Violinist Johnny Lee is Akiko’s mirror image on stage at Disney Hall: he sits fourth chair second violin, while she’s fourth chair first violin.
But they have something else in common too. Both went to Harvard, where there is no music performance major. Akiko thought she’d be a lawyer, Johnny a doctor (or was he just pretending?), but they both found their way back to the violin by the time they graduated.
The Stand Partners have logged thousands of hours of “unofficial” conversation with Johnny, so we’re excited to present him on the podcast. Here’s Johnny’s path to the LA Phil and beyond!
[00:00:00] NC: Hi and welcome back to Stand Partners for Life. I’m Nathan Cole.
[00:00:04] AT: I’m Akiko Tarumoto.
[00:00:18] NC: And we are thrilled to be here with our great friend on we’ve been trying to get on this podcast actually ever since we started this show. Good friend Johnny Lee, violinist with us in the LA Phil. Frequent hanger outer here at the Cole-Tarumoto residence. You’ve got a heavy dose of the kids tonight. You got to experience dinner, TV watching time, bedtime.
[00:00:43] AT: You missed violin practice time though. Lucky you.
[00:00:47] JL: I have my wine. So it’s fine.
[00:00:49] AT: That’s actually how we got you here. We bribed you with food and drink.
[00:00:51] NC: That’s true. Johnny showed up wearing his Stand Partners for Life t-shirt, which made all of us happy, especially Hannah noticed it right away. If you too would like a snazzy Stand Partners for Life t-shift, go to standpartnersforlife.com/shirts. That’s shirt, plural, and guys and gals designs. But thank you so much for being here, Johnny.
[00:01:12] AT: Yay!
[00:01:13] NC: Yay! There are a few reasons to get you here. One, we talk about the orchestra all the time, and LA Phil life all the time. But in addition to that, you and Akiko have some real similarities, I guess besides the fact that Akiko is 4th chair first violin. Johnny, 4th chair second violin.
[00:01:34] AT: He’s my mirror.
[00:01:34] NC: That’s right. We do since first and second, mostly sit across the stage from each other. Here in L.A. Not Akiko’s favorite setup at the moment.
[00:01:44] AT: I think everybody is tired hearing my opinion on where the violin should sit.
[00:01:49] NC: But you do get to mirror each other across the stage quite often. The bigger similarity is that you both went to the same school for undergrad and you actually overlapped.
[00:01:58] AT: We went to school in Boston.
[00:02:00] JL: Cambridge.
[00:02:02] NC: They went to Harvard. I get to hear about it a lot. No! You guys are good about it. Actually, tonight I really do want to hear about it in quite some detail. But, yeah, neither of you went to conservatory for undergrad. So that’s something that I know a lot of. You guys out there have asked about just the difference between going to conservatory, not going to conservatory, at least for undergrad. Yeah, the different paths that people take to get to the LA Phil.
Johnny, if you would back us up from Harvard, from Cambridge, and tell us a little bit about where you’re from, how you got started on the instrument and all that, and then we’ll get to get to school days.
[00:02:41] JL: Yeah. I mean, I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. So I was at the Cleveland Institute of Music for prepschool – Not prepschool. Preparatory program, age 7 I would say. So I started when I was 5, but started at CIM at 7. But that was of course because my parents were Korean immigrants and they just wanted us to play violin. Us being me and my two older brothers just to put on our college application.
[00:03:10] AT: So were you all at –
[00:03:11] JL: Yeah. So would have lessons on Friday after school. My mom would drive us all there. She’d take notes during lessons. Then on the way home we’d get KFC as a reward.
[00:03:24] NC: I thought you were going to say on the way home you’d get yelled at.
[00:03:26] JL: No. She would yell at my brothers while she was practicing with them later, and I would just be scared by that. So I would be sure to practice well so I wouldn’t be yelled at. So she actually never really yelled at me, and that’s probably why I actually decided to pursue music, because –
[00:03:41] NC: They’re older. Yeah.
[00:03:41] JL: They’re older and they hated it from the start. They just wanted to play sports.
[00:03:47] AT: But they did it.
[00:03:47] JL: They did it, because that’s just what we did.
[00:03:50] AT: How come our kids don’t have this same? We need to take notes. I need to talk to your mom. I think I need to like sit down with your mom.
