Irvine Valley College Student Provides Musical Respite During Social Distancing

Saturday, May 16, 2020

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Music comforts the soul, and it has the power to bring people together. Nicholas Mao, a civil engineering student at Irvine Valley College, is doing his best to provide the opportunity for both.

For the past several weeks, Mao has been giving 30-60 minutes-long Friday evening piano concerts from the driveway of his family’s home in Irvine. He says it’s a way to do some social outreach during the COVID-19 shutdown.

“I thought it’d be fun to play for the neighborhood. Everyone is cooped up,” Mao said. “I had just been practicing from my bedroom with the window open. A few weeks ago, my neighbor across the street told me she enjoyed hearing me play, so I thought it’d be a good idea to bring my piano outside and play from there.”

Positioned like well-spaced pieces on an oversized chessboard, a small crowd of neighbors on lawn chairs and curbs are joined weekly by passersby—some with children or dogs—who stop to listen for a spell as Mao plays his electric piano.

“Music has always brought people together, and during this difficult time we all need to feel connected. Nic has certainly done this with his Friday evening concerts. He is a talented musician, and his ability to play such a variety of songs pleases everyone. I can’t think of a better way to spend a warm Friday evening than listening to beautiful music,” said Annette Ferguson, one of Mao’s neighbors. “Thank you, Nic, for helping to bring us all together. These concerts are certainly the highlight of our week.”

His family says the driveway concerts have given them a new appreciation for his music.

“It’s entertaining for us, too. It’s different to sit and listen to a whole performance compared to hearing Nic practice certain pieces in his room,” his mother, Ada, said.

With his classes migrated to online platforms and now in the middle of finals, Mao enjoys the outlet, too.

“I’m no longer riding my bike to school. I’m spending a lot less time socializing and exercising, and I’m studying a lot more, so playing outside for my neighbors has been good for me, too,” he said. “It’s stress relief for me, and I’m getting to know more of the people who live on my street.”

Mao, who has been studying music since he was seven years old, now has a couple of students of his own that he instructs in piano. He credits his continued interest and skill in jazz music to his middle school instructors Mrs. Venlet and Mr. Butler and Irvine High School instrumental music teachers Mr. Avzaradel and Mr. Venlet. Mao said he also motivated by the encouragement he receives from his friends and listeners.

Mao, who was named Orange County’s 2019 High School Commercial Music Artist of the Year, said, “Irvine High has the best jazz ensemble.”

Mao is transferring to UC Irvine in fall 2021, where he plans to continue his studies in civil engineering. He also plans to continue studying and performing music, including Friday night driveway concerts, as long as there is a need for social distancing.

Original compositions by Mao are available on all streaming platforms under Guava Nic, a moniker that refers to his fruit juice preference.

Category: COVID-19