A musical surprise with Lang Lang

COSTA MESA — Six students from the Orange County High School of the Arts were treated to a surprise encounter Tuesday afternoon with internationally acclaimed pianist Lang Lang.

It was more than a mere handshake.

The Chinese musician — who just last week played in the White House for President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao — answered questions and even tickled the ivory and ebony keys with one of the students from the Santa Ana school. It was all part of his visit to Costa Mesa's Segerstrom Center for the Arts, where he was to perform that night with the Pacific Symphony in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

"It's so cool that someone of his stature is willing to share what he has with kids like us," said Joel Wenhardt, 14, of Tustin.

The students were having their own Magical Mystery Tour on board the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus — a mobile bus equipped with state-of-the-art audio and video recording equipment, a production facility and rock music instruments — that gives students an opportunity to learn about how to compose, perform, record and produce an original song and music video.

The bus has traveled around the country for the last 14 years, giving more than 250 students a year the chance to make music, said Ryan L'Esperance, the bus' producer and engineer.

Music opens another dimension for people and it's wonderful that students are given this educational experience, Lang said.

"It's really an inspiration for all of us to learn an instrument and to learn a language," he said, referring to music as its own language.

The six students, who all play different instruments, were chosen from the performing arts school's entire student body for being the best in their field, said Penny Fleming, who was chaperoning the group.

The students spent the entire day on the bus coming up with an original song, recording the instrumentals and vocals, and making a music video.

It was a collaborative experience, said 15-year-old Sara Sithi-Amnuai, of Laguna Niguel. The students had never performed together and had different styles, but it came together, she said.

"Feeding off everyone else's experience is inspiring," Sara said.

The day was also one that would stay in the memories of the students, especially for Joel and 17-year-old Michael Fleming, of Newport Beach, who played the piano for Lang.

"It's going to be hard to forget," Michael said.

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