Most of us have dreams in mind. Whenever we think about our future, we admire to be something or someone. But acquiring those dreams are not always easy. There are many obstacles that we should struggle with. However, there is one student who overcame the big obstacle to achieve her dream. She surmounts her blindness and becomes one of the famous pianists. The Sookmyung Times (SMT) met pianist Kim Yeji (KIM), who loves her life of being a pianist.
SMT After graduating from Sookmyung Women’s University in 2004, you went overseas right away. What motivated you to go abroad to study music after graduation?
KIM Throughout university, I had always believed I’d go abroad to study. Since my major is Western Music, I knew I’d gain great insight if I went to a western country. Also, I wanted to expand my life experiences and gain a greater perspective of life rather than living the same routine over and over again. However, the best motivator to go overseas was that the treatment for physicallychallenged students is much better in western countries, especially in the aspect of schooling.
SMT According to Wisconsin State Journal, you contributed to creation of the ‘Tactile Stave Notation System,’ a 3-D font style of music sheets. What exactly is that and how did you come up with the idea for it?
KIM Creation of a 3-D musical note was actually the idea I proposed for my graduation thesis. Whenever I practiced piano, it was hard to read the notes because all the musical notes were in Braille. Braille musical notes differ slightly from original ones since most are difficult to comprehend. I used to always contemplate ideas for changing the form of musical notes whenever I practiced piano. In the end, I designed a prototype 3-D musical note with my professor and other students from an Engineering Department abroad.
SMT You’ve studied at Peabody Institute, which differs greatly from institutes in Korea. What did you learn from the institute and how did it change your life?
KIM Indeed, the environment at Peabody Institute was completely different from educational institutions in Korea. Since there were a variety of cultures and people, differences were taken for granted. I learnt a lot from the new environment and experiences throughout my stay at the institute. Most importantly, the teachers and students didn’t treat me with sympathy or pity, which are emotions I detest in personal relationships. Even though I am blind, people at Peabody treated me exactly the same as non-blind people. The environment stimulated me to have more self-confidence and to be more active.
SMT You’ve showed an interest in music since your youth. What inspiredyou to become a pianist?
KIM When I was young, I mostly stayed at home since I couldn’t hang out frequently with my friends. Staying at home, the most interesting things to do were playing my instrument and listening to music. Using a melodeon and xylophone, I started to play melodies and make rhythms on my own. Whenever I was unable to go out with friends, I enjoyed my time with music. As my proficiency at playing melodies improved, I started to strike the keys of the piano and practiced all day long. Hearing music was like seeing a new world, without “really” seeing it.
SMT You have participated in a variety of concerts such as Duckyoung Trio and Beautiful Mind. Did you encounter any difficulty or incident on your way to become a respected pianist?
KIM The hardest part was reading music sheets. Since I had to interpret all the melodies from Braille, it took an awful long time to practice a particular piece. While others took only several hours to learn a piece of music, it took me much more hours, even to merely interpret the notes. Also, Braille musical notes were not easy to attain whenever I requested a Braille copy of the music since not many people used them. It is not too much to say that every day was a hardship for me since becoming a pianist required tremendous practice.
SMT What kind of student were you while at SMU?
KIM I was rather quiet and passive in the classroom. Since I couldn’t play a piece immediately like other students, I had to practice playing piano continuously or studied for most of my university years. Most students knew I was different because I always walked around campus with my guide dog. Even though I spent some time with friends, I recall spending most of my time practicing and studying at home.
SMT Just before you said you finished your 3-D music sheet prototype. Then, do you have any plans to propose more innovative creations?
KIM I am actually planning to return overseas after three months. My design for the prototype is not completely finished, so I have to return to work with fellow students and professors. I only returned to Korea to play at several concerts and invitation parties. After completion of these events, I will leave and complete my 3-D music sheet prototype. Also, a few years later, I plan to teach students music in school. Since I have a Teachers Certificate, I would love to teach piano in high school or at university.
SMT Finally, what does SMU mean to you?
KIM SMU is a scaffold that allowed me to achieve my dream. I take great pride in myself whenever I achieve my goals in life. SMU helped me to have courage and be active as I strived for my goals. I’d like to tell SMU students to work faithfully during your university years and strive to make your dream come true at SMU.
Kim Yeji (KIM)
• Graduated from the Department of Piano ‘04
• 2004 Presidential prize in the name of Excellent Personnel in the 21st Century
• 2009 Artist Award in the 2nd International Piano Festival in Vancouver
• 2011 Proofreader for braille musical notes in Siloam Welfare Center for the Blind