A Wide Range of Musical Talent

Diamond Bar High School senior Kevin Kuo is a one-man orchestra. Picking up everything from ancient Chinese strings to keyboards to winds, Kuo plays nine instruments: violin, piano, sheng (a traditional Chinese mouth organ), erhu (an ancient Chinese violin), flute, ukulele, oboe, guitar and cello.  

Although he started playing his first instrument, the piano, when he was five years old, Kuo said he did not immediately fall in love with music. In elementary school, however, his speech problems drove him to find his passion.

“In fifth grade, I was stammering and I felt like I was good at nothing, so I was like ‘I need to find something I’m good at,’” Kuo said. “Since I’m not the most vocal person, and I don’t really like talking and expressing myself as much, music gives me a way to express myself.”

He delved deeper into music in middle school after joining the school orchestra and winning a violin in the seventh grade lottery. At the time, he only played three instruments—the violin, cello and piano—but he was soon inspired to pursue playing more instruments.  

“When I started playing my instruments again, people all complimented me on my playing,” Kuo said. “That’s what really made me appreciate music.”

During middle school, he picked up the guitar and ukulele after seeing his church friends play them. With his newly acquired skills, he performed for church meetings and conferences until his early years in high school.

Kuo joined the DBHS Symphony Orchestra in his freshman year as a violin player. From there, he said he decided to take up  the oboe and flute after hearing his peers play the instruments.

“Kevin is very talented, incredibly dedicated, very empathetic and understands everything around him incredibly well,” DBHS band director Steve Acciani said. “He’s obviously a very good player, but probably his best contribution is leadership. He’s the type of student who takes initiative and wants to step up and be in charge of things.”

Last year, Kuo acted upon his longtime desire to play traditional Chinese instruments like the erhu and sheng after coming across those instruments in his research for a culture presentation in his Chinese class.

“There were some instruments I had to really process and learn it step by step such as the sheng since its positions are like no other instruments I tried before,” Kuo said. “But as long as you tinker with it enough times and play songs that you enjoy, you’ll be more comfortable with the instrument.”

Kuo also plays the oboe in his church’s chamber group and accompanies church singers on the piano.

While Kuo said he enjoys playing all his instruments, his violin holds a special place in his heart.

Recently, he had the opportunity to perform in K-pop star Tiffany Young’s music video “Over My Skin” and a banquet at the opening of the Treasures of the Palace Museum for celebrities like “Wizards of Waverly Place” actor Daniel Samonas and “Desperate Housewives” actress Nicollette Sheridan.  

His passion for music drove him to participate in organizations like the DBHS marching band, winter drumline and Hearts of Hope, where Kuo teaches music to special needs children and performs music for senior citizens.

Since Kuo is mostly self-taught, having to devote hours learning off of his peers and online videos, it’s a challenge for him to juggle practicing and his schoolwork.

“It’s the passion that drives me to practice,” Kuo said. “A lot of people don’t want to practice because they usually grow tired of it, or they were forced into it. But personally for me, as long as I have joy playing this instrument, I will get all my stuff done and devote time for these instruments.”