TJ dropout finds harmony at AHS

Kimberly Laura, Staff Writer

“The TJ lifestyle was not the lifestyle for me. It didn’t feel healthy to me. For some people, TJ is the right place,” said freshman Gabriella Pho. She began her freshman year at Thomas Jefferson, but now has transferred to Annandale. However, she is not your average TJ “dropout.”

Pho liked the people she met at TJ. “It was definitely nice that people were all as invested in academics and doing their best work as I was. There were more people who understood my interest in learning,” Pho said.

Though Pho liked TJ for its specialization in the STEM field, the ‘competitive atmosphere” interfered with her choice of electives,  life balance, health and her one passion, music. Pho plays the french horn and at TJ, she had little practice time.

“I knew that school was going to come in conflict with music, and I knew that it would be stressful,” Pho said.

At TJ, Pho had a difficult time juggling music and school. “I balance music and school by trying my best to prioritize,” Pho said. “If I have a concert coming up, I’m gonna be practicing more than I’m gonna be spending time on homework, and if I start feeling like I’m starting to get a little behind in school, then that’s time for me to practice a little less and be doing a little more schoolwork.”

This was not the case at TJ.

“I was stressed, I was anxious. TJ was a little too competitive for me . . . I wanted the focus of school to be learning rather than academic achievement. There was a little too much emphasis on grades for me, and I don’t function particularly well in a high-stress environment,” Pho said.

When Pho was eligible to go to TJ, she was indecisive about attending. Nonetheless, she went to TJ, assuming that it would be the place for her due to its high academic rigor. After a quarter at TJ, she had to make a serious decision about her future in high school. “I thought about it, I stressed about it, I lost sleep over it… so I have been kind of making the decision since I got in,” Pho said. “I think I needed to experience it, so that I would know wherever I decided to stay was where I wanted to be. So I gave TJ kind of a trial period.”

Pho looked at the pros and cons of transferring. She was worried about the negative outcomes that could result in her choice. ”The only thing that was holding me back from transferring was my own fear of having regrets later, and what other people would think,” Pho said. “I decided that wasn’t a good enough reason for me to stay.”

Now at Annandale, Pho has more time than TJ. “For the most part…at Annandale, school and music have been pretty compatible,” Pho said. “I would say the biggest difference between TJ and Annandale is the social climate. TJ is obviously very unique. It’s a ‘school of nerds’- which is not a bad thing.” Pho said describing the science and technology school. “It’s also really socially [and] economically different. TJ is definitely richer and a lot less diverse.”

“She is a deep thinker, very astute, very diligent. Although she’s been absent because of her youth symphony participation, she at least makes up her work as soon as the next class,” Ms.Sulzbach, Pho’s English 9 honors teacher, said.

Underneath her facade, Pho suffers the symptom of procrastination. “My friends know this but people assume I’m somewhat on top of school work when in reality I’m a terrible time manager and procrastinator I’m still a perfectionist…A lot of the perfecting I do is at the last minute,” Pho said.

In school, for Pho the most valuable part is interacting with other people. “There’s a lot you can learn on your own but how to work in a group, how to socialize, how to have fun with friends, that’s something you can learn in school,” Pho said. “Yes, the academic part is the focus of school but for me, that’s what I get the most out of it,”

Music and school have intermingled in Pho’s life. “Music is my inspiration to get through day to day life [and] to work hard in school,” Pho said. Music has given her memorable experiences and the opportunity to meet new people.

“I can’t remember not loving music,” Pho said. She started to sing when she started to talk. In 1st grade, she began to play the piano. However, at the age of 3 Pho had a desire to play the french horn.  “That was my calling, I guess you could say, so I started that as soon as I was big enough to actually hold it.” Pho has been playing the french horn for 5 and a half years. “I started when I was 9. I’ve been going strong ever since,” Pho said.

Pho’s siblings also lead good examples for her. Her brother is a member of the band and her older sister is at Stanford University. Her little sister sings and plays musical instruments. “Sometimes we even do musical stuff together,” Pho said. “It’s a big part of our lives.”

Pho’s french horn teacher, James Nickel, one of the 3rd horn players for the National Symphony Orchestra. He is one of the many musicians she looks up to. “He inspires me not only because he is a fantastic musician, but he is also one of the most genuinely kind people I’ve ever met. He’s worked hard to get where he is, and now he is helping people to like me to get into a similar position.” Nickel found a program that would pay for her lessons. He advised that Gaby applied for a lesson scholarship at the Kennedy Center. To apply for the scholarship Pho auditioned, applied a resume and had recommendations. Pho now takes lessons on the scholarship.

Gaby is part of the National Symphony Orchestra Youth Fellowship at the Kennedy Center. She goes to the Kennedy Center on a weekly basis to rehearse with small chamber ensembles. “I’ll perform with maybe a woodwind quintet and brass quintet and I also get solo opportunities.”

Aside from the Kennedy Center, Pho plays with the Youth Orchestra of American Youth Philharmonic and a brass ensemble. “It’s a really tight fit with people, a lot of the people you play within one musical activity are also in a lot of others, so I have a lot of friends in music,” Pho said. She has also played in a couple of districts and regional honor ensemble. She is a part of the Wind Ensemble at Annandale.

“Gaby coming in, I was very excited even though me being a senior and she being a freshman, I still look up to her. . . She’s just a fantastic french horn player,” Said Hammaad Lodhi, a senior French horn player who sits next to her in band class.

Pho practices her instrument on a daily bases when she is not weighed down by school. When Pho is not practicing the French horn, she occasionally sings, reads, plays the piano, arranges and composes music.

In the future, Pho plans to go into a career with orchestral music. She hopes to work towards a music performance degree and a job as an orchestral musician.

“At Annandale, I looked forward to getting to see my friends again, while I still contacted my friends while I was at TJ, I really didn’t get to see them or interact with them at all,” Pho said. “I looked forward to having a little more time to breathe and sleep, and practice.”