Classical Pianist Dr. Jeeyoon Kim is a PR client of SJF Communications, but she is so much more than a client. Jeeyoon is a kindred spirit and hopefully a forever friend. She exudes kindness, positivity, talent, wit, intellect, elegance and a keen sense of mastery, interaction, connection and engagement as a person and as a musician. I first heard, rather “experienced” her incredible musical talents after one of our early business meetings. Jeeyoon surprised me by granting me my own “personal mini concert”. I must admit, I had to hold back tears – it was so surprisingly magical. It was an emotional experience for me to hear the selections she played, watching her gently move to the rhythms of the classical pieces she performed so gracefully and poetically. She was truly “one” in concert with the music. She respectfully honored each composer and emotionally as well as technically “connected” to each piece.
Jeeyoon Kim is a force to reckon with! And so, without further ado…Ladies and Gentlemen:
SJF: Let’s start at the beginning! Please tell us about your upbringing, family, siblings, etc.
JK: I grew up in South Korea with one older brother. Both of my parents were business owners. I was raised to be independent, as my parents were always busy, but they always supported my music. They both were naturally good singers and they always sang a lot casually. I also remember the scenes of childhood involved with mountains, pine trees, Buddhist temples, and also contrasting high rises, busy cities and busy street markets. I was lucky enough to have both; places like New York City or scenery such as in the Smoky Mountains have almost an equal amount of feeling like of a home for me. I remember going to get fresh water at a nearby mountain top with my Grandma, and we would play badminton on the way back. I remember she always won those badminton games!. Going to a farmer’s market is one my favorite activities as that is one of the closest experiences I have in terms of getting produce just like we did when growing up in Korea. I still try to visit Korea once a year if possible. And most of those times, my list of foods I want to eat during my stay is always much longer than I can possibly eat then!
SF: When did you begin playing the piano? Private lessons? Were you always enthused about piano?
JK: I started playing piano when I was four years old, and I don’t have any recollection of choosing that myself. But I remember I always enjoyed going to the local piano institute on my own every day except Sunday to have a lesson and to practice. I thought it was always so much fun to play piano, and I still think it is!
SF: Such dedication at an early age-and ever lasting as you received your Doctorate in Piano Performance and Masters in Music Degrees at the Jacobs School of Music at the University of Indiana!
SF: Do you ever feel stage fright?
JK: If I feel so comfortable and normal playing in public, then I will start to worry about it, as I believe that having those butterflies in your stomach is a necessary part of being a performer and that makes a live performance more beautiful and organic. No, I don’t have a phobia doing it. I also know nobody dies if I make a mistake. I just learned and still learning to deal with it, as I love to share music with people.
SJF: So…there’s no need to keep the butterflies at bay!
SJF: Do you have any different routines on a performance day?
JK: Yes, I treat myself like a queen. Haha, just kidding. Perhaps I try to do my best to do things as normal as possible in terms of what I eat, but less physical practice, more sleep, taking a long walk for a mental practice and fully acknowledging a feeling of gratitude of that day given to me as a gift that I can share my music with people. I certainly don’t talk much before the performance though.
SJF: Very astute elements of your routine! Interesting about not practicing much that day and feeling gratitude for your gift of sharing! And feeling comfortable with the “quiet” on purpose is a point especially taken.
SJF: What do you think about when you are performing?
JK: I think about music and the composer, following their emotional process or its course of hidden messages closely. I also think about the overall structural picture of the piece, as if I am building an aural structure, noticing where I am going and where I am. If I focus on the core message, then the rest of technical things will serve its musical purpose. But if I put a priority on the perfection of the notes, no music nor perfection would exist.
SJF: Yes, affirmed! I most definitely witnessed that when I hear you perform!
SJF: Do you exercise?
JK: I want to exercise more than I do now. Normally I exercise with my trainer once a week, and swim once or twice a week at the Broadway Athletic and Swim Club. Generally speaking, I like to do an intense conditional workout and also long distance swimming. As time is one of the least available resources I have, I want to do a more intense interval workout when I actually get to exercise. Sometimes I swim to practice a piece in my mind on purpose, especially at the end of a day. It takes at least three or four times longer to practice in my mind than its actual time on piano, but it is so valuable for me to do so. I feel mentally exercised yet physically relaxed afterwards. I love it.
