From violin to electric guitar, the personal development journey of a Portland teenager

Gabriella Wong learned to play the violin when she was only 4 years old.

At first, her curtsey sounded like cat cries, her mother said.

But she persevered.

Gabby, who grew up in Portland, continued practicing and eventually joined the Metropolitan Youth Symphony when she was in sixth grade. Eventually, after 13 years, she decided to focus on the instruments she was more passionate about, like the viola and the guitar.

“Playing the violin was almost an order from my mother, and so by defying that and playing something that I want to play, it speaks to my need to be in control of my own life,” she said.

And Gabby, now 17, was grateful for the transition because she believes in change.

“I think change is a very vital part of life; it’s the only stable part of life, ironically,” she says. “But always expect that and don’t try to push it away.”

Gabby pursued her love for music by learning to play the guitar in 2021 with her father’s old acoustic.

“I really like the process of finding out for myself how things work,” she said. “I’m super curious and open to new ideas.”

She uses music as a creative outlet, and one day she even wants to produce electronic music.

Transitioning from violin to viola was easy for Gabby because of their physical similarities and how much more connected she felt to the instrument.

“I think viola resonates more with me, personality-wise, in the sense that it’s more earthy, deeper,” she said. “It’s closer to the human vocal range.”

Switching to guitar, however, gave Gabby a sense of freedom she had been missing.

Gabby’s parents, who adopted her from Guangzhou, China in 2005, have supported and encouraged her many interests over the years, including martial arts, rowing and writing. His mother offered to fund new hobbies, like drumming or extra music lessons.

Her mother also inspired a love of reading and writing. When Gabby was little, her mother read classic bedtime stories, including “Goodnight Moon.”

“It was very quiet and peaceful,” Gabby said. “I felt engrossed in the stories.”

Now Gabby enjoys writing fiction in her spare time, inspired by some of her own experiences. She also said she plans to write for a scientific publication in her future.

Although Gabby’s plans may change, her desire to explore new opportunities and find new passions never will. She said she relied on the idea of ​​”always staying open and curious and striving to improve.”

This mindset focuses on growth. “Because at the end of the day,” she said, “we don’t know anything for sure.”

– Rachel Ehly, Forest Grove High School

This story was produced by student journalists as part of the High School Journalism Institute, an annual collaboration between The Oregonian/OregonLive, Oregon State University and other Oregon media organizations. For more information or to support the program, go to