Incessant practice, innate musical expression are the ‘keys’ to junior piano major’s success

Gifted, hard-working and generous, Luke Lozano is also Austin ISD's first TMEA All-State pianist since 1976

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Gregory James

MAKING MUSIC WITH MARS: Junior Luke Lozano laughs as he poses for a photo with a wax figure of Bruno Mars at Madame Toussad's Wax Museum — one of the many excursions made on last year's Nashville piano trip. Lozano stated that the day was filled with lots of silly photos posed with the life-like celebrity figures. Photo by Gregory James.

Madelynn Niles, staff reporter

A simple Sunday FaceTime call. Three minutes long, tops. Not the kind of moment you would expect to be life-changing or pivotal, but that’s what it was for junior Luke Lozano.

The final announcement. The moment built up to from months of practicing, of anticipation. The moment when piano teacher Kate Wiley called to tell him he had been accepted as a TMEA All-State pianist — the first from AISD since 1976. 

When we were at TMEA, there were directors from all over Austin and even from other districts coming to me like ‘Oh, you’re Ms. Wiley! We heard about your kid!’”

— piano teacher Kate Wiley talking about junior Luke Lozano

For Lozano, the life of melodies and major chords has risen as a shaping force not only in terms of an extracurricular activity or something to rehearse, but rather the basis for who he is and how he functions.

“Music is definitely the most important thing in my life,” he said. “I probably should be working on my homework more, but I practice so much,” he added with a laugh.

Between piano class, playing for the jazz band, and being a cello player in the McCallum orchestra, he truly leads the musical lifestyle.

But a lot of Mac students within the Fine Arts Academy are committed to their music.

What sets Lozano apart, however, according to Ms. Wiley, is his expression.

“Luke is one of my students that I can say that he’s just been given a gift,” she said. “He is one of the most musical people I’ve ever been around, including faculty members or anything like that.”

Wiley isn’t the only one who noticed Lozano’s gift and knack for musical expression: the Texas Music Educators Association judges certainly saw something special at his fateful audition, as Lozano earned a spot as fifth chair in the state of Texas as a junior. 

A SERENADE FOR STRINGS: Alongside other Mac orchestra members, Lozano performs a piece by Tchaikovsky for the 2019 Fall Orchestra Concert. Music is a major aspect of his life between orchestra, piano and jazz band classes, rehearsals and performances. Photo by Kristen Tibbetts.

For all kinds of music makers at Mac, including band and orchestra students, the fall semester is flooded with audition preparations in hopes of earning a highly coveted spot in an all-state group, or, short-term, in just advancing to the next round of auditions.

It’s such a cool feeling to see a kid not know to play something, and then you tell them something, and there’s a spark in their mind, and they play it right.”

— junior Luke Lozano on teaching piano

“Unlike the majority of the other instruments [that audition at TMEA], piano only has two students move on to the next round, as opposed to violin, who might have 30 move on,” Wiley said.

This selectivity requires musicians to give their absolute best performance under pressure, making the moment of realization just that much sweeter for both Luke and Wiley.

“I called him as soon as I found out,” she said. “I was, and am really proud of him. … When we were at TMEA, there were directors from all over Austin and even from other districts coming to me like ‘Oh, you’re Ms. Wiley! We heard about your kid!’” she said. “It turns out that everyone was kinda freaking out about this because, well, because it’s a big deal.”

Lozano also felt the excitement of the accomplishment.

“When I found out, I was very surprised,” he said, recalling the moment. “But it ended up being one of the best school trips I’ve ever been on. The TMEA convention is just so cool because everybody there cares so much about music, and everything there is about music. … It was awesome.”

A FINAL FEAST: McCallum members of the various 2019-2020 TMEA All-State organizations smile for a picture at the concluding night of the San Antonio trip filled with rehearsals, concerts and many musical memories. It was the only night that all of the Mac music educators and state-recognized students got together, and served as an evening of celebration. This photo originally appeared on Lozano’s Instagram account. It is republished here with his permission.

Apart from the convention, Lozano also described the ways in which he has learned about music through both being surrounded by it at school and by teaching it to others.

“I love to teach. That’s actually how I make money,” he said. “I have a bunch of kids that I teach; my youngest is like 7, and I have a few eighth-graders, too. … It’s such a cool feeling to see a kid not know to play something, and then you tell them something, and there’s a spark in their mind, and they play it right. It’s such a good feeling, like you really did something.”

Whatever I do, I just want to perform. Performing is my favorite thing to do.”

— junior Luke Lozano

Wiley said that in addition to teaching tunes, Lozano has also risen as a leadership figure in the piano class, helping out other students and serving as a role model.

“I’ve got Piano I kids mixed with Piano II mixed with collaborative piano majors. Everybody is just all in the same class,” she said. “So if someone is struggling that is in Piano I, Luke is always the first one to jump up and go help. … I think a lot of the kids look up to him, too, because of his recent accomplishments, … and he’s just a good kid.”

McCallum graduate and piano program alumni Jonathan Forbes, a friend of Lozano’s, feels similarly, and although Forbes now attends the University of Houston pursuing his own musical career, the two still keep in touch through tunes.

“We send each other piano videos often, and we were in the same piano class last year, so we often collaborated and learned from each other musically,” Forbes said. “He works hard when he cares about what he’s doing, and it’s always been an inspiring force for everyone around him.”

I’m very excited to see where Luke goes and how he’ll change lives.”

— Class of 2019 collaborative piano major Jonathan Forbes

Forbes also excitedly expressed his pride in Lozano for earning the state recognition, as well as reminiscing upon the final Mac piano concert they performed in together.

“Of course it wasn’t without our stumbles and last-minute changes, … but it was great to watch him really grasp his passion for the piano and move people during the concert,” Forbes said. “I’m very excited to see where Luke goes and how he’ll change lives.”

Moving forward, Lozano hopes simply to keep spending his time making music.

“Whatever I do, I just want to perform,” he said. “Performing is my favorite thing to do.”

With hopes of earning the same recognition next school year and eventually pursuing a bachelor’s degree in piano performance, Lozano will continue working at breaking barriers and earning more achievements, always carrying with him memories of his first TMEA convention, the feeling of performing alongside other state-recognized musicians, and the FaceTime call that started it all.

At the McCallum Fine Arts Academy convocation ceremony for the Class of 2019 on May 23, 2019, Luke Lozano joined Class of 2021 peer Kai Cole in playing Mozart’s “Sonata for Piano & Violin in G Major
K.301, II Alegro.” Photo by Dave Winter.