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Moores School of Music Alumna Wins Hearts — and Awards

2019 Aspen Music Festival and School concerto competition champion Justina Chu talks about her love of music and recent competition success.

2019 is one for the books for Moores School of Music (MSM) alumna Justina Chu. The flutist has been on a roll this year, winning awards left and right. For one, she performed Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp in early July with the Aspen Conducting Academy Orchestra. She also won the Atlanta Flute Club Young Artist Competition in March and will perform a solo recital in Atlanta in March 2020 as part of this competition win. But her winning streak doesn’t end there.

Against Juilliard competitors, Curtis Institute of Music geniuses and Colburn School prodigies, Chu came out on top in the 2019 Aspen Music Festival and School concerto competition.

“I never expected to win in a million years,” Chu says. “I was competing against musicians who already held professional positions! I was shocked when I got the call that I won, but it was worth all the rehearsing and competition preparation.”

Chu’s successes come after years of practice. Her musical career started with a high school orchestra performance during her Clements High School freshman year. Chu’s band director pushed her to participate in the Honor Orchestra of America, a national youth orchestra that met, rehearsed and performed over the course of a week. Once she performed Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 with this group, she was hooked.  

“Being able to come together with people you’ve never met before and put together a symphony is such a magical experience,” says the freelance flutist and experienced orchestral performer. “I knew then that it was the only thing I wanted to do with my life.”

After graduating high school, Chu studied at MSM where she played in the wind ensemble, opera orchestra and symphony orchestra. Performing in these groups prepared her for ensemble playing and success.

Chu adds that her flute professors helped her get her to where she is today. Her instructor Peggy Russell, an affiliate artist in flute and piccolo, helped Chu with her rigid flute embouchure, the way a musician applies their mouth to a wind instrument’s mouthpiece. Russell also taught her exercises to relax her face and relearn how to shape her aperture or mouth, helping Chu create a bigger sound.

She recalls how Russell always encouraged her to look at the big picture. “She taught me not to be afraid to set big goals for myself and really put myself out there.”

Today, Chu prepares for competitions by studying, practicing, self-recording and holding mock performances for friends and teachers. She also listens to inspiring repertoire recordings and reviews scores to inform her musical interpretation.

She encourages fellow flutists to dream big, even if it means tackling intimidating competitions and pushing themselves out of their comfort zones.

“The worst thing anyone could say is ‘no,’ so just give it your all,” Chu says. “Trust that you’ll be a better musician in the end because you will be.”