Arts4All Blog

Get to know the Musicians of Sensational Sonatas

Posted September 18th, 2017  |  By A4A.asami

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CSMA welcomes violinist Elbert Tsai and pianist Jennie Jung for a program of violin sonatas by Beethoven, Dvořák and Saint-Saëns. Get to know Elbert and Jennie, in advance of the Sensational Sonatas performance, as they discuss how music education has helped shaped them, as well as share some advice for music students.

Elbert Tsai, Violin

How did you begin playing music?

My mom took me to a music store when I was 3. When she asked me what I wanted to play, I remember looking up at the different instruments and somewhat randomly pointing to the violin. I also have vivid memories of enjoying listening to classical music when I was very young, but it was not my idea to start playing an instrument. My parents wanted me to have the musical education and background that they never had.

Did you have you access to music education in school? If not, how did you find your way into music?

My music education came well before any school program introduced it. I had Suzuki violin lessons when I was 3 and private piano lessons at 5. I played various instruments in school bands (flute, percussion, trombone and tuba), but by then I was already going to the New England Conservatory Prep program for lessons, orchestra, chamber music, theory and chorus. I was lucky to live in an area with such a great and comprehensive program.

Tell us about a great music teacher you had.

For graduate school, I went to USC to study with Robert Lipsett. He had many outstanding students, and he really opened my eyes to what a violin sounds like when it is played at a world-class level, as well as the discipline it takes to get there. At my first lesson, he had me play a scale extremely slowly and pointed out how many problems I had just trying to play the first 2 or 3 notes.

How often do you practice and/or rehearse?

I try to practice 2 hours a day, and even more when I have something coming up. When I was in school really learning my craft, I put in more 4-5 hours daily. Now I’m busier and have more responsibilities, but I like to think I can also solve problems more efficiently, so 2 hours is enough to accomplish what I need to. Playing the violin well always requires a lot of patience and practice, no matter your age or ability.

What advice do you have for young, aspiring musicians?

My advice would be to find the best teacher you can at any and every stage of your development. It should go without saying that if you have goals in music, then you will work hard. But for the same amount of effort put in, you will improve and achieve so much more if you find the right teacher who can set up your fundamental skills and inspire you to make music. In my experience, talent is not so much of a factor in musical success. It comes down to proper instruction and willpower/diligence.

Jennie Jung, Piano

How did you begin playing music?

My mother grew up in South Korea following the Korean War and had never had the opportunity to take any kind of music lessons. It was her dream to play the piano. She wanted her kids to learn to play as well, so when I was almost five years old, we both began to take lessons with a teacher who lived in our apartment complex. Of course with three kids at the time (soon to be four), she stopped lessons after about a year, but I kept playing!

Did you have you access to music education in school? If not, how did you find your way into music?

As I mentioned, I began taking piano lessons privately when I was almost five. However, I do remember having music classes in elementary school, learning to play the recorder, singing (Canadian!) folk songs and other popular melodies.

At my very first school (which I attended from junior kindergarten to grade two), in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the whole school sat outside of their classrooms, along the walls of a very long hallway, and we all sing Christmas carols together. I loved it so much; it’s still one of my favorite memories of school!

At another school I attended, there was an orchestra program which began in grade four, and so I learned to play the violin and eventually the viola, which I played all through high school in the school orchestras as well as in the Korean-Canadian Symphony Orchestra.

Tell us about a great music teacher you had.

I’ve been fortunate to have excellent teachers at every point of my musical education, each was very, very dedicated to their students. But if I have to choose one, the teacher I studied with at Yale, Claude Frank, was perhaps the most inspirational. Mr. Frank was a very special person. His love for music showed through every note he played. Lessons with Mr. Frank were, for me, special occasions and he always knew just what to say to help bring out the best in my playing. The greatest moments were when he sat at the piano and began to play himself. By the time I studied with him, he was quite old and his fingers were stiff and bent with arthritis. Yet even when he played just a single melodic line - it was such a warm, lovely sound that conveyed the musical phrase in a way that could take your breath away. He was an amazing pianist and person.

How often do you practice and/or rehearse?

These days, with a young child and teaching, it can be hard to practice consistently. However, when preparing for concerts, I try to practice everyday for at least 2-3 hours, more if I can manage it. 

What advice do you have for young, aspiring musicians?

Couple of words for aspiring musicians:
1. Learn as much of the (standard) repertoire as you can when you’re young! It’s hard to believe at a young age, but really, once you graduate and have a job and family, it becomes much harder to learn pieces and spending even just a few weeks with a piece at a young age can help bring it back much more quickly when you get older.
2. Learn how to speak to/with your audience and to get along with your fellow musicians; the music world is small and many of the friends you make in high school and college will be your colleagues in the ‘real’ world. Connections are just as important in the music world as in any other profession.
3. Work hard. As Thomas Edison said, “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration,” and this applies to being a musician as well. Talent and natural ability can help, but it’s important to work hard and develop good practice techniques and solid technical and musical foundations to build upon.

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