I began playing violin when I was only four years old. My sister Christabel, who is two years older than me, was having Suzuki lessons and because I hero-worshipped her, I wanted to do exactly what she was doing.
I’d been watching her progress closely, so I was able to pick it up very quickly myself. With the Suzuki method, you start with a small violin and work your way through a series of books. Of course, it helped that I had some very good teachers. My mother Wanju and my father David could see that I was going to be a good musician and when I was six, I began having private lessons. St Cuthbert’s School in Auckland gave me a musical scholarship and I played in chamber music ensembles throughout my time there. When I finished school, I knew that I wanted to take my music to another level, but I didn’t know exactly how to do that. Then, on a trip to Italy for a music festival, I met some music teachers and decided to try and get into a US university.
Everything happened very quickly. At the age of 18, I was accepted in December for the Moores School of Music January semester at the University of Houston, where I had heard there was a wonderful violin teacher. I realise that I was very young to be living so far from home, but I’d always been a very independent kid, so it wasn’t too bad. I stayed in the university dormitory accommodation and soon made lots of friends. Although I was really there for the music, I had to take an undergraduate course, with subjects such as science and chemistry, so I was always busy.
When my violin teacher went back home to Korea, I was initially very upset, but then I discovered Paul Kantor at The Cleveland Institute of Music and moved schools to learn from him. Eventually, I worked as his teaching assistant. I’m still in the academic world, back in Houston at Rice University, working towards my doctorate. I teach undergraduate classes and give private lessons. No two days are ever the same and I love sharing my knowledge with younger people who are as passionate as I am about music.
Of course, I fit in time for my own practise and I’ve recently discovered salsa dancing, which I really enjoy. I’m also a keen photographer and I’ve joined a band at my local church. There’s always something going on in Houston, which is the US’s fourth biggest city, and these days, my sister Christabel, who lived in Vienna for six years, is now three hours’ drive away in Austin, Texas. We try to get together as often as we can. I’ve won a number of awards throughout my career but receiving the Audience Prize at the Michael Hill International Violin Competition in 2013 was definitely one of the highlights. I was only the second Kiwi to ever reach the finals, so I really did feel very proud and honoured. I also loved being able to perform in New Zealand.
This country is still extremely special to me and on my trip home last year, I had the thrill of playing with two old friends, in CLiK Ensemble. We all live on different continents. I’m in the States, our pianist John Chen teaches in Zambia, and cello player Edward King is based in Berlin.
I’m very glad that I grew up in this wonderful place with its relaxed, laid-back lifestyle. Because my life in the US is always very hectic, it’s good to come back and refresh myself. With music, you never know what might happen in the future, so I try and take each day as it comes. I’ll finish my doctorate, then I’ll simply see where life takes me.”
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