How Music Shaped A Family, Part 2

Sara Stromseth-Troy

ALLEN, TEXAS — Music has been an integral part of the Bui family for several generations.  In Part 1, patriarch Ian Bui described his life story, beginning with his childhood in Vietnam, continuing after the fall of Saigon when his family moved to the United States, and onward through the lives and accomplishments of his children. In Part 2, we  hear from Ian’s musically successful daughter, Ariel.

Ariel Bui.

Ian’s daughter, Ariel Bui, shares her thoughts on how music education shaped her and helped lead to a career path as a professional singer-songwriter. “As a musical artist and music educator, I can say that the music education I received throughout my formative years was invaluable. I was born into a family of Vietnamese immigrants who love and appreciate music from many cultures, genres, and time periods. I am grateful that throughout my childhood, that (love of music) was reinforced with music programs in all of the schools I attended. These music programs I attended from preschool to college have formed who I am, allowed me to cope with the challenges life has presented, while facilitating the pursuit of my passions into adulthood.”

Ariel describes her music education experience. “My musical education began in a Yamaha method preschool keyboard class. Around the same time, my mother was diagnosed with severe mental illness and my brother and I were sent to live with our grandparents. With a basic understanding of rhythm and note reading, even as a 6-year-old, I would cope with life’s challenges by sitting at the keyboard, learning new songs, and listening to the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band incessantly.” She continued, “Although the Louisiana public school system where my grandparents lived was very poorly funded, the music program was excellent. I still have vivid memories of the music teacher keeping me after class to tell me how musically talented I was. He gave me my own recorder as a gift. I remember many of the Southern folk tunes we learned and sang. I also remember the school bringing in an amazing Jazz Band as musical programming for the students.”

  • Continuing with music education

As family struggles continued, Ariel moved continuously, but kept on with her music education. “As our family struggled to cope with my mother’s mental illness, my brother and I were continuously moved around to different family members’ homes in different states. I sang as a soloist in upstate New York, in an elementary school choir led by Vanessa Williams’ mom. After she retired, the public school system there named a holiday for her. In California, I briefly took Suzuki piano lessons but discontinued after experiencing child abuse and ending up in foster care for a short time. I remember when I temporarily returned home with my father, the first class I walked into was choir where we learned “When I’m 64” by The Beatles for our 5th grade graduation performance.”

A move to Florida led to more musical experiences. “After that I moved in with family in Florida where I found solace teaching myself to play piano while being president of the middle school choir and first-chair percussionist in the symphonic band. This is also when I got my first guitar for Christmas- a Yamaha classical guitar. I started learning to play guitar on my own and by high school was writing my own songs and performing as a solo guitarist-singer-songwriter in the underground rock’n’roll scene of Florida.”

  • College

While initially unintended, music became Ariel’s field of study in college. “By the time college came around, with exceptional performance in accelerated academic programs throughout elementary to high school, I thought I would study something ‘practical’ and ‘lucrative’ such as law. I took a basic music theory class for fun and ended up recruited as a music major at Rollins College, with piano as my primary instrument. Studying music theory, music history, vocal performance, the physics of music, piano performance, piano pedagogy, and being heavily involved in college radio, I got to experience being fully immersed in my unwavering passion: Music.”

  • Returning to music

Ariel said that, regardless of what life path she pursues, she returns repeatedly to music. “No matter how many times I’ve tried to pursue other paths, I always come back to music. No matter how challenging life gets, it is always music I turn to for solace, comfort, catharsis & community. With the growing support of research by organizations like the Spirit of Harmony Foundation, I know deep down in my heart that music is healing to individuals and communities. This is why I have chosen music as a profession.”

Ariel made the decision to move to a city renowned for its music: Nashville. “In 2011, I moved to Nashville to pursue music as a career. I have since founded Melodia Studio, a home-based music teaching studio where I teach a large roster of piano students. I currently work with another teacher, Blake Talley, who teaches guitar and music theory. Melodia Studio has also recently expanded to New York City, where former Nashvillian Alice Buchanan teaches violin, piano, and guitar. All of the instructors of Melodia Studio are professional music educators as well as professional musicians.”

  • Professional musicians

Ariel said those who choose a career in music often have to learn to multi-task. “Many of the professional musicians I know, like freelancers and entrepreneurs in any field, must learn to juggle many projects at once. Many of us must closely manage our time and finances, finding paid work (whether related to music or not) that allows us time to pursue our (paid or unpaid) musical aspirations.” She continued, “Finding work that is flexible allows musicians to pick up gigs and tours, schedule recording sessions, network, and find time for the creative process, and fund it all. I have juggled as many as six part-time jobs at once in the pursuit of a more musical existence, slowly shedding the less musically inclined work as musical work increased.”

  • Advice

Ariel offers the following advice for those interested in pursuing a career in music. “Any advice I would give to others pursuing a musical career would be never to forget why you are doing it, because for most of us it is largely a labor of love. It is usually not very glamorous, although it can be a lot of fun at times. It is a lot of work and the cliche of the ‘starving artist’ exists for a reason. I am not starving by any means, but funding personal music projects on a part-time music teacher’s salary means basically working all the time and living simply. Many of us hope that the time, money, and soul we put into it are merely investments that will eventually equate to “success”. As long as you keep at it with perseverance and patience, continue to develop your craft, love what you do, and find a happy balance between artistry and practicality, I would consider that success. Of course, there are always ups and downs, but if you are busy pursuing your dreams and reminding yourself that you are doing what you love, you’ll get through it. If you surround yourself by a supportive musical community that makes all the difference.”

  • Current projects

Ariel describes her most recent professional projects. “In 2015, I recorded a full-length album, produced, engineered, and mixed by Grammy-nominated producer Andrija Tokic at The Bomb Shelter, an analog recording studio in Nashville. The album was mastered to analog tape by Paul Gold at Salt Mastering in Brooklyn, New York. The record features the amazing musicianship of drummer Dave Racine, multi-instrumentalist Jon Estes, and the voices of Emma Berkey, Lizzie Wright, and Jem Cohen. This will be my fourth full length album, but my first professionally produced recording. The hope is to find support to release the album on vinyl, where the recordings will remain 100 percent analog before being released digitally. My theory is that the pure, non-digitized sound waves of analog are psycho-acoustically more beneficial to our brains, bodies, and souls. I am very happy with the album, and have to continually tell myself, in the face of the unknown future and all the work ahead, that everything’s how it should be.”

Below is a video of “To All The Cowboys,” written and performed by Ariel Bui, featuring Emma Berkey at Fond Object Record Store and Arts Collective in East Nashville, TN.  Sound Engineered by Jem Cohen.

For more information about Melodia Studio or Ariel Bui, visit and

SarainpurpleSara Stromseth-Troy is a freelance newspaper feature writer for The Cresco Times Plain Dealer, and serves as Young Adult Librarian and manages the social media accounts for The Cresco Public Library. Fortunate to grow up surrounded by an extended family of music educators, she is honored to volunteer in blog writing and social media for The Spirit of Harmony Foundation, on whose advisory board she sits. She lives in Cresco, Iowa