Classical Pianist Jeeyoon Kim: ‘A Messenger of Beauty’ Uses Life Lessons to Connect with Others


Jeeyoon Kim still doesn’t know if she chose the piano at the age of 4, or the piano chose it, but the award-winning classical pianist and music teacher does not regret following her passion and love for the music.

She has been called a “force of nature” with “a wealth of talent” who has connected with her audience through conversation, converting young listeners to the beauty she sees in classical music. Now, she shares the lessons and habits she has cultivated in her life as a musician in her new book, “When You’re Ready: How to Compose the Life of Your Dreams”.

“Through this book, I wanted to demystify many assumptions people might have about what I do and share the tools to mentally, emotionally and physically prepare for the scene,” she says, noting that the title of the book came from to notice that someone is usually backstage before it’s time for her to perform, with her hand on the stage door, before turning to her to say, “Whenever you are. ready “. In such moments, she gathers her courage, nods with a smile and goes out to perform.

“Through my teaching, I realized that there are many tools in life that people simply ignore, even if they know them.”

Her hope is to use the warmth, honesty and compassion through her experience as a concert pianist and as a human being with her own struggles, to inspire and motivate others to use some of the tools that have worked for her ” in their green rooms when they perform on their stage of life. (She is hosting a virtual book launch party on her YouTube channel at 2 p.m. on September 12 and will discuss “When You’re Ready” at a virtual event with Warwick’s at 4 p.m. on September 14.)

Kim, 41, lives in Hillcrest and left Korea for the United States almost 20 years ago to pursue his masters and doctoral studies in piano performance. She took the time to talk about her book, some of the lessons she learned from her music career, and the importance of continuously learning from herself and being kind to herself.

Question: I would like to ask you a few questions based on the titles of some of the chapters in “When You’re Ready”. In “Dealing with the Monster in Your Head” I’m curious who / what was your own monster? What is that telling you, in your head? And how do you deal with what is being said? How to overcome it?

A: Being in the spotlight as a performing artist in front of crowds is an interesting position for anyone who hears their own negative voices before, during and after a concert. When things don’t turn out the way I planned, the monster in my head is the first to criticize that part of the room, or even before anything happens the monster can anticipate an incident or create fear or worry. Daily journaling has been my lifeline. I try to analyze the root of the voice, write down all my negative thoughts and explain why these negative sentences are stupid and wrong. I am writing a visualization of my best upcoming performance scenario in detail and my affirmation phrases. It strengthens my thought muscle every day. Just like the body, we all lose muscle every day, little by little. So, I also need daily maintenance of my thoughts.

Question: There is also “The beauty of our limits”. What are your own limits? And what beauty have you found within these limits?

A: Before going on stage, I always think that the concert I am about to give is my last. If this is my last gig, what to worry about? This way of thinking always frees me to appreciate the very opportunity that has been given to me to share music and makes me want to give it all without regret. I always want to leave the stage with the feeling that there is absolutely nothing more I could have given. It was truly my best effort to connect, appreciate, feel, express and fully experience this moment. I try to go through each day like it’s the last day of my life. It helps me live the present moment fully. We live each day only once. There is no turning back, no stopping. With every minute of every unique stage in our life, we have a choice to live fully or lose the precious moment. I believe that if I want to create a slice of heaven now, I can certainly do it with my intention. I can always choose to connect, do good, and help others. Enjoy, feel, be positive and happy, love and do the thing that I love to do, which is to play the piano right now. As much as we wish we could be here forever, it is true that we have a limited time on this earth, which makes our being here more beautiful and more useful.

What I like about Hillcrest …

The fact that I can maintain a walking lifestyle. I can walk to restaurants, bakeries, cafes, grocery stores and everywhere. I love the vibe of a busy city like New York, in a city where I can get to the beach in 10 minutes. I have a (San Diego) zoo membership, so I walk to the zoo as part of my regular walk, which is only five minutes from my house. I feel like I’m somewhere between beautiful Spain (Balboa Park), a tropical African jungle (the zoo) and energetic New York City (the main blocks of Hillcrest). Even though I travel, the fact that the airport is only a 10 minute drive from my home is amazing.

Question: You have been recognized for your talents both as an artist and as an educator, with numerous awards, and you have also attracted young fans to classical music. Why do you think you have succeeded in attracting the youngest to the classical piano? What are you doing differently?

A: Many older generations have known classical music as the primary source of entertainment at home or at the local theater when they were young. In the world of so much stimulation in which we live now, I find that the younger generations need a little more guidance, or at least a first experience of being guided towards classical music. It’s not that they wouldn’t be interested in classical music, but they never had the chance to experience it properly. I speak to an audience like a concert pianist friend, as if I were inviting them into my living room to play a piece that fascinates me. I don’t assume anything and there are no program notes, nor a list of songs that I will play; it’s just me on a stage with a microphone to guide and embrace it like a trip we would take together. I create a bridge by sharing my feeling about the play, the struggles, victories, stories and emotions related to the play, and then I open a path for them to enter their stories and feelings about the music as they listen. . My goal is to be a vessel for music, so that they can convey its message as directly as possible. The more they connect with me, the easier it is for them to bypass me, the pianist, and reach their souls, which communicate directly with the music. They eventually get it when given the opportunity, and they think Beethoven and Chopin’s music is “cool”.

Question: What has been rewarding about your work in classical music?

A: When people who have never attended a classical concert become fans. When people tell me that my music has inspired them to be a better person, giving them strength and courage. When a young audience tells me after a concert that they like a certain piece and passionately explains to me why they liked it, with a big smile on their face. When I know that I have created a little wave in people’s hearts with what I do, which I know will have positive effects that I can never measure. I am a messenger of beauty, I deliver it to people.

Question: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

A: Don’t ask “why”, ask “what now? I like this mindset because instead of being blamed for why something happened, it directs me to the present. What strategies can I use now? What can I do in this situation? It allows me to be present and positive, knowing that there is always something I can do about it.

Question: What’s the one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?

A: The fact that I surf every day and love to glide. For me, surfing is like making music, following an organic form of phrasing with ever-changing waves and being one with nature. I love watching the sunrise from the water, seeing dolphins swimming and pelicans catching fish for breakfast. I try to observe what nature teaches me and to express it in music.

Question: Please describe your ideal weekend in San Diego.

A: I was surfing at Tourmaline (Surfing Park) early in the morning, watching the sun come up from the ocean. Next, I picked up delicious organic fruit, peaches and figs at the Hillcrest Farmers Market for breakfast before my morning piano practice. I would meet friends at Donna Jean (a vegan restaurant) for lunch and walk back to Balboa Park. I would pass by the Spanish Village Art Center to see some art after walking through my favorite place in the park – the pond and botanical garden. I would do yoga and meditation on the patio when the outside temperature is perfect with a little breeze. I practiced the piano with a focused mind before snuggling in bed with my favorite book before falling asleep.

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