JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — This summer, nearly a hundred music students from across the globe competed in a competition hosted by Johns Creek-based William Pu Music Academy.
The competition included students age 5 to 18 in two age groups and divisions for piano, guitar and strings, including violin, viola, cello and double bass.
While about half the competitors came from Georgia, the balance included students from across the United States, Asia, Latin America and Europe. The overall winner, Quang Vo Minh, is a 14-year-old from Vietnam.
“It was quite overwhelming, to our surprise,” William Pu said. “We didn’t have a budget this year to advertise, so we just sent it out through our social media. To get this response is quite encouraging.”
Last year, Pu teamed up with other music instructors to host the inaugural Atlanta Festival Academy in Johns Creek and Sandy Springs. The nine-day event included 70 violin and cello students who participated in music workshops, cumulating in public concerts that featured the students and internationally renowned musicians.
“It was a great success last year,” Pu said. “We had two sold out concerts.”
Pu has dreams of holding the event annually and making it something that shines an international spotlight on Atlanta. He said it was “devastating” when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancelation of the festival’s second year, but he did not want to let the summer go by without promoting music education in some way.
“The purpose of this online competition is to encourage students who have been staying home for three months or longer,” Pu said. “So, they have something to work for and prepare for.”
Pu said he saw “unprecedented enthusiasm” from the students he helped prepare for the contest. The virtual nature of the competition helped students who otherwise would struggle with confidence, thrive, he said.
Even though they had virtually no funding, Pu decided there would be no registration fee to participate in the contest. The judges agreed to work for free, and the prizes, including a grand prize of $500, were provided by William Pu Music Academy and local sponsors, Loyal Trust Bank and WePartner.
Teaching music online has challenges. Video calls have low audio quality and slight delays. William Pu Music Academy has been teaching its classes online since March, but like with the virtual competition, Pu has been pleasantly surprised with the results.
Having to adapt his teaching techniques has made him a better instructor, he said, and with more time at home to practice, his students have been improving quickly.
“As a teacher, I have to find ways to explain things without just saying ‘Here, I’ll play it for you,’” he said. “It has some frustrations, but we find solutions to deal with them. Overwhelmingly our students have improved tremendously during this time, to every teacher’s surprise.”
For more information and to view some of last year’s performances, visit atlantafestivalacademy.org.