Lawrence High School senior Felix Guo refused to excel at only one instrument. Instead, he chose four.
Guo plays clarinet, violin, bass clarinet and baritone saxophone — all part of a musical journey that began at age 4.
“I would go to my sister’s violin lessons and clap and dance along to the music,” Guo said. “My sister’s violin teacher, Julie Holmberg, soon noticed and encouraged my parents to let me play the violin.”
On the violin, Guo’s long and winding musical path began.
“Taking violin lessons from Julie Holmberg first began my journey,” he said. “Performing in her group practices and studio recitals allowed me to find and experience the joys of music.”
In middle school, Guo picked up the clarinet and joined the middle school band. He said he wanted to broaden his horizons and only intended to play the clarinet for a few years. But after a while, he fell in love with the wind instrument and left the violin behind during high school.
“I originally thought that I would only play the clarinet and be in my middle school’s band until eighth grade where I would join the orchestra,” Guo said, “but I enjoyed being in the band so much that I decided to stay.”
The decision certainly paid off for Guo, now 18. He recently received a medal for making an All-State music ensemble for three straight years.
“The day the results came, I nervously clicked on the link to the roster, and was exuberant to find my name,” Guo said about his first time making All-State. “This was proof that my hard work and practice had paid off and it represents how I have grown not only as a musician but as a person.”
That growth has been witnessed firsthand by Lawrence High School Band Director Mike Jones, who said that Guo has shown growth as a musician, leader, marcher and more.
And Guo’s musical journey didn’t stop with the clarinet. During his senior year, he picked up the baritone saxophone to join the LHS Jazz Band and bass clarinet to help out with the Lawrence Youth Symphony.
“He’s really turned out to be an outstanding musician,” Jones said. “He’s worked really hard to get where he is.”
Jones said Guo stands out among many wonderful students over the years for how much of a perfectionist and practicer he is. Guo channeled that effort and hard work to exceed Jones’ expectations.
After Guo started taking private lessons on the clarinet with Johannah Cox, who taught band at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School for 34 years, she recommended he invest in a professional clarinet.
Debbie Woodall Routledge, Guo’s band director at Southwest Middle School, helped him to apply for a professional clarinet through an organization called Band of Angels, a charity that provides band and orchestra instruments to children in need.
“When I received the clarinet from her, I was absolutely ecstatic,” Guo said. “I felt so lucky and grateful to have such wonderful and supportive people in my life. This proved to me that as long as I worked hard and put my best effort towards everything that I do, my achievements would be recognized and I would receive support from others to help me continue to succeed.”
Guo listed Woodall Routledge as one of his biggest influences, citing his gratefulness to her for helping him discover the instrument he would eventually fall in love with.
“She always encouraged me to go beyond what was done in class, and gave me extra music to practice on when I felt that the music in the band was not challenging enough,” he said.
Aside from his multiple instruments and hours of practice time, Guo still finds time for a slew of other activities. He is vice president of the Brain Exercise Initiative, a nonprofit organization focused on preventing memory loss through brain exercise. He is also vice president of the LHS Latin Club, team captain for Scholars Bowl, and a member of the LHS executive board for National Honor Society.
“All of these activities help me with music because they teach me the importance of giving back to and fostering a sense of community,” Guo said.
After graduating, Guo plans to attend Washington University in St. Louis to major in music and biology. He hopes to continue the musical journey that started when he was 4 as a member of the school’s band and orchestra.
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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.