SJF: It would be so cool to be inside your mind and note the process as you “practice” while swimming! Wow, you are featured on the cover and interviewed in Swimmer Magazine! How cool is that?!
JK: It is like a recurring dream, I had a thought that kept popping in my head, which was creating an album to be very much like ‘Jeeyoony’ and as close as my live performances. I have realized that the time and spaces that I can reach is limited, but at the same time it doesn’t have to be that way. I thought creating an album is a great way to connect with more people in this world, sharing what I am passionate about. I also wanted to collect many of the pieces that are like my old friends, which I often play as an encore. ‘Ten more minutes’ is also a concept behind when audiences ask for encores at my live concerts. Definitely that is not greedy, as I am not asking for 10 more days, but just simply wish having that10 More Minutes to cherish.
As soon as I had a concept in my head more solidly, it had its own life, evolving and expanding its possibility. I wanted to record pieces that are close to me, so it is easier to connect with people more. Then I realized that the time is actually ‘now’ to create. I presented the idea into a possible reality through crowdfunding, Kickstarter, to the world. I also wanted this project to be collaborated work with people, that mutually we all want this idea to be a reality. When it became successfully funded within 30 days, I have felt like I had received an excellent engine that can run so well, and all I had to do is to drive that engine with the best ability that I could ever have.
I cared for every single detail of this album, involving every aspects of this album, from each single note to finishing. I have created the best team for the album – a producer, sound engineer, graphic designers, photographers, a recording studio in New York City, and a great Hamburg Steinway. I feel content with it knowing that I did my absolute best – even though from the idea to the actual CD, it took about a year and half. I also feel that my whole life is fused in the album; if I didn’t have practice times when I was 4 years old, if I didn’t have that struggles and tears in my past studies and experiences, this would not have been the same.
The 10 More MinutesCD release celebration concert will take place on this December 11th, Sunday at 3 pm at Auditorium at the Scripps Research Institute (TSRI). That is a venue that I often performed at for the San Diego Symphony Chamber Music Series and the La Jolla Music Society. I wanted this national celebration to be where I reside, though this album is not limited to be local and I certainly hope some people from out of town can join this celebration as well. I can’t wait to celebrate this day with audiences, who have been in this journey with me all along. It will be certainly a concert that I will remember even without having that concert yet.
SJF: My anticipation is building, I cannot wait to see you present your gift performing and connecting with the audience!
SJF: What is your strongest asset?
JK: If I have to choose one asset that I find very useful in my journey it is the fact that I always look at the positive side and keep moving forward. There are struggles and difficulties, but I know at the end of it, I will get myself up again and continue my journey, doing my absolute best to be better each day. Some have said that I am strong, but I say I am not strong at all, but I will choose to get up again when I fall down, not because I am strong, but I know I will have struggles, which is normal, what I have to do is to learn to keep moving forward, learning valuable wisdoms on its ways. I always dream of a better version of me in 10 or 20 years.
See what audiences have to say about Jeeyoon Kim!
SJF: Valuable advice for all! I asked Jeeyoon’s Managing Representative, Bryan Smith to say a few words about working with Jeeyoon. Here’s what Bryan had to say:
“Jeeyoon Kim is truly a musician of the 21st century. Her polish and depth as a performer reflect a connection to music that is equally physical, intellectual, and emotional. A true citizen of the world, her empathy towards, and genuine interest in the people and communities around her inform her choice of repertoire and her interpretations. Combining world class virtuosity with a humanist and personal connection with the audience, Jeeyoon achieves a degree of engagement that is often lacking in soloists at this level. She brings a truly modern sensibility to classic repertoire. She is a joy to listen to, and what’s more, a joy to work with” -Bryan Smith
SJF: Tell us about your studio? What is like taking piano lessons with you?
