Kei Otake, a freshman at The Juilliard School, wanted to expose classical music to people who might not hear it otherwise — so, just a month after starting school in New York City, he began playing his cello in subway stations.

“Some people love it and they’ll stay for half an hour just to listen and then most people just walk by, they don’t care,” Otake told uInterview exclusively. “I don’t play pop music, I don’t play rock — I don’t do that, because the whole idea is to put classical music into that environment so that people have the opportunity to hear where they otherwise might not have the opportunity. So as long as they hear, that’s fine. That’s all I want, really. If you want to listen more, that’s awesome. I love that too, but that doesn’t really matter to me.”

Otake was born with Treacher Collins Syndrome, a genetic condition that makes speaking difficult for him. He began playing the cello when he was around nine years old, taking after his older brother, who played the cello and took lessons. Otake would go to his cello lessons and then pick up the instrument himself.

When he came to New York for school, he heard about a Juilliard graduate who used to play their instrument in the subways, so he decided to try it out himself and received a positive reaction. While Otake believes it is more important than others glean something from his performances, he does get something out of his own playing.

“I think what I get out of it is the satisfaction that other people get something out of it — does that make sense?” Otake said. “So it’s mostly just to know that people enjoy it and appreciate it.”

Sometimes, people who watch will ask Otake about songs’ composers or about how he started playing in the subways. Once, a girl stayed to watch for so long that Otake went up to her himself to talk, and the two are now friends.

Outside of playing the cello, Otake enjoys watching movies.

“I honestly think if I was not a cellist I would be at film school,” Otake said. “Juilliard is really close by to a movie theater and so whenever I have a chance I’ll just go and watch a movie if there’s anything good out. So yeah, I just really really like films, almost as much as music. Almost.”

When he started at Juilliard, Otake found that he was behind others who had been playing the cello for much longer than he had, but he persevered because he had found what he wanted to do.

“The most important thing is to find and just go with it and go at it with all of your whatever, and if you do that I think everything else will follow,” Otake said.

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