Bring music to life
It seems unlikely a cellist as petite as Kristen Yun — about 5 feet in heels — toting a cello older than this country — she plays a 1766 French Guersan — could produce a tone so rich and voluminous it filled nearly one block of downtown Grand Junction.
Yet, there, on a recent Friday afternoon, Yun sat in the middle of the 600 block of Main Street, under the tall shadow of a nearby tree, playing sonatas to demonstrate the precision and passion she has for the cello no matter where she is.
As one of the newest music professors at Colorado Mesa University, Yun has toured the world performing on cello, which makes her experience and technical knowledge a valuable addition to the school’s faculty, said Calvin Hofer, head of CMU’s music department.
Yun’s full-time position as assistant professor of cello and bass was created last fall as part of an ongoing effort to build the university’s orchestral program, Hofer said.
Yun’s arrival brings the university’s number of full-time strings instructors to two. Carlos Elias is the director of strings and orchestra and his performance background is on violin.
Yun, 35, works with both bass and cello players because of the instruments’ similarities. But her strength is cello, which, when the endpin is fully extended, is as tall as Yun.
“She’s fantastic,” Hofer said. “Music majors go to an institution to study with their teacher. It’s not like some other majors where students choose institutions because of great programs. In music we have a great program, but (students) also come to study with a specific teacher. Cello players will come to study with her. ... Her sound is amazing on cello. Her musicianship is just wonderful.”
Born in South Korea, her first name is Yeon-Ji, but she added the name Kristen once hired here so her name was easier to pronounce.
She started taking cello lessons at 9 because, after a few years taking piano lessons from her mother, “I didn’t improve.”
Yun was — “you won’t believe this” — among the “tallest in my class,” so the cello made sense.
“The first time I touched the cello, it was an amazing experience,” Yun said. “The posture is like hugging a person. The sound is so warm, like a human voice.”
After high school, Yun enrolled in Seoul National University, where she received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music, eventually joining the professional Korean Symphony Orchestra.
At the suggestion of a close friend, Yun moved to Bloomington, Ind., in 2005 to continue her cello studies with world-famous cellist Janos Starker at the University of Indiana.
“I learned so many things from him,” Yun said. Starker died April 28, and Yun said it has been an emotional past few weeks.
Yun played cello for five or six hours a day to get her performance degree in 2006.
“I wanted to stay and study more,” Yun said.
It wasn’t long into her doctorate studies at the University of Indiana that Yun made a startling discovery about herself and her future as a musician. Although she loved to perform and continues to do so, Yun realized how much she enjoyed education.
Yun taught at schools near Bloomington in an adjunct professor role or as an instructor, depending on where she was needed, but she never had a full-time position until she was hired at Colorado Mesa.
Despite “not knowing where Colorado was when I lived in Korea and not knowing where Grand Junction was when I lived in Indiana,” Yun accepted a position at Colorado Mesa and moved here for the 2012 fall semester.
“I think CMU has a really dynamic environment,” said Yun, who loves the area, particularly hiking. “I’m really happy to be here.”
Senior Carissa Docteur, 22, is one of Yun’s cello students.
“She teaches musicality wonderfully,” Docteur said. “As soon as you know the notes and rhythm, she can teach you to bring the music to life. She’s taught me how to phrase music and become a better performer.”
Yun plays with the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra and is scheduled a solo recital for Nov. 15 at the Recital Hall in Moss Performing Arts Center at Colorado Mesa. She picked a movie music theme.
Yun balances performance, instruction and recreation with what some might consider a challenging family life.
Her husband is an engineering professor at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. They were married nearly two years ago and try to see each other at least once a month and on school breaks.
In fact, Yun’s currently in Indiana for a break with her husband before her first high school strings camp starts at Colorado Mesa in the beginning of July.
Yun has never taught a high school camp, and she’s so excited.
“I like helping people a lot,” Yun said.
Docteur said Yun’s performance background and disposition have made her a great addition to the department, at least from the perspective of a young cello player.
“She seems like she would be (quiet) if you just met her. She’s not.” Docteur said. “She’s got a sense of humor, and she’s very sweet all the time. She’s very passionate and willing to learn how to become a better teacher.”