Teen battles childhood illness to become piano prodigy

Posted at 7:13 PM, Sep 27, 2017

He is a 16-year old boy from Chandler, and he is breaking many barriers in the world of music, even after spending much of his childhood years in and out of hospitals fighting a life-threatening illness.

Samuel Xu was diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia when he was just four-years-old.  Xu described it as a rare but very serious blood disorder, where your bone marrow is basically damaged and cannot produce blood cells.

Xu had to get a bone marrow transplant at that very young age, and after a nationwide search, his donor was found right in his own home... His six-year-old sister, who willingly went under the knife to help save her baby brother's life.

Even during this medical struggle, Xu said music helped heal his soul. His parents, who are both music teachers, would bring in music into the hospital so Xu could relax to his favorite tunes.  Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin was a favorite. He also tinkered around on a keyboard they brought into his hospital room.

It was not until he was about five years old that his piano teacher mother started giving her son lessons.  Xu was a natural who picked up the keys very fast and showed a talent that is rare in most children his age.

At the age of six, Xu won first place in a music competition hosted by the Arizona State University, a young artist piano competition. At the age of nine, he won first place at another competition hosted by a Music Teachers Association.

"It definitely serves as encouragement, yeah especially to keep going," said the humble teen.

He called music a good way to express yourself.

"It's almost like another language. It is really a powerful way to communicate," said Xu.

He said he would get lost in his music while playing, and described it as "exhilarating."

Although the teen advised that passion alone did not make for a good piano player. It took hours of practice every day.

Partly due to his recovery from the bone marrow transplant, and mostly due to his dedication to music, Xu has always attended an online school. He is receiving his high school education through the Arizona Virtual Academy, a tuition-free online school in Arizona.

Even with all his musical accomplishments and medical struggles, Xu is graduating a year early.

The young man said he hoped to pursue his passion for music by attending a prestigious music school and follow in the footsteps of his parents to be a music teacher or professor someday.

His father Fei Xu, an immigrant from China who graduated from Syracuse University said he was very proud of his son. His childhood illness had taken a toll on the whole family.

"It was devastating, very devastating. We did not know what would happen, so I would buy him lots of toys to keep him happy," said Fei Xu.

His son said his piano lessons escalated to a new level once his father became his teacher.

Fei Xu described teaching your own child as a big challenge, but he noticed something special in his son very early.

"I saw his hand become bigger, he was playing more advanced repertoires. His music memory is very good. Probably some pieces he is not playing for a few months, but he can still perform. It is amazing to me," said Fei Xu.

Samuel Xu said he was grateful for this second chance at life, and hoped he could change the world with his music, and be an inspiration to others. The young teen rarely skipped a day of practice. He described a four-week long vacation when he did not have access to a piano.

"My fingers were itching. It is kind of you know, a pianist's instinct," said Xu.

Music ran in several generations of their bloodline. Fei Xu said his own mother had been a piano player in China, while his father was a singer.

"It is something in the family we cannot separate from. We live on music, teaching, it is just food. Daily food," said Fei Xu.

Samuel Xu encouraged other young musicians who had a passion to never stop believing in themselves, and to continue to practice diligently everyday.

"If it is a fire that burns, it will not go away. You cannot suppress it. It is definitely a very tremendous gift that I have, to play this music," said Xu.