Ask most high schoolers what they do with their free time, and they’ll probably give any number of answers – hanging out with friends, going to movies, cramming for exams, or maybe practicing sports.
But freshman Atticus Wei of Colorado Springs isn’t your average high schooler.
In March, Wei recorded and edited a virtual concert to benefit Ukraine, and he’s been working hard to spread the word about it and raise money for people in need.
His 22-minute-long YouTube video features songs by various local musicians and directs viewers to the fundraising page of Sergei Vassiliev, the Ukrainian-born principal clarinetist of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. At the time of this writing, the video has been viewed more than 2,000 times.
Vassiliev, who still has family in Ukraine, is donating funds to families and individuals in Ukraine that have been directly impacted by Russia’s ongoing war there. So far, he has raised and donated over $40,000.
Wei’s concert opens on a somber note with Vassiliev playing “Stand With Ukraine,” a song of mourning. Photos and video footage of Ukraine – including some showing the recent devastation and destruction – are seen in the background.
Ukrainian artists Siuzanna Iglidan and Tetyana Palamarchuk also give passionate and emotional performances in the video as they sing in their native tongue.
About 13 minutes into the concert, Wei himself plays a bright and spirited rendition of Hayden’s Sonata in C Major – a striking contrast with the other songs that have a much more sorrowful tone.
When asked why he chose this song, Wei simply says, “It has a very happy and joyful energy. It’s like the happiness and joy that are missing from Ukraine right now.”
Wei, a student at Cheyenne Mountain High School, is quiet and shy, with a somewhat serious demeanor. But Vassiliev tells me that when Wei first contacted him about helping with his fundraiser, he was impressed with the young man’s maturity and tenacity.
“I didn’t know who he was. And you know, I get a lot of messages,” Vassiliev says. “But…the messages from [Wei] were just so eloquent and so mature, right off the bat, and so I responded.”
When Wei first contacted him, it was early in the war, and Vassiliev recalls feeling overwhelmed. But Wei was persistent in reaching out, saying he really wanted to do this concert and talking about how it would help Ukraine. So Vassiliev took him up on his offer to help, and felt moved by the video Wei made.
“You never know if it’s the real deal or not, but man, did this kid come through,” Vassiliev tells me. “It’s just inspiring to have young people like this in our community. And you know, what a wonderful thing.”
Wei doesn’t have any family members or close friends who are Ukrainian, but he saw news coverage of the conflict in Ukraine and was inspired to do something to help. He felt called to use music to convey his message because, as a pianist of eight years, he believes in the power of music to bring people together.
“I believe that music is a universal language that can speak without words,” Wei tells me. “It is a medium that crosses times, places, and cultures; it heals, moves, and can transcend all boundaries.”
His mom, Maggie Yang, is quick to point out that the concert was Wei’s idea and that he did all the work of contacting the musicians, recording and editing the video clips, and making the concert video. Wei has even conducted interviews with a couple of the musicians and has so far uploaded one of them to Youtube.
The war in Ukraine has been widely condemned around most of the world, but Vassiliev said it’s especially crucial to have young people like Wei in our midst who care and take action to help others.
“It can’t be overstated how important it is for the next generation to display this sort of leadership and sort of humanity,” Vassiliev says. “And it’s just beautiful, right? So we have to support that.”
Living an active life comes naturally to Wei. For someone like him, it’s slowing down and resting that can pose more of a challenge. Yang says he drives himself hard, going to swim practice six days a week – he’s a Silver State qualifier with aspirations of swimming in college – plus two band practices per day and playing piano almost daily. She tells me Wei often goes from one activity to another with no breaks in between.
“Yeah, this [virtual] concert – he was amazing,” Yang says. “He was right off of swim practice with wet hair in the freezing cold weather [when he recorded] that concert. I was really worried that night, but, well, he did it.”
At times, the pace of Wei’s life feels nonstop, and Yang worries about whether her son gives himself the time and space to relax and be a kid.
“Does it ever get stressful? Is it ever kind of a lot to manage?” I ask Wei.
“Yeah,” he admits with a chuckle almost too quiet to hear as the hint of a smile flickers across his face. But it doesn’t stop him.
Wei’s answers to my questions have grown shorter by this point in the conversation. I get the sense he’s not used to talking about himself this much. Yang chimes in once more.
“The great thing is he loves what he is doing. I guess that makes him very motivated,” she tells me. “That makes a huge difference to handling the tight schedule.”
Wei’s full concert can be viewed here and below. The Youtube video description offers a link to Vassiliev’s fundraiser for anyone interested in donating.