa County Honor Band, Contra Cost County Jazz Band, and All State Orchestra. Despite 3 rejections from the band, Kwan didn’t allow himself to be discouraged. “The failures every now and then encourage me to work harder and become better,” he said.

Finding his name on the “California Band Director’s Association” website was a fitting reward for Kwan’s dedication. “I feel like my hard work has paid off. I wanted that for 3 years.”

“I will get to play with some of the best musicians in the country and share my love of playing music with other people, so that will be awesome,” Kwan said.

He will play in San Ramon on February 1 with the Contra Costa County Honor Band and on March 9 with the Contra Costa County Jazz Band. From February 20 to 23, he will play with the All State Orchestra in Fresno.

Kwan envisions a life filled with music. Although he doesn’t think that he will pursue a music-oriented career, music will have a significant bearing on where he goes to college and will always be an active interest. “I want to continue my life-long passion for music making,” he explained.