[00:03:57] JL: My mom would just be like, “Oh, I just like them lock them all in a room.” It’s just survival back then.
[00:04:02] AT: Whatever. I’ll write it down. Come home and try it. Did you ever not get KFC because one of you didn’t do well, or was it like the military where you all hang together?
[00:04:10] JL: I think the only requirement was that we had to just get through the day. We all went to our lessons. They’re one hour each. This is a big commitment. This is three hours on a Friday after school.
[00:04:20] NC: Yikes! How long a drive?
[00:04:22] JL: 30-minute drive there. 30-minute drive back. Then the same thing the next day with youth orchestra. It was 4 hours on Saturday or Sunday. Then later on when I was older, I did like theory piano. So it was like an entire Saturday morning. It was probably similar for you. But what my parents didn’t bank on what like I actually ended up enjoying it even though I thought that I still wanted to become a doctor and did everything that you were supposed to do. Study for your SATs, all that stuff.
[00:04:51] AT: So your parents encouraged you even in high school to just do violin as a hobby and then you’re going to do –
[00:04:59] JL: It was just assume that it was a hobby.
[00:05:01] AT: Right. Okay.
[00:05:01] JL: I mean, wasn’t that for you too?
[00:05:05] AT: No. I mean, there was like a point where it became obvious that I wasn’t as talented or like I wasn’t as hard a worker. I wasn’t doing as well as like some of the other kids. I wasn’t going to become a soloist. So I kind of got like – Went out into like whatever the other group was.
[00:05:20] JL: You weren’t – What? Sarah Chang at age 9?
[00:05:23] AT: Yeah. I mean, but there were also people who weren’t Sarah who were still like doing competitions and winning them, and I wasn’t one of them either. So I automatically got relegated. So there was a point where it was like, “Oh, maybe you’ll become one of those people.” Then that became obvious it wasn’t.
I think it got more and more so that it was like, “Well, you’re not going to go to conservatory probably, because you’re not going to become a soloist.”
[00:05:46] JL: Yeah, that’s interesting. There was never a point where I could have been a musician in my parent’s eyes.
[00:05:52] NC: I mean, could they tell that you were enjoying it or was it a secret?
[00:05:56] JL: Yeah, but there’s a lot of denial in the Korean community. Sorry. I don’t know if I have to say that. But they just assumed because they sacrificed everything to come to this country. My dad was a doctor. All three of us, all three boys would become doctors. Actually, one of us is a doctor. My older brother.
[00:06:13] AT: It worked though. I mean, it stuck to at least one of you.
[00:06:16] JL: Yeah! It’s like you bank on three, you get one. That’s a pretty good investment. Yes.
[00:06:19] AT: I do need to talk to your mom. I want one of my kids to become a doctor. Okay.
[00:06:24] NC: I’m just curious. At that age or at any point actually, before you went away to school. I mean, these teachers that you had at the CIM prep program, I mean, were they the same big-time teachers, let’s say, that taught at the conservatory?
[00:06:39] JL: Yeah. Actually, later on, when I was finally deciding to do music, I got in contact with both of them and my childhood teacher, Carol Ruzicka, she was ecstatic and she was like, “I knew from a really early age that you would do well no matter what, because I knew that you really enjoyed it and you had a gift for whatever.”
But then I also contacted my other teacher, and she was like – She took the safer route, Linda Cerone. David Cerone’s wife. I just totally understand her point of view too. She was very cautious because she knew from where my parents were coming. She just didn’t want to overly encourage me too much in case it didn’t work out.
[00:07:24] NC: Are you flashing forward now to after you’ve been at Harvard?
[00:07:25] JL: This is during college when I sort of decided and I was having a really hard time with my parents about it. Even now, if I were to have a kid and they told me they wanted to be like a sculptor or something. I don’t know if I would be 100% supportive. No! Of course I would be supportive, but it’s hard. You want your kid to not suffer.
[00:07:47] NC: You might wish for something.
[00:07:48] JL: Yeah.
[00:07:49] NC: You might wish they didn’t like it so much. What did Mrs. Cerone say?
[00:07:53] JL: She was like, “It’s a tough life, and I understand your parents’ point of view. So I don’t want to like say yes or no.” But I had already sort of made my decision anyway.
[00:08:02] NC: But before that, you and your parents made the decision that you would not go to music school.
[00:08:07] JL: Right.
