Courage noun: the ability to do something that frightens one, also see Casie Luong. How else would you define someone who leaves the familiar to embark on an unknown journey in an unfamiliar city? A journey that so many would consider a cliché or even unrealistic. Society frowns upon the notion of a college educated student plunging her life in instability which is synonymous with the life of an artist. Hence, simply stating that Casie expresses courage would be an understatement, she is courage. After graduating from Austin College, and serving a brief stint as an assistant choir director at a high school in her hometown, Casie, currently a musician based in Austin, Texas, relocated to the city with the fervor of commencing a singer/songwriter/musician career. While a decision to seek a life supported by her music warrants commendation given the overwhelming odds, what makes Casie an inspirational person is her ability to recognize what’s within her authority to catalyze success. By continually improving her skills through practice and lessons from peers, managing her own PR and band, her existence flies in the face of anyone who assumes that the life of a musician is anything but hard work.
Casie’s acquaintance to music happened at a very early age. “I’ve been classically trained [on the piano] since I was 10,” she explains at the beginning of our conversion. However, this exposure alone did not cement her aspiration to pursue a career in music. If anything it normalized the remarkability of her ability to play the piano and sing, so much so that she says, “I never considered that I would do music at all. I was going to quit piano when I got to college. I wanted to be a teacher or pursue social work.” That shocked me given her life now. Not that I expected a trite Behind the Music VH1 story from Casie, where the artist says she picked up an instrument and realized her destiny, but at least something close. I would say the course to realizing her niche more closely resembles that of a student who learns a subject but initially doesn’t comprehend its possible impact on her life than a typical artist’s story.
Convinced not to abandon her piano by her mother, a salient figure in her journey, Casie continued to play solely for enjoyment in college. It wasn’t until a school sponsored internship to Vietnam that her nonchalant attitude towards her musical capabilities changed. Funnily, her visit to Vietnam was driven by her other passion, the improvement of the lives of women and girls across the globe. About her trip to Vietnam she exclaims, “I have a passion for women and girls so I thought to find a shelter for girls and intern there!” Little did she know, the girls’ shelter would offer her an opportunity to do more than just teach, a vocation that she was seriously considering at the time. The first day of lessons served as a rude awakening to Casie when her excitement for teaching met the girl’s apathy towards her lesson plans. She says, “I told my mom let’s go back to America. This is not my career,” to which her ever supportive mom responded, “why don’t you just watch them, observe them and get to know them.”
On her second day Casie took her mom’s advice and let the girls be. Serendipitously she discovered a keyboard in one of the classrooms; her fingers hitting the keystrokes immediately swept the girls’ indifference as they gathered around and asked her to perform. “I never taught piano or sang in public much before,” she tells me. From that moment, teaching became a much easier endeavor as she had found a tool that worked. The power of music to pierce through disinterest embedded a new found respect for her craft. “I got to see music in action through education and performing.”
In addition to discovering the power of music, the internship in Vietnam accustomed her to singing before an audience. Her bashfulness disappeared when she sang in restaurants that she and her parents dined because only new faces stared back at her. Funny how the unfamiliar can cause both frustration and comfort. As she expected, the trip to Vietnam allowed her to practice what she loved, just not what she went there for. After embracing the singer and musician within her in Vietnam, an Ingrid Michaelson concert inspired her to write her first song. “I saw Ingrid Michaelson in concert and I was amazed by her stage presence and performance and thought I wanna try that…I sat at the piano and wrote a song for the first time. Since then I kept writing…I don’t think I stopped.”
Today, with one album under her belt and multiple live performances, she has managed to make a career that many wouldn’t have the audacity to begin. All while remaining humble. She consistently reinforces that right now, “I’m trying to be better at my craft – songwriting, piano and singing.” Something that I find astonishing because the first time I listened to Battlegrounds, my favorite song on her album, the emotion surging from her voice and the musical arrangement exemplified mastery. Mastery that she deliberately sought by practicing consistently, reaching out to other musicians for further training and being open to constructive criticism from her boyfriend and other peers. Casie doesn’t consider herself a master, these are my words. I think her drive towards perfection is partially fueled by her embrace of greats like Stevie Wonder, whose album “Songs in the Key of Life” is her favorite.
So what’s next for Casie? Her goal is to be able to write music for other artists, all while continuing to serve as the marketer and manager of her band Casie Luong. Writing music has been the route to success for artists like Bruno Mars and hopes it might be the same for her. Meanwhile, this summer she’s found a way to integrate a love for music, education and advancing the lives of women by teaching music at a GirlsForward program, a Chicago based non-profit whose mission is to empower adolescent refugee girls.
Here’s Casie performing Grow from her album by the same name.