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Ready to embrace the music

Lewis and Clark student Gabriel Soileau plays and composes music for many instruments. (Colin Mulvany)
Lewis and Clark student Gabriel Soileau plays and composes music for many instruments. (Colin Mulvany)

LC’s Gabriel Soileau finds inspiration, expression

If anyone ever wondered where Gabriel Soileau’s heart lies – clearly, it’s in music. It has been all around the Lewis and Clark High School senior his entire life. He recalls his earliest memory at about age 4 listening to the Chinese, Cajun, Celtic and African songs his parents played in the car as the family drove from their home in Fairbanks to settle in the Lower 48.

His parents Xiao Ping Li, an acupuncturist, and John Soileau, a naturopathic physician, met in Alaska but decided to raise their only child in Spokane, surrounded by the music they love. And young Soileau has thrived and excelled in all things musical.

His accomplishments in music are numerous, but among the most significant is that he recently took first place in the senior division of the Music Teachers National Association Music Competition and performed his classical “Serenade” with string quartet, piano and oboe at the MTNA national conference in Chicago this winter. He also represented the United States in the 62nd Trophee Mondial Accordion Championships, the world convention held in Spokane in 2012. He won first prize in the 2011 Seattle International Piano Festival/Bach Festival.

The young man who began his musical career banging on his mother’s pots and pans in the kitchen has gone on to master piano, the Chinese gourd flute, double bass and accordion, and he is a self-taught composer. At first he found it tedious and a waste of time writing down the tunes he made up, “but now I’m fortunate to have won a prestigious award for staying with it.”

Soileau is the organizer and leader of The Vagabonds, a Gypsy brass band that plays at folk festivals and benefits, and also plays with his parents in their own group, The Silk Road Band, which plays Chinese folk songs and Balkan music.

Soileau says he is particularly drawn to Gypsy and Balkan music. “They use melodies and scales that don’t fit with the classic harmonic rules of Western music and have an exotic quality that I love,” he said.

Soileau has other interests as well. The academically high-achieving student is leader of Amnesty International at LC and is writing his senior project paper focusing on how the lack of family planning access in Middle Eastern countries contributes to terrorism. He enjoys bike riding and travel and will be going to his mother’s native China this summer to visit relatives. He speaks Chinese and is learning French.

He knows he started very young in music and understands that anything is possible if a person puts all of his heart into it. He will be taking his heartfelt love to Columbia University this fall, where he hopes to thrive further in New York City’s rich music environment.

“Sometimes my friends and parents think I have trouble expressing myself in words,” the quiet and soft-spoken Soileau said. “But I can always express myself in music.”