[00:08:08] NC: How did that come about? I mean, you basically talked about the expectations leading up to college.
[00:08:13] JL: Yeah. There was just a path that was assumed. My brothers who are older, they did the same path. We went to like an all-boys private school starting in 7th grade. That was very rigorous. Most of my high school years were spent studying. Didn’t go to parties much. I practiced when my parents would go to their church meetings during the week, like choir practice, whatever, and practicing for me was enjoyable, because I would finally get to do something other than study, which I might be different from the Sarah Changs of the world where they’re just locked in a practice room for 6 hours a day from a very young age. I never had that. Practicing was like a refuge for me.
[00:08:54] NC: What kind of time are we talking? I mean, yeah. How much did you practice?
[00:08:56] JL: No. I never practiced more than a couple of hours a day.
[00:09:00] AT: That’s plenty. I mean I think there’s that whole myth of like having to do –
[00:09:03] JL: I’m sure you’ve covered this in previous podcasts where it’s the kind of practice you’re doing.
[00:09:09] NC: Yeah. I mean, I maxed out at two hours before going to school.
[00:09:16] JL: Yeah. Also has this juries, basically, for high school kids too every year. It’s similar to college juries and every year you’re required to do harder stuff. My teachers were very strict on the whole like scale routines and all that stuff. I think the basics were definitely there. But I had already sort of secretly decided by the end of high school that I was going to do music, but not tell my parents until later.
[00:09:42] NC: We know now getting into Harvard is quite literally a big business. I’m sure people tool shortcuts back then. But what was the process like? Actually, I forget if we covered this much with you.
[00:09:53] AT: Yeah. Johnny paid his way in.
[00:09:55] JL: I totally paid my way in. Yeah.
[00:09:58] NC: Could be an answer. But for both of you guys, I mean, the sort of process of applying and getting into Harvard, was that like back then? Was there really a lot of applying?
[00:10:08] AT: Way easier than it is now.
[00:10:10] JL: I feel like it was way easier back then. I think –
[00:10:14] AT: I’m sure it was. Yeah.
[00:10:15] JL: I mean, obviously we didn’t pay our way in, but there was still connections. So this private all-boys school, our high school guidance counselor was a Harvard graduate. So in my class of 80 kids, 5 of them got into Harvard that year, and no one got DL, because we had a bad relationship with DL. You went to Yale feeder. Yeah.
So that was an early decision school that I did, and I kind of was just –
[00:10:45] AT: Early action, or at least – When I applied, it was early action.
[00:10:49] JL: I don’t even remember, but it was one of those common applications where –
[00:10:54] NC: Is this all Harvard lingo? I didn’t have any early action.
[00:10:58] AT: I think when you get into the best school for your career and it’s free, you don’t have to know these BS terms.
[00:11:06] NC: Did you even have to take the SAT?
[00:11:07] JL: I did. Yeah, Curtis required the SAT, or I think if you were too young to take the SAT, then you had to like promise to go to school while you’re are at Curtis.
[00:11:10] AT: Eew! Promise.
[00:11:17] JL: This is an interesting story. So I went to Encore School for Strings every summer from 7th grade through senior year, except after sophomore year of high school, where my parents made me take the Princeton review to increase my PSAT score, because I did poorly on the practice exam in 10th grade.
So I did that, but I was off campus. We called it offcore, and I actually had to learn the viola so I could still participate in chamber music, because they were short in violas. So I was like –
[00:11:52] NC: I keep forgetting –
[00:11:53] AT: You have actual viola training.
[00:11:54] JL: No! I literally just site read this Mendelssohn Quartet on viola, because that’s how stupid I was as a teenager.
[00:12:03] AT: B equals C.
[00:12:03] JL: Yeah. There were a few wrong [inaudible 00:12:05]. But other than that, it’s pretty easy.
[00:12:07] NC: That’s pretty much my viola experience too.
[00:12:10] JL: I did the whole third position and first position.
[00:12:11] AT: Hey, this summer, we have to press you into services of violas.
[00:12:15] JL: It totally worked. The Princeton review increased my score by 300 points.
[00:12:20] AT: Do you actually work for The Princeton review?
[00:12:23] JL: This is not an ad for The Princeton review.
[00:12:26] NC: To learn more about Princeton review, go to standpartnersforlife.com/
[00:12:30] JL: Is it even like a company anymore? Is this aging us? It’s probably like –
[00:12:34] NC: Still, they have Kaplan and stuff, right?
