Playing with color
CMU strings professor takes vivid approach to music
The running joke among Colorado Mesa University’s violin and viola players is that they no longer read sheet music. They read colors.
Violist Cris Miranda held out his marked up copy of a Bach concerto to illustrate.
It looked like a 4-year-old was let loose with some pens and a highlighter, leaving many of the notes barely visible. There were even googly eyes drawn above the phrasing.
“I had to enlarge it because I couldn’t see the details,” said the university senior with a smile.
But the colors hold significance, and the notes aren’t needed anyway because the music has been memorized, so although the students laugh about the marked up music, Miranda said, the results are serious.
“I’ve definitely noticed an improvement in the way I play,” he added.
The man credited with this colorful approach to sheet music is Joung Hoon Song, the university’s new assistant music professor for upper strings.
Song, who goes by “J” or “Dr. Song” because he holds doctorates on both violin and viola from Boston University, was hired in June on an interim basis to replace former upper strings professor Carlos Elias.
Colorado Mesa University didn’t have enough time to search for a permanent replacement because of the timing of Elias’ departure, but it will conduct a thorough search before the next school year, said Calvin Hofer, head of the music department.
In the meantime, students will work with Song, who said he plans to apply for the full-time position and has enjoyed his first few months in Grand Junction.
“I’m not liking it,” he said. “I’m loving it.”
Song was chosen for the temporary position from among 15 applicants because he can conduct, instruct and play, all essential skills because the position requires not only teaching and conducting at the university, but serving as concertmaster for the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra, Hofer said.
Song’s route to teaching, conducting and performing started when he left his native South Korea after high school — he started playing the violin at age 6 — to attend The Juilliard School to study with violinist Dorothy DeLay.
“She is the goddess,” Song said.
Song discovered a passion for teaching that DeLay nurtured, sending Song to learn and observe other great teachers in the New York City area.
“Teaching is my passion,” Song said.
Song went on to get his bachelor’s degree from Juilliard and his master’s from Yale University.
He has performed throughout the world and, before arriving in Grand Junction, was a strings instructor at the New England Conservatory Preparatory School and School of Continuing Education in Boston.
While at Juilliard, Song performed seven times at the Aspen Music Festival, but that was his only association with this area prior to arriving at Colorado Mesa University.
“I’m enjoying my work,” he said. “I’m here until 10:30, sometimes 12:30 at night. Even though this is a temporary position I don’t want to fall behind, and I want to perform my duties.”
At his first performance with the Grand Junction symphony in September, Song said he threw his bow after the final song.
It’s sort of Song’s personality, Hofer said.
In fact, Song is quick with jokes even as he learns more about the people he’s working alongside.
Song sometimes says he’s from North Korea just to see the response.
When asked where he got his violin, a 1789 Lorenzo Storioni used by legendary violinist and composer Henri Vieuxtemps, Song said, “the 7-11.” (Actually, he got it in Amsterdam.)
And, when Kristen Yeon-Ji Yun, the university’s assistant professor for cello and bass, asked Song if he was related to famed Asian cellist Young Hoon Song, he said no. (He let it go for two days before he confessed that Young Hoon Song is his little brother.)
“I believe if I’m happy I can uplift others,” Song said.
But he won’t divulge his age.
“I haven’t told anyone, though,” he said.
Song’s light-hearted approach to music, although he is very detailed, his students said, is contagious, said senior Sandra Rivera, a violinist from El Salvador.
He has taught her “to enjoy music.”
“I do my very best,” Song said. “If my destiny is here, I’ll be grateful.”