Thomas Lai

Thomas LaiThomas is our assistant principal violist, and joined QUO in September 2014.

How did you come to join QUO?
I came to a QUO concert several years ago because a friend of mine was playing in the violin section at the time. This was during a period of time when I had gotten away from music and was not playing in any orchestras. I was impressed by the caliber of the orchestra and thought at the time if I decide to join an ensemble in the future, I would contact QUO. And then about two years ago, I decided to get back into music again and started to learn the viola. I finally felt like I was ready to join an orchestra again last August, so I contacted QUO and here we are!

What is your favorite place to take friends visiting NYC?
I have two places I like to take out-of-town friends. First is the High Line because it is so unique and offers a different ‘perspective’ of the cityscape due to the elevated tracks. The second place is Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City because of the spectacular view of Manhattan. I also love both parks because they are near the water. People who have never been to NYC have this impression that it is a concrete urban jungle but there is so much beautiful green space in NYC!

What musical symbol best defines you and why?

I think the breath mark best defines me. I practice yoga and meditation regularly where you have to learn to control and relax your breath. Relaxed breathing releases the tension in the mind as well as the body and I use it as a tool to stay focused in everyday life. When I play, I also work on my breathing to maintain the phrasing of the musical line and keep myself from tensing up. Breathing is also really important in order to communicate and stay ‘in-sync’ with the people you are playing with. An ensemble that plays well together, breaths well together!

How long have you been playing the viola?

I have been playing the viola for a little over two years. I had been playing the violin since I was 10 years old. I have always loved the deep sound of the viola and thought many times about learning the viola when I was younger. However, I was so focused on the violin at the time, I never seriously pursued it. I continued to play the violin through graduate school, but when I moved to NYC to pursue my career as a chiropractor, I put music in the back burner. For over a year I didn’t play, practice or even touch my violin. And then about two years ago, I decided to stop limiting myself and create the life I really want. I started playing again and purchased a viola. The process of learning the viola helped me rediscover and experience music in a completely different way. I joined QUO a year ago and also became a volunteer teaching artist for the Corona Youth Music Project. I love being able to embody the many roles of a doctor, musician and teacher…it makes be feel ‘complete’ as a person.

Question from George: What is your most memorable or favorite experience playing viola?
My most memorable experience is anytime I get to play for my parents. When I was young, they were always at my lessons and recitals so it was never a big deal to play when my parents are listenting. As we are all growing older and living further apart, I cherish the rare opportunities where they get to hear me play. I wouldn’t be where I am without them!