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Teacher Spotlight - Ms. Chi Lee

We asked one our favorite teachers at the studio about her experience as a piano/viola student growing up:

  • When did you first start piano/viola lessons?

I started my piano lessons when I was 5 and I started my viola lessons when I was 9. I also had musicianship classes outside of my regular piano and viola lessons before I turned 9 and then I did weekly music theory and ear training tutoring sessions all the way through high school.

  • What made you, or your parents, decide to learn piano/viola?

My parents are not musicians and they didn’t grow up in a musical environment. I think that made them feel like they were missing something in their childhood, so they decided to have me and my sister start musical training early on. I auditioned to be in the enhanced music program at my elementary school on piano. The program requires their students to learn another instrument besides the piano, and my mom picked the viola for me.

  • What do you remember about your first teacher?

My first piano teacher was very strict so I remember crying after lots of my piano lessons. But I had three other piano teachers and they all helped me so much and shaped me into the person I am today. I am still super grateful for all my viola/piano teachers, I certainly wouldn’t be able to accomplish what I have now without their generous support and help. I built a strong connection with all my teachers and their teaching philosophies still live in me. I took their help and guidance, which is now passed on to my students.

  • Who was the most memorable piano teacher in your childhood, and why?

Probably my second piano teacher, Mr. Wang. I remember that every summer break during my 3rd to 6th grade, my parents would send me to his place and I would stay at his place to take daily piano lessons and practice there for hours every day for the entire summer.

  • Were your parents very involved in your lessons and practicing?

My parents were very involved in my practicing even though they don’t really know music. They made sure I practiced every day on both instruments and did all my music theory and ear training homework. I also had a tape recorder with me to record all my lessons so my parents could always refer back to the tapes when they were practicing with me.

  • When you were a child, did you ever think about giving up?

More often than I’d admit. Since I was raised in an old fashioned Asian family, my parents would make sure that I practice at least 2 hours a day on each instrument. I also often had more than one lesson per week on both instruments when there would be a competition or performance coming up. I rarely had “free time” where I could do things outside of practicing. It’s not the most memorable childhood experience that one could hope for, so often I got upset about not being able to do what normal children could do.

  • What made you stick to it?

Honestly, I wasn’t given an option to give up and my daily schedule was so full that I just had to keep going. However, looking back at it, I am so grateful that my parents and my teachers pushed me to do all the work. Without the diligent work that I did in those early years, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I have now. The thought about “maybe I am not good enough to make it” still pops into my head every once in a while, however, the moments that I perform a great piece of music is a way to remind myself that this is why I am a musician and keeps me motivated to do what I do.

  • In retrospect, what did piano/viola contribute to your childhood?

Piano and viola were, and still are, the largest parts of my life. thebinLike what I mentioned before, piano and viola pretty much sums up my childhood. Those old days taught me to be self-motivated, working with discipline and to be kind to myself and others. These tools are also very useful for my academic work and later on helped me through my college life.

  • What was the hardest thing about learning an instrument as a child?

The hardest part about learning an instrument as a child was sitting to practice hours of piano and standing there practicing hours of viola everyday for me. It was not only a great challenge for me physically but also watching my cousins/friends having a very different schedule from me was mentally very difficult for me.

  • What was the best part about learning an instrument as a child?

The best part about learning an instrument as a child for me was that I got to play chamber music with my best friends. I remember having so much fun spending a weekend afternoon rehearsing a string quartet or piano quintet with my friends. It’s very special to be able to communicate and connect with my friends through music and to be able to play in an ensemble with them.

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