UCSB music student Azeem Ward (aka Viral Flute Recital Guy) made Internet waves in May when a public Facebook video he posted previewing his upcoming senior recital went global. It garnered 100,000 RSVPs, mostly from the United Kingdom, where he became a meme sensation — one Brit, Stuart Swift, even flew from England to Santa Barbara for the actual concert. Since the initial posting, Ward became a BuzzFeed celebrity, appeared onJimmy Kimmel Live!, and performed his senior concert. I caught up with him recently to see what he’s up to now.
When did you start playing flute? I started in the 5th grade, but it wasn’t until I saw the orchestra play that I decided it was what I wanted to do. Pursuing the flute in school band and orchestra, I soon had outgrown my youth-sized flute, but the music director, Michael Morgan, of the Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra helped organize a fundraiser to pay for a collegiate-sized $5,000 flute. I’ve had a really lucky life.
What was it like during your viral Facebook fame? It was difficult to focus on my graduation recital because I had gotten a lot of requests for favors and interviews. I ended up turning off the Facebook notifications. It’s crazy because there are a lot of hardworking musicians out there that deserve recognition; what are the chances of that happening to me?
What has it been like afterward? My friends and professors are really positive and supportive. I have been getting a lot of random gigs, including playing at the Goodland Hotel, an a cappella concert in I.V., and the UCSB MultiCultural Center Persian music concert. I might do a tour in the U.K. this summer.
What are your future plans? I’m going to pursue my graduate degree at the University of Northern Iowa. I got offered a full scholarship and being able to teach flute classes. They also have jazz classes, which is a plus. I’m a big fan of beat maker Nujabes because [the] wide range of styles he blends together is subtle and smooth, and players like Hubert Laws and Bobbi Humphrey, who are both pioneers in exploring flute in jazz and funk. I want to collaborate with more musicians, check out the L.A. scene at some point, and record an album exploring jazz and hip-hop music.
Any advice to future classical musicians? The state of classical music needs more musicians to reach a commercial audience. The traditional symphony route is dwindling because there are so many people competing for that one orchestra seat. You see a lot of musicians forming chamber groups and ensembles. There needs to be more different ways of promoting it, making it more accessible to younger audiences by incorporating music that speaks to us.