[00:12:37] AT: I don’t know.
[00:12:38] JL: Oh my God! Are we saying like – They have like fax machines and stuff.
[00:12:41] NC: No. I’m pretty sure I see in the Yellow Pages I think they have Kaplan –
[00:12:42] AT: Cellular phones.
[00:12:46] JL: VCR.
[00:12:48] NC: Around this time, we should say too, Johnny, when you and I met. Not that would have been 1994.
[00:12:55] JL: Christmas time.
[00:12:55] NC: Yup. The New York String Orchestra Seminar that took place –
[00:12:58] AT: I feel left out of this, because this is like –
[00:13:01] JL: You grew up in New York. So it’s not as special for you.
[00:13:04] AT: Why didn’t I do it though? What was I doing?
[00:13:06] NC: The whole the rest of this episode. You guys have the connection. This is like me and Johnny’s one –
[00:13:10] AT: We’re going to keep throwing the Harvard lingo. Elliot House, because we actually just lived in the same dorm.
[00:13:15] JL: Andrew too.
[00:13:15] AT: Oh, right! So have all kinds of insights that we’re going to –
[00:13:19] NC: That’s right. [inaudible 00:13:19] orchestra.
[00:13:19] AT: They’re talking about GCRs and –
[00:13:22] JL: Four Harvard graduates in the LA Phil, which is crazy.
[00:13:24] AT: I think that’s the highest percentage probably. That’s my guess.
[00:13:28] NC: That might be. Well, you’re keeping your promise already. You’re throwing the Harvard thing in there.
[00:13:31] AT: I’m going to come up with more acronyms.
[00:13:32] NC: I wanted to 30 seconds to mention the string seminar, because Johnny and I were actually not only met, but we were roommates. So age 16, I had never been to New York before, and what? We were four – I guess they were suites? Weren’t they? What was the name of the hotel?
[00:13:51] JL: The Wellington.
[00:13:51] NC: The Wellington Hotel, near Carnegie Hall. Yeah.
[00:13:54] AT: 7th Avenue?
[00:13:56] JL: It was walking distance.
[00:13:58] NC: I think 7th and, yeah, 55th I think. Yeah. So four of us in a suite. I’ve never been to New York. I wasn’t used to staying up past 10PM, I don’t think. I think activities there ended maybe at 10PM, and then you’d take the bus back to the hotel. So I’d be kind of falling asleep on the bus ride back to the hotel and everybody was else was like gearing up to go out.
[00:14:19] AT: Go out?
[00:14:20] NC: Yeah. I mean –
[00:14:22] JL: Not me.
[00:14:22] AT: Didn’t you have a curfew?
[00:14:23] JL: I was 15.
[00:14:24] NC: I don’t think there was an official –
[00:14:25] AT: Oh come on! For like high school kids?
[00:14:28] NC: Who had been checking?
[00:14:29] JL: Well, some of them were in college.
[00:14:31] AT: Right. But I mean like – I went to Aspen, but like somebody came around at curfew time. Made sure you were in your room. I mean, people snuck out after that. But somebody still made the effort to come around. That’s is crazy.
[00:14:42] NC: I don’t remember any of that. I just – Yeah.
[00:14:45] AT: But you never went out.
[00:14:46] NC: Oh, no. I mean, I was trying desperately to sleep and I’d get woken up by partying or yelling, not partying from –
[00:14:52] AT: The two of you were just like really good. You just go home and go to sleep.
[00:14:57] NC: That’s what I remember.
[00:14:58] JL: Yeah. I honestly don’t remember much about it, about at least the social aspect of it. But I do remember that Nathan was very different back then.
[00:15:07] AT: Like how? Describe him. The listeners are eager to –
[00:15:10] JL: Well, just say this. I was roommates with Nathan in 1994 and I didn’t see him until 2005 when I spent the summer in Chicago. When I saw him, he was talking about wine and the various qualities of a wine.
[00:15:25] AT: Did you see his collection of wine glasses? Do you remember that?
[00:15:26] JL: I don’t remember that.
[00:15:27] AT: He had this huge collection of very expensive wine glasses.
[00:15:31] JL: Maybe he was talking about that.
