Faculty Highlight: Dr. ChoEun Lee

Q: Tell us a little about yourself – Such as where you’re from, your educational background/musical experience, etc

A: I am from Ulsan, South Korea (Ulsan is where Hyundai started their first car production). I finished my undergraduate in Korea and obtained a solo piano degree. I came to the States in 2005 to pursue a Master’s degree in collaborative piano from the University of Cincinnati. Afterwards I went to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles for my doctoral degree. I taught at California State University San Bernardino for 4 years, then I finally arrived to Lee in 2016. In the meantime, I have engaged in several prestigious music festivals such as Tanglewood Music Festival and also the Aspen Music Festival where I worked with renowned musicians including Stephanie Blythe, Jake Heggie, Martin Katz, Anne Sofie von Otter, Christine Schäffer, Dawn Upshaw, and Linda Watson, and performed in Korea, the United States, Austria, Australia, Italy, Taiwan, and New Zealand.

Q: How did you hear about Lee University, and what classes do you teach here?

A: When I found Lee University was seeking applicants for assistant professor of collaborative piano and vocal coaching, I liked the name because my last name is also Lee, so I thought perhaps this my destination!

I teach Collaborative Piano, Vocal Coaching, Chamber Music, Applied Piano, Opera courses, and I also play for Lee Chorale.

Q: In regards to the Collab Music event… Can you tell us a little more about it and what it means to you?

A: LeeU Collab Music is a day-long workshop focusing on musical collaboration. We aim to 1) encourage and guide young musicians who are interested in collaboration, 2) enrich their knowledge related to the collaborative arts field, and 3) empower their skills to become successful collaborators in making music together. We welcome all musicians (pianists, vocalists, and instrumentalists) from pre-collegiate, collegiate, and teaching professionals.

Through this LeeU Collect music, there are a few things I wish to accomplish. One is promoting a culture in the university of musical collaboration. Specifically we seek to encourage young musicians to collaborate with their partners while developing their instrument techniques since their music is intertwined with their partners.

I also hope to have more people made aware of how active and vibrant our music program is here at Lee University. We had two successful events in the fall and spring with 60-70 participants joining us for each event from 14 different states and Canada, and had our own faculty and visiting faculty from other schools providing lectures and workshops via Zoom. After the Covid situation improves, we plan to host a live event on our campus (or hybrid) and continue this collaboration journey.

Q: How does your religion impact your life in the industry?

A: I was born and raised Catholic and with two nuns in my family. My mother’s hope was that I would learn to play beautiful music during Mass, and that expectation worked out well for me! One of the Christian virtues I learned is loving and helping others which forms a big part of my faith and music. It is also helpful in being a collaborative pianist because, if one wishes to be a good collaborator, they must be willing to love and support others.

Q: Any favorite memories of your music career?

A: There are a lot! But there are two in particular: Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox, MA, and my Carnegie Hall debut in 2015. When you are invited to the Tanglewood Music Festival (summer home of Boston Symphony Orchestra), they provide everything you need to focus on music-making. I was so fortunate to attend the event for 2 summers, and I worked with great musicians from the world. Every day we would talk about music and, for a musician, it was like heaven.

Performing in Carnegie Hall is the dream for many musicians, and one of my aspirations since I was young. I made my Carnegie debut in Weill Recital Hall and I was alongside my two dear friends, a soprano and saxophonist. We gave a recital including a few commissioned pieces written for us. My parents flew out from Korea to attend my concert and it was very special and memorable.

Q: Do you have any advice to pass along to music students? 

A: When I was a student, I didn’t recognize how important practicing was in music-making and in developing my musicality. Good practice is building up the right muscle memory with critical thinking; so when musicians get on stage for a concert, they can fully engage in the music and communicate with the audience.

I would also like to emphasize the importance of good time-management. Organizing a schedule, prioritizing tasks, and allocating time for each task is important; it is crucial to balance between study and practice. Also, utilizing a 15-minute time slot for several activities including breaks provides a great opportunity to accomplish a lot of things.

Lastly, I really want to encourage students to take challenges that push them outside of their comfort zones and explore new musical experiences. (Probably after Covid) attending live concerts, participating in the national and international music festivals, and connecting with musicians outside of Lee will help in expanding one’s perspectives in music and enrich their lives.

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