Student of the Week: Meet the man behind the straw instruments


Lilly Gorman

Coppell High School sophomore Tony Shi is known for playing a pan flute made out of plastic straws during passing period. If high pitched recorder-like sounds are coming from the CHS halls then just know it’s Shi.

Neha Desaraju, Staff Writer

The sounds of a kazoo is familiar to many Coppell High School students. This week, The Sidekick chose sophomore Tony Shi, the student behind a range of homemade straw instruments, colorful pieces of calligraphy and quite literally, shocking mechanisms as our Student of the Week.


When did you first get started with your instruments?

I made a few last year to play in [GT/Honors Algebra II teacher Tom] Portteus’ class, and then I started making them to play notes this year. Portteus was right after lunch, and lunch was [when] you could get straws from the C-Store.


What is the first instrument you made?

It was one of the straw things that made buzzing noises. It’s not a kazoo, it’s more like an oboe, but it doesn’t sound like an oboe.


Which is your favorite straw instrument?

Probably the pan flute, because it makes tones not as harsh as the other ones.


How do you make your instruments?

For the pan flute, you just need to seal off the ends of the straw and cut the tubes to be the right length. You repeat that for every note you want and stick [the straws] together somehow.


What reactions have you noticed from people while playing in the hallways?

Some people want to throw it away, other people want to stop the people who are trying to throw it away. I don’t know what my favorite is, I don’t pick favorites, I like all the reactions equally, which is indifference.


How have you perfected the art of making straw instruments?

Wait, that has a premise built in. First of all, that it’s been years, and second of all that it’s been perfected. It’s not the end of this year, so I don’t think it’s been one year yet. But it’s also not perfected. But I have changed the reed to make it easier to play, and then [added a tuner].


What other non-straw instruments do you play?

Just piano right now. In sixth grade, I tried out a lot [of instruments] when I was trying out for band. I also tried some violin, and I also played flute in middle school band.


What type of music do you like to play on the piano?

[Nineteenth-century Polish composer] Chopin, probably. Anything I like the sound of.


Who or what inspires you?

[Pianist and musician] Tom Lehrer. [World-class calligrapher] Michael Sull is pretty cool, too.


What is your spirit animal?

A homo sapiens sapiens.


What are your career aspirations?

I kind of wanted to busk on the streets, but then I realized I wouldn’t make much money.


Describe how you would make a sandwich and what you would do with it.

An Earth sandwich, where someone took a piece of bread and went to the opposite side of the world. And then someone else put another piece of bread down [here]. Does that count as a sandwich? Does it have to be edible or are there any monetary constraints? Well, I would probably see what the largest sandwich is, then make a bigger one with the Guinness World Records present, so I can create publicity for my straw thing. Afterwards you could sell the sandwich back for part of the—wait, so there’s no monetary constraints? So can I use the sandwich as a shell company to funnel money into my own interests? Yes, I’ll do that.


Follow Neha on Twitter @nehades_