Michael Tran, a fourth-year music education student, has already made an impact in the music department.

Tran dipped his feet in the music world when he played in the marching band in high school.

He loved percussion from the beginning. Today, he is both a pianist and percussionist. Tran plays a multitude of instruments including the mallet, marimba, xylophone and concert drums.

“There’s a lot of similarities between the mallet and piano,” Tran said.  “It is basically just a big piano itself, so it was easy to make that transition between the instruments.”

Michael Tran, left, pictured with Professor Nadia Shpachenko, right, a professor of music at CPP and a multi Grammy-nominated musician. The two played together at LACMA’s Sunday Live series broadcast on KUSC. (Courtesy of Michael Tran)

Tran has proven his significance in the music department after performing with Professor Nadia Shpachenko at LACMA’s Sunday Live series broadcast on KUSC.

Professor Shpachenko is a music professor at CPP, and is also a multiple Grammy-nominated pianist.

Their performance was particularly captivating because it involved an unconventional instrument.

“Dr. Shpachenko is more of a contemporary artist,” Tran said. “She dabbles in a lot of unique instruments, some of which are children’s instruments. When we performed, I was playing a toy piano.”

This came about because she had been commissioned by some of her other composer colleagues to do so, and tries to perform using unique instruments on occasion.

“A challenge of that performance was figuring out how to get as much as you can out of a toy like that, and trying your best to get that musicality out of something that isn’t made to be used professionally,” Tran said.

Tran says that being Shpachenko’s student started a good working relationship, so performing together spurred from that.

“She believed in my sense of rhythm being a percussionist and pianist,” Tran said. “I had to have a precise rhythmic power, but not in a melodic sort of way, which was a challenge. She saw that in me. I was able to add that experience in my repertoire. It was great working with her and learning another style of performing with timing, rhythm and musicality,” Tran said.

Professor Shpachenko sees a strong potential in Tran’s future and views him as a professional despite his young age.

“Michael’s ability to understand and precisely interpret the most complex rhythmic passages is second to none, at a level even rare among professionals,” Professor Shpachenko said. “For my performances with Michael I chose very interesting and unique contemporary classical pieces for piano and toy piano, which utilized Michael’s mastery of both piano and percussion instruments.”

Tran and Professor Nadia Shpachenko’s performance included a toy piano playing alongside a regular piano. (Courtesy of Michael Tran)

She continued, “Michael always gave his absolute best performance at each event, that’s why I felt confident in collaborating with him during some of my professional engagements.

I think Michael will make an outstanding educator as well, already showing great results working with CPP students as a tutor.”

Tran has also performed with his percussion group, which has won a world championship with  Riverside Community College’s indoor drumline.

This is his fourth year working with the drumline.

The group performs in the winter through April in a group of 40 percussionists.

“We have a stage show concert where we perform a seven minute piece. We compete while learning a lot, and when we make it to the championships we fly to Austin, Ohio.”

Tran’s fellow music student who has performed with him had nothing but nice things to say about Tran as a musician.

“Michael is a rare kind of performer who knows how to deliver what is needed, at what happens to be the most convenient of time,” said Joshua Tessler, a fifth-year music performance student. “It’s without question that he’s an asset to any ensemble in which he takes part of, whether it be his leading instrument, or even a new thing he’s picking up. Cal Poly is lucky to have a treasure like Michael Tran.”

Surprisingly, Tran had come to CPP and originally been majoring in electrical engineering.

He later switched majors to music education.

“Electrical engineering is not for everyone,” he said. “I realized I could achieve what I wanted to achieve in life through music. And with the great music faculty and staff at Cal Poly, it really made it easy for me.”

Tran is looking into having music as his main career path.

“Either being a music educator or performer,” Tran said. “Or even getting my hands into music as an arranger or composer. There’s a super overarching art in music. You don’t ever have to stay in one place or do only one thing.”

No matter what he decides, Tran is certain music is in his future.

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