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Why I Play Music by Chanmi Na

What does music mean to me, and why should I continue playing? I asked myself these questions when I picked my viola up again after a two year hiatus. Years of stress due to being nervous on stage had left my confidence in shambles and taken a serious toll on my health. While recuperating after gallbladder surgery, I worked as an administrative assistant at the music department of my university and dealt with the shock from quitting, something I had never imagined myself doing before. It may seem strange that I would start my story from the point where I gave up music, but this was the turning point of my life. It was then that I truly realized my desire to perform and considered the importance of sharing music with others, and it ended up leading me to come to the United States to pursue my Master’s degree. 

I think many of you would agree that music has a strong power to touch people’s heart and enrich their lives, and I believe such power can be revealed only through sharing music with people. No matter where it takes place or what kind of group of people it is for, performers become the vessels who create meaning for music and deliver it to audiences instead of simply mastering their instrument. There are two major stories of mine that inspired me to commit myself to music major and I realized later that those are all related to sharing music. 

In 2001, as a member of amateur chamber music group, I could have a chance to visit Sorokdo (Sorok island) which is the site of leper colony, a place to quarantine people with leprosy, back in the history of Korea. There were still many ex-leprosy patients who had lived their whole lives since they were forced to move to that island. What my group mainly did was playing music, listening to their stories and holding their hands. Nothing fancy was there that we could do for them, but it was very special for me to see how much they were comforted by our playing and how music could let their loneliness and grief go at least at that moment. At the end, that visit drove me to be a music major. 

Here is another story. When I was in college, I had led a dissatisfied and stressful life that always felt like it was lacking something, and it was during my break from music that I realized how much I had pushed myself in a wrong way in the past. I decided to take a different approach and start feeling grateful about everything I had, and this change reached into and influenced all corners of my life. I started valuing different and meaningful goals, such as sharing the blessings that I had been given, and this prompted me to go on a volunteer trip to China to teach students of Chinese and ethnic Korean origin how to play the violin. The students could not learn music because they did not have a teacher or a proper school. Six musicians including me heard about that trip and we all jumped at the chance to share our talents. When I met the students, I immediately felt guilt and shame because I felt there was so little I could do for them with my limited knowledge. Still, I taught them to the best of my knowledge, and to this day, the small rustic classroom where I spent my days teaching around five students how to make sounds on the violin and the smiles and genuine happiness on their faces are fresh in my mind, and these memories are part of the driving force behind my desire for musical education.

Even though there are some limits as a student to fully involve myself in the activities to share music, but I am trying to remember the importance of sharing music and keep looking for the opportunities. Whether it would be teaching or performing, if there is anything that leads you to reach out to people and share your talents, I would like you all to take the opportunities as many as possible. Here at Eastman School of Music, we do also have such opportunity to share music with people outside of school. ‘Music for all’, a chamber music program to reach out to the local community for those who are taking chamber music course in spring semester, and ‘If Music Be The Food…’, a benefit concert series created by Carol Rodland in 2009 associated with Rochester Foodlink for awareness and support for the hungry in the community, are good examples of sharing music. For ‘IMBTF’, even though I didn’t play at the concert, I found myself full of joy and happiness with just being there and watching how music plays its role and fully reveal its value. Next upcoming ‘IMBTF’ concert is on May 8th, 2015, and especially for that concert Kim Kashkashian is featuring as a guest artist (For more details, refer to the website: http://www.ifmusicbethefood.com). I think it would be a wonderful chance for those of you who are looking for the way to take part in the moment of sharing music! 


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