Violinists all in the family

Like many of today’s kids, weekends for Ahwatukee brothers Allen and Ivan Pan are chock full of activities.

But even though they might prefer being outdoors taking photos (Allen) or playing soccer (Ivan) or playing with their new Beagle-blend puppy Rondo (both), they’re often preparing for – or performing in – area concerts.

Allen, 14, and Ivan, 12 are violinists who play solo in school and area orchestras ­– and with their parents, renowned violinists Lan Qui and Joy Pan.

The family’s next performance is a matinee concert Sunday, April 30 at Beth Ami Temple, located inside Paradise Valley’s Palo Christian Church – where the reform synagogue and church have amicably shared space for 38 years.

The 3 p.m. concert features a variety of music from classical to Baroque, romantic to Jewish favorites by the family.       While the family attends the First Chinese Baptist Church – where son Allen plays on the worship team – the Pans are honorary members of Beth Ami Temple.

Each family member expresses pleasure in playing their instruments together, whether at home or in concerts. 

“Music is a universal language, which unites people together from all over the world. Different music expresses so many different feelings, spiritual and powerful,” said Lan Qui Pan, now in his 14th season as a full-time member of the Phoenix Symphony.

“Playing music with my loved ones is a very special way for me to express my love for them,” he added.

As she stood by a baby grand piano in their living room, Joy Pan said: “Music is like a centerpiece in our home. We practice, we teach, we perform, we listen to it. It’s almost everywhere and at any time.”

And while this family plays together and stays together, it is nevertheless still a family, she added.

“Like any normal families, we have our ups and downs, smiles and tears,” said Joy Pan. “Family is like music: some high notes, some low notes, but always a beautiful song.”

Both Pan and her husband have inspiring backstories. Like their sons, both began their musical careers at young ages.

Born in Wuhan, China, Lan Qiu was 7 when his self-taught violinist uncle began teaching his nephew.  By age 9, Qui started playing in youth orchestras that entertained international visitors.

Shanghai-born Joy Pan was just four when her musical career began. At age 13 she won the National Entrance Competition for Shanghai Conservatory, one of China’s most prestigious music schools.

Lan Qiu’s early life was filled with accomplishments. A year following his 1989 graduation from Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music, he won the China National Youth Violinist Competition. 

He joined the first violin section of the China National Symphony Orchestra, now known as the China Central Philharmonic Orchestra, serving as acting concertmaster until 1996, the same year he was elected Outstanding Young Artist of China. 

During the period with the symphony, he toured the world and performed in Europe, Asia and North America.

In 2003, three years after coming to the United States, Qiu joined the first violin section of the Phoenix Symphony.

In 2009, he “proudly became a U.S. citizen” and was thrilled to walk onto Chase Field to perform the National Anthem at an Arizona Diamondbacks game.

Joy Pan is equally renowned as a violinist. She earned her Bachelor degree in Music at Andrews University in Michigan, and her master of music degree in violin performance at Arizona State University.

She’s served as concertmaster for the Chandler Symphony Orchestra and the ASU Chamber Orchestra. She’s currently concertmaster for Scottsdale’s La Forza Chamber Orchestra and MusicaNova Orchestra.

While in Michigan, she also held the concertmaster honor for Michiana Symphony Orchestra and the St. Joseph Pro Music Chamber Orchestra, often appearing as a soloist; and won Michigan’s Young Artist Competition.

In 2009, she was named Musician of the Year with the Chandler Symphony Orchestra.

She and her husband have two separate private teaching studios in their Ahwatukee home.

“The Joy Strings" is the name of our business.  It combines two functions, teaching and performing,” she said. “With many commitments in our lives, we can only use a limited amount of hours each week to teach our private violin students. “

The few private student slots available are reserved for committed and talented students, she said.

Allen and Ivan – who are instructed in violin by their parents – have already amassed their own honors.

A Desert Vista High School freshman, Allen Pan has studied violin with his mother for five years.

 Aging out, he’s in his last year with the Metropolitan Youth Symphony, where he serves as concertmaster for its top division and plays in the MYS quartet.

He’s also concertmaster for Desert Vista’s Symphony Orchestra and was honored, as a freshman,  to perform in the 2017 All-State Honor Festival held at ASU’s Gammage Auditorium.

His electric violin varies from his concert violin, though he’s played both in concerts and uses the electric version in his church’s worship team and to play pop and jazz favorites on his own.

“I enjoy playing with my family. I feel it’s a good bonding experience for all of us to work together as a team,” said Allen, who performs Saturday, May 20 at MusicNova Orchestra’s Young Artist Series Concert.

Ivan, an Altadena Middle School sixth grader, is in his fourth year with the Metropolitan Youth Symphony. Taught violin by his father, he is a well-rounded 12-year-old who loves soccer and chess.

Finding time for these pursuits is difficult, though, with his performance schedule and academics.

Besides public school, Ivan and his brother attend the Contemporary Chinese School of Arizona at ASU each Saturday. There, they are instructed two hours in Chinese language, history and culture, and then another hour of advanced math.

“If I had a day off, I’d spend half of it with friends playing video games and the rest I’d spend with my dog and reading books,” Ivan replied when asked.

Ivan admits practicing violin and playing regularly at various venues and events with his family is “a little bit tiring and sometimes a little bit boring, but also fun.”

“Music is the best gift we could give to our children,” said Joy Pan, smiling after overhearing her boys’ responses to a reporter’s questions. “I mainly work with Allen, and Lan works with Ivan. Teaching our next generation great techniques isn’t our main purpose.

“Through learning the violin, this challenging instrument, we want to develop our children’s sensitivity, discipline, endurance and appreciate for life. I hope playing and sharing music with others will become their lifetime journey and commitment.”

The couple said they feel playing violin duets is like “complete harmony.”

“For us, music is all about sharing love and healing of souls, the language of the spirit and strongest form of magic,” said Lan Qui who often quotes a metaphor, one he originated after moving to arid Arizona:

“Without music, life is a journey through a desert.”

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