No strings attached

Cindy Liu, Staff Writer

Just two miles from each other, at  the First Chinese Baptist Church Walnut and St. Gabriel Korean Catholic Church, senior Michael Xu and junior Susie Choi stepped up to the stage, each with a guitar in hand, as hundreds of their church members watched. For both Xu and Choi, church was the starting point where they began playing the guitar.

Choi was first inspired to play the guitar when she watched the older church kids on stage  performing music during worship and wanted to be up there with them.

Xu’s passion for guitar was sparked when his church leader encouraged him to play for his church’s worship service. Although he attended some guitar classes at DBHS taught by Eric Lin, he later used YouTube to teach himself.

After he got past the frustrations of his finger coordination on the strings, he fell in love with the way he could improvise with the flow of music.

Photo courtesy of SUSIE CHOI

“It’s really calming,” Xu said. “Sometimes, I would get so mesmerized I would practice for three or four hours nonstop.”

Three years after he started, he has hundreds of followers on his social media channels,  encouraging him to keep playing. He posts videos and photos on his Instagram account @shoesacoustics, which currently has about 3,000 followers. His YouTube channel, shoesacoustic, has around 300 followers and is the main platform that Xu uses to share his song covers and originals.

Last year, he started composing his own songs, the first of which he wrote while playing the guitar by the beach. His recent composition, “Chapters,” was written for his upcoming high school graduation and posted on his YouTube channel a few months ago.

“As I near my graduation, I’m preparing myself—physically, mentally, spiritually—to face the many mountains to climb through in college.” he wrote. “This is the end of the beginning, the end of my first chapter.”

After graduation, Xu plans on continuing to play guitar through college.

For Choi, church had also been the place where her passion for guitar started. She had watched the older kids on stage performing music during worship and wanted to be up there with them.

At that time, her obsession with Ed Sheeran and John Mayer finally pushed her to buy her first guitar in the seventh grade, a pink guitar with butterfly designs from Toys “R” Us. With her toy guitar, she played around and eventually caught the attention of her church members, who asked her to play in her freshman year.

“At first, it was more of a hobby,” Choi said. “I never thought about serving the church by playing guitar so I had to take things more seriously […] to get better.”

She later bought a more professional guitar and started a praise band with some of the other church guitarists.

After investing much time into her guitar, Choi became the director of her church’s music group—the one she initially hoped to participate in.

“It played a really big role in my spiritual growth,” Choi said. “Being able to serve the community […] allowed me to help other people, but it also helped me on my spiritual journey.”