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Making a Life in Music

Picture this: at midday, two figures ride a bicycle through the hot streets of Hanoi, Vietnam. An older man stands on the pedals to navigate the traffic while a boy, 11 or 12 years old, perches behind him on the cargo rack. Strapped to the boy’s back is something almost as big as he is. 
 
The thing is a soft brown case, with a longish neck. It looks as if it might actually hold... a cello.
 
This image in some ways sums up the childhood of Phuc Phan ’13 (Vietnam, UWC Adriatic), who this year was named the Luther College Presser Scholar for excellence in music. 
 
Phuc’s father, Tam Duc Phan, is a physicist and researcher at the Vietnam National Institute of Technology who was urged to give up the guitar while a soldier in wartime. He got his son started on keyboards when Phuc was three.
 
“He didn’t want me to play video games,” Phuc recalled with a chuckle. 
 
By 11, Phuc had switched to cello and enrolled at the Hanoi National Institute of Music–Vietnam—to which his dad pedaled him, every school day after morning classes at a local school. After the half-hour ride, Tam Duc stayed through his son’s classes at the conservatory. Every day.
 
“He never missed a cello lesson of mine for five or six years,” Phuc said. 
 
Phuc went on to perform and tour with the Southeast Asian and Asian youth orchestras; he then won a full music scholarship to UWC Adriatic. At Luther, he has been the college symphony’s principal cellist for the past three years.
 
“He has had a real impact on the whole orchestra program here,” said his cello teacher, associate music professor Eric Katz. “He’s just a very giving spirit, always so interested in learning new things. He’ll be sorely missed.”
 
Phuc hopes to build a career teaching and performing the cello. He even thinks of creating an international music school in Vietnam. “That’s my wild dream,” he said.
 
Phuc’s parents, Tam Duc and Hoa Thi Dau Phan, hope they can come to Luther for his commencement. That, too, would be something to remember always.