At age 2, when most kids are learning how to speak and walk, Serenus Hua started playing the violin. An MIT junior now, the 19-year-old has worked his way up in the classical music world, winning numerous competitions and playing everywhere from Juilliard to Jordan Hall, where his performance at age 15 was broadcast as part of the public radio program "From the Top."
This year he won the 2005 MIT Symphony Concerto Competition, which earned him a chance to perform with the MIT Symphony Orchestra in Kresge Auditorium this Friday (Oct. 21). He will be the featured soloist in Pablo de Sarasate's "Carmen Fantasy."
Originally from New Jersey, Hua began studying violin formally at age 7. He went on to enroll in The Juilliard School in New York City and admits that playing music at Julliard is very different from playing at MIT.
"At Juilliard, it was very technical, very showy," he said. "Everyone was trying to show off. At MIT, most people are going into engineering and science, so it's not a question of who's going to be the best soloist. I have more time to learn the pieces, rather than the techniques."
The piece he will be performing is different from the one in the original opera "Carmen," Hua said. "It has the same basic theme, but this composer has added a lot of tricks and flourishes."
He puts it in the genre of a "show piece," one of his favorite types of music.
"It's what I'm better at," he said. "They're fun to play, fun to listen to. One of my teachers likens it to dessert. You have your main course, with your standards, Bach and Brahms. For dessert, you come back to the show pieces."
Over the years, Hua has found a way to combine music and community service. In high school Hua founded a volunteer group called "Music in Action" that performed at senior homes, day-care centers and school events.
At MIT, he is involved with the MIT Arts Scholars, whose members range from film students to classical musicians like himself. The group is trying to organize a benefit for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
A chemical biological engineering major, Hua is very interested in science. While he is also majoring in music, he doesn't see himself performing for a living.
"It's too late for me to be a chamber musician," he said. "I'm not in a conservatory, and the market is pretty low these days."
At MIT he plays as much as he can, although it can be difficult to find time. "MIT has kept me busy," he said. "It's always been a balance for me. I practice in between classes, whenever I can. I'll bring my violin to class."
Although he had not yet rehearsed with the MIT Symphony, Hua seemed confident.
"I'm used to performing with an orchestra after one or two rehearsals. For this, it will be about four."
Humbly, he added, "It's a better deal than I'm used to."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 19, 2005 (download PDF).