JK: At the Dr. Kim Piano Academy, I have a wide range of students, beginners to advanced. I only have just handful of young students, but mostly students older than 16 and adults. I find teaching very creative. I see each student and their own character as if theyare an already beautiful bonsai tree. I find the areas that they need strengthening, and areas that they could shine more as it’s their strength. Finding unique ways for each student to accept these instructions to grow healthy in music is an art in itself. I sometimes feel like a therapist and need to be a good therapist to make them grow in music, as my students often say they get to know about themselves much more in piano lessons than any other activities. I love it.
SJF: Tell us…what makes Jeeyoon Kim “TICK”?
JK: Besides music, I do appreciate experiences with food. As a foodie, I can write an entire book about what I like about certain foods in certain cities. Recently I had an experience of dining in a restaurant called Benu in San Francisco. I still vividly remember every bite of every course. It was a really beautiful meal. I get excited about going on some adventures with a certain restaurant in mind. But my normal daily routine includes a very healthy and clean diet.
I love going to classical and jazz concerts, musicals, and plays. I get so energized and inspired from those live performances. I also like to play ping pong and pool. I can say I am not really great at it, but I get very into it. I own a good ping pong paddle and a pool glove for my left hand.
SJF: Those answers made me smile!
SJF: If you had to do it over again…how would you choose what do in life as a career/profession?
JK: Of course I would choose to be a pianist again, but besides that, I would choose something related to some language or food. Though I don’t definitely see myself as a cook even in a next life, I would love a job to communicate with people with different languages, which make me to travel for a job. After all, music is a language.
SJF: Here’s a fun question: What three things don’t we know about you?
I love watermelon. In fact, I have a weakness for them. I want to eat the whole intact thing in one sitting and I actually can do it undoubtedly, but I know I shouldn’t.
I have a black thumb, meaning I tend to kill all plants I have at my place. That is sad, but I really try. Not that I don’t water them, I do give them love and care, ,and water! Somehow no plants ever survived with me for a long period of time, even cactus. That doesn’t discourage me though. I keep trying to have them around me, doing my best to keep them alive. I talk to them each time watering them too -this might sound crazy but I do! I always get fresh flowers for my place. Flowers bring me a smile and that is more than I can ask for any object.
I enjoy at least an 85% or higher percentage of dark chocolate. The darker the chocolate, the more I like it. A friend of mine brought me 100% dark chocolate from Italy, and I actually liked that too. Probably somewhere around 88-93% would be my sweet spot.
SJF: Watermelon… Sad Flowers…Dark Chocolate! I shall remember that in the future!
SJF: An ideal week for you would include…
JK: I would have one public performance, three days of teaching, one beautiful meal at a great restaurant with people I love, weight training three times, swimming twice, practicing every day at least 5 hours except for the day of performance, praying every day, sushi one night, sleeping 8-9 hours, and laughing a lot.
SJF: Well said – you are very disciplined!
SJF: Describe your dreams
I am living the dream already in terms of what I am doing for life. I want to continue doing my dream, and keep dreaming more than I can be capable of. My dream is my limit.
SJF: Ah, you are fortunate to be living your dream and are very inspirational to others!
SJF: One of your most memorable live performance experiences, and why?
JK: When I performed Schumann Concerto at the Hilbert Circle Theatre Hilbert Theatre in Indianapolis, there was a tornado national warning and a big storm would be hitting us about 3 hours prior to the concert. I was completely soaked, even for 5 seconds trying to get to the hall from a car. Then we all realized that people would be completely discouraged to come to a concert for their safety, not alone some orchestra members for trying to drive through the storm. We contemplate cancelling the concert, then except one second violinist, all musicians were finally there, so we decided to do it anyway. Until the time I walked out to the stage, I had no idea how many people would be there. All I was thinking was probably just handful of people might be present, but it would still be nice to play. Then when I walked out to the stage, it was almost a completely filled hall with about 600 people and more enthusiasm from the audience than any other concerts I had ever played. They all decided the concert hall was in fact the safest hiding place from tornadoes, as the hall is completely sealed and there was no window! I had so much fun playing in that concert. I felt like we are having a great party inside a cave.
Many thanks, Dr. Jeeyoon. You are truly an “extraordinary” gift to the world.