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AP Percussion Young Artist Interview Series: A Korean in Singapore

Updated: Dec 22, 2020

Chaeyeong Lee, is a Korean percussionist currently studying in Singapore. Chaeyeong has enjoyed success in various fields, namely as a soloist, chamber musician and as an orchestral musician.

After graduating from Deokwon Arts High School in Korea, she is now in Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YSTCM) in National University of Singapore (NUS). When she performed a concerto in KBS Concert Hall for the 22nd Deokwon Annual Concert in 2013, she experienced her first major communication with the audience. Since then, based on her strong belief in music, she decided to major in percussion, and proceeded to study with percussionist Joonbum Park.

As a soloist, she won the Concerto concert audition in Kookmin University, and got the honor to perform a concerto with Kookmin Philharmonic Orchestra.

Her most recent achievements include having won third place in the 2019 Yong Siew Toh Concerto Competition, as well as appearing as a soloist in “Around the world in 80 minutes” which was held in Kuching, Malaysia in 2018.

As an orchestral player, having performed with many notable orchestras such as the New Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra (Korea), Goyang Philharmonic Orchestra (Korea), Metropolitan Festival Orchestra (Singapore) and many more.

Based on her passion in ensemble playing, she took part in Focus Percussion Ensemble (Korea) as a member. Chaeyeong has also appeared on video recordings with the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music Percussion Ensemble, many of which are available on YouTube. She won the 1st prize in Thailand International Percussion Festival 2019 in the Chamber Music category.

She took masterclasses from amazing soloist and orchestral musicians all around the world such as Stuart Marrs, Colin Currie, Jim Ancona, Gifford Howarth, Patrick Wirth and more.

Not only orchestral and solos, but she also took part in the Opus Novus New Music ensemble, where she played programmes which are mix of important pieces by internationally renowned composers with newer works and lesser known gems of the contemporary repertoire.

In 2019, she participated in a Cultural Encounter festival in Bail, Indonesia. She intensively studied traditional Indonesian music including Balinese and Sundanese musical ensemble forms.

Chaeyeong is in her last year of Bachelor of Music degree from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, Singapore, where she is studying under the tutelage of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra Principal Percussionist, Jonathan Fox.

Studying overseas is a common and popular option among music students. Musicians say that the benefits of spending time in another country is one of the preparations in life as a music professional. As a musician, to experience how my interests are taught, supported, and shared outside of my country, studying overseas offers a compelling opportunity to learn in a new world.

For me, I started to play percussion at the age of 17 which is very late compared to my other musician friends. I went straight away to Deokwon Arts High School and met my percussion teacher there. From that point on, I really had to practice hard to catch up with my other colleagues. I ended up getting into a music university in Korea. I studied there for around two years, but I always felt something was not going right. The curriculum just was not suitable for me, and eventually I researched studying overseas. I did not wanted to go out of Asia alone, since it was my first time flying abroad. Then found this school in Singapore, “Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, National University of Singapore”. That time back in 2017, I went Singapore for the first time in my life with my mom to take the audition for the school. As a result, I got in and it really is a lifechanging experience even till today.

Our school has 200 students in total, and 80% of the students are international students. This was very shocking for me at first, because I have never interacted with these people from all over the world and make friends with them. It was very interesting to know their culture and make music together. Having local friends actually helped me adapt in Singapore too. They would bring me to all the hidden food places and localized spots around the country. Moreover, my local friends introduced me to a lot of gigs, part time jobs, and teaching positions also. If it wasn’t my friends, I would have never enjoyed my life here.

The second amazing thing is that this school helds a lot of concerts. Before the virus started, the school always supported us to have much experience in performing as much as we can. Not only having orchestra concerts, but we also had small to large chamber groups. Besides that, we also had new music concert. When I first interacted with new music, I was shocked at how different music can be. As a percussionist, I really had new and special instruments to play where I would not commonly use in orchestra repatories. For example, I have played “Lichtbogen” by Kaija Saariaho, which is a piece motived by the northern lights. The piece had a gloomy feeling and myserious atmosphere. So when we rehearsed it was really important especially for me, because I had to play 8 instruments all by myself not missing the conductors beat. Since it was a new music, there were some random notes here and there and giving the effect of the northern lights. It was quite tough and the piece itself was not easy, but in the end of the day I have learned really a lot in terms of observing the conductor and following music, also knowing better setting up my 8 instruments too. My setup has changed until the concert day, which I guess is quite common for percussionists in new music. Whenever I had to play in a piece which requires many percussions, I had to think how to set up which way is more effective to move instrument to instrument faster and easier.

When I first entered the school as a freshman, I was surprised how motivated the students in the percussion studio were. My seniors were all very nice to me and they always came and stop by my practice room to help me whenever I was struggling with practicing. We also had an annual percussion concert, played by our Yong Siew Toh Percussion Ensemble which many are available in Youtube. We would rehearse almost everyday for this concert and really work on the music close to perfect. By rehearsing together and being one group, our percussion studio are really like one family. We not only play music together, but also cook, or even go traveling together!

Another thing that was special studying in Singapore was having studio classes. Studio classes is a class for every department of instruments having a class about excerpts, orchestral techniques and more. For percussionists, we usually had our studio class twice in a week for two hours, and every week we will have different topics in classes. There were classes like audition tips, mallet making, changing heads of drums, triangle clip making, excerpt class...etc. Towards the end of the semester, we will have a special session which is the mock audition. Every beginning of the semester, our teacher will hand over a list of audition excerpts, and we will have to practice the excerpts during the semester. In the mock audition our teacher will randomly choose a few excerpts from the list and ask us to play. There were times where we had a blind audition, as well as an open audition. We have experimented lots of cases where there is a possibility that this will really happen in real life auditions.

The very last class, we would usually have a soiree which is having a small performance in the studio. It can be a solo performance or ensemble as well. We would invite our friends and just enjoy the last class of the semester like that. This year due to the virus, most of the concerts were held online. It had been almost an year since the virus had started and I think a lot of musicians definitely got affected. Maybe this could be a start of a new era of music, or maybe things will go back as normal like last time. But till then we all will have to try many things and never give up.

At first I was also worried if I could really study abroad in a country that is 8 hours apart from Korea, but now I find that I really do not want to go back, and if I do I will really miss this place. Studying in Singapore not only taught me music, but also taught me many life lessons too. If someone asks me if I recommend studying music in Singapore, the answer will always be yes!

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