(Note from GRSMA: Violinist Grace Kim has chosen a creative way to compose her musician profile in that her alter ego is conducting the interview.)
Musician Profile: Grace Ye-Eun Kim
An exclusive interview of Grace, led by Grace (Lowkey Flex)
Grace, so kind of you to have an exclusive musician interview for GRSMA's September issue, especially with your busy schedule at home with Tater Tot! (DISCLAIMER: I don’t always talk to myself, even during a 5 month COVID-19 Quarantine..most of the time!)
How and when did you start playing the violin? Were you an infant prodigy? What made you keep playing?
When I first played the violin, it was during what seems like my previous life, but not because I was an infant prodigy. I was still a kid living in Daegu, South Korea, attending a group class held at school in first grade. I actually didn’t keep playing past that year. When my family moved to the United States during the fifth grade, we (probably my mom) decided that the violin was one of the things to make it across the ocean.
This is probably one of the more “cliche” parts of my story, but even at my beginner’s level violin playing, playing music gave me confidence and more importantly, a way to communicate. When I moved, the extent of my English was “Hi, my name is Ye-Eun (now AKA Grace), how are you? Fine, me too. Where is the restroom (IMPORTANT)?” I can still recall the first big challenge of fifth grade: show and tell. Perfect, how does one show or tell anything when you don’t speak English? I brought my violin, and I don’t remember what I played but I played something. At a school district where band was the only option (dark past: I did end up playing flute from 6th to 10th grade because of this), this special string instrument caught some attention.
But really, it was a valuable gift that I was able to present myself without words. And it gave me confidence to make friends and to communicate with people, even with my less than perfect English. And well, the rest is history… Grace learned English and violin and nobody has since figured out how to get her to stop talking.
Living as an immigrant family, where English was spoken everywhere else and only Korean was spoken at home, I always had a hard time coping with what seemed like a dual identity in myself. Trying to merge the two cultures and two languages in my own way, music gave me a sense of identity that merged everything into one, and I didn’t have to try so hard to make sense of it. That made me keep playing violin, even when I didn’t know the important role it would have in my life.
Our family moved again halfway through high school in the 11th grade from Yakima, Washington to Philadelphia. I was faced with the biggest dilemma of my life up until then, I had to make brand new friends and try to belong somewhere yet again. I did some research, and found a music magnet high school in South Philadelphia, GAMP. I begged my parents to let me attend this school. It was in the Philadelphia school district where I knew that I had to continue doing music. There were many programs made available to us, Philadelphia All-City Orchestra to name one, but also concert choir and mandatory choir for all the kids in school. We sang everyday, we got to do a side-by-side concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra, we got to go to the Kimmel Center and watch the Philadelphia Orchestra (if you waited in line an hour before the concert for “cheaper than a footlong”!). Without this public school education, those were all things that were way above my means.
Other than my very interesting and lengthy “how did Grace grow up to be such a tall 5’0 violinist?” coming-of-age story, the main point about my childhood is that it made me realize how important it is to continue giving this gift of music through exposure and opportunity to kids. I try my best to do outreach concerts any time there is an opportunity. I taught beginning violin classes through the Sphinx Overture program in Detroit elementary schools while I was still finishing up my last bit of grad school. Since being in Grand Rapids, the morning educational concerts through the GRS have a special place in my heart! (I’m looking at you, Caroline Freihofer, Leanne King, and Andrew Plasier!)
Well Grace, that is quite enough about you as a kid. Where did you study, who did you study with, who have you played with?
I urge you to read my bio on the GRS website for those answers (but GO BLUE!!)
When did you move to Grand Rapids?
I moved to GR when I started on November 8th of 2017, coincidentally on my birthday! For my very first rehearsal, all of my lovely new colleagues played happy birthday at the start of rehearsal. That first week, we played the Verdi Requiem with Marcelo Lehninger, and it was truly a memorable start to my journey in Grand Rapids.
Had you been to Grand Rapids before you moved here? What is your favorite place to eat in Grand Rapids?
When I still lived in Ann Arbor, I came to visit my good friend Jeremy Crosmer (at that time GRS Assistant Principal Cello. Interestingly, he now lives in Ann Arbor!) and went to visit a few GR gems. A little funny side story about Jeremy, one of my favorite people to play music with, was that we switched places. When I moved to GR to start playing in the GRS, he left GR to start a new job as a cellist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. We never got to play in the GRS together, however he still remains the most supportive friend from across the state. During the quarantine, we even got play together over the miracles of modern technology. If you need a little digital pick me up, check it out on my/Jeremy’s facebook page. Anyways, he led me to all of the right places in GR: Founders Brewing Company (of course), getting tacos from Donkey Taqueria, and getting to enjoy Lake Michigan in Grand Haven.
Now that I’ve moved here, I love going to The Littlebird and getting their Lemon Polenta Cake. If you haven’t tried it, please do, it’ll change your culinary life. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with anything you order from The Littlebird or That Early Bird!
What classical recordings do you listen to for inspiration, despair, and love?
Well, whenever I am in a crummy mood, I find myself searching YouTube videos of Heifetz doing his magical thing. When I’m in any sort of “mood”, I really love listening to the Guaneri String Quartet playing Beethoven quartets.
Who is your favorite dog?
That would be my now 9-month-old pup, Tater tot. I can’t take the credit for the brilliant name, since it was given to him at the shelter where I found him through Maggie Latta. I have become a full-on dog mom, I even got him a little backpack to put him in, even through the ridicule of my quarantine friends. He’s been sick a few times, and I think it made me feel more protective over him. I have been so appreciative to kindly take tips from doggie mom/dad veterans like Barb Corbato, Jenna and Mark Buchner, and Jo and Will Preece. It really does take a village!
GRSMA: Be sure to attend the Grand Rapids Symphony's virtual concert in September 2020 when Grace Kim appears as soloist in Tchaikovsky's "Melodie" from Souvenir d'un lieu cher, Opus 42, for violin and orchestra. https://www.grsymphony.org/romeo