[00:15:32] AT: They were like his kids, like they had to be washed in a very specific way, the very specific soap, that was like not really soap.
[00:15:37] NC: So do our kids by the way.
[00:15:41] JL: No. But he was not like that in 1994. He was just kind of – Sorry. He was kind of nerdy and like you were from Kentucky.
[00:15:48] NC: I don’t think that’s hard for anybody to believe.
[00:15:49] AT: Sort of what year was this?
[00:15:50] JL: 1994.
[00:15:51] AT: ’94. So I met you in ’97. I was probably basically –
[00:15:55] JL: I was a sophomore. You’re probably at junior high school.
[00:15:57] AT: Probably similar. Yeah.
[00:15:58] NC: I guess what we have in common is that after meeting me, neither of you guys had any desire to stay in touch with me until a decade later, which is –
[00:16:07] AT: Until you changed completely into a different person.
[00:16:10] NC: That’s good. That’s the way it works.
[00:16:12] AT: I think it’s just the hair. He got a better haircut.
[00:16:14] JL: So I have an interesting story about – It’s not interesting. This is the story about how I met Akiko for the first time. Actually, I don’t remember meeting you at Harvard. I just remember like seeing you perform.
[00:16:28] AT: What was I playing?
[00:16:29] JL: You’re playing Mendelssohn artet at Arts First.
[00:16:32] AT: With Joe, right?
[00:16:33] JL: Yes, but you were playing first violin. I remember this.
[00:16:36] AT: What? I know it’s embarrassing.
[00:16:37] JL: At Arts First. No!
[00:16:37] AT: And Joe was sitting there the whole time waiting to –
[00:16:40] NC: Was Joe lame?
[00:16:42] JL: No. It was awesome. You kicked ass. I was like, “Holy shit! Who is this girl?” I remembered I was in London for Intercession, which is the vacation we have after finals in January and I was staying with Julie Park, this girl we were in the Harvard Orchestra with.
[00:17:00] AT: Staying with her in London?
[00:17:02] JL: In Cambridge.
[00:17:02] AT: In Cambridge. That’s right. Because she spent – That’s right.
[00:17:05] JL: She used to play in a quartet with Akiko in college. Apparently that was when Akiko was at Juilliard for grad school and Akiko had just won the LA Phil job, and she called Julie. I was like, “Oh my God! That’s so cool. I wish I could be just like her.”
[00:17:25] NC: And you guys didn’t even really know each other.
[00:17:26] JL: No. I didn’t know her, but obviously I knew enough about her. I was like, “Wow! That’s so great.” Because there were actually a lot of pretty good musicians at Harvard during our time. There was like Joe, and Iano, and people who just really cared about it because they weren’t locked in a practice room all day. They were studying other things. I honestly don’t think I would have liked music as much if I were at Cleveland for college.
[00:17:52] NC: I mean, this seems to be a theme for you so far in your life. You are not to made a practice.
[00:17:54] AT: Like finding a refuge.
[00:17:57] NC: Yeah. Your practicing was optional for you growing up, and you enjoyed it. Then if you were going to do it in college, it was only going to be because you wanted to.
[00:18:04] JL: Or I had free time. All of my free time from studying was for music.
[00:18:09] AT: In college.
[00:18:09] JL: Yeah. So like orchestra, our chamber of music, our reading parties, or anything like that. You too though, right?
[00:18:17] AT: I did that stuff, but I don’t remember really just filling all the gaps with music.
[00:18:21] JL: What else did you do?
[00:18:22] AT: Drink with my roommates or something. Discovered alcohol like my second year. No. It was my freshman year.
[00:18:30] JL: That’s hard to remember.
[00:18:30] AT: It’s like Barney Gumble.
[00:18:35] NC: Obviously, you guys have a lot to say about the whole Harvard experience, which was so different from – I mean, I basically didn’t really have the college experience. What was it like, for example, to find out that you got in? Was that a big deal for both of you? For either of you?
[00:18:51] AT: Getting to Harvard?
[00:18:51] NC: Yeah.
[00:18:52] AT: Yeah. It was a big deal. I mean, I think my mom –
[00:18:55] NC: Did you get a letter or a call?
[00:18:56] AT: Again, this is like –
[00:18:58] JL: We got a text.
[00:18:58] AT: Yeah, the go horse and buggy pulled up and delivered like a telegram. Yes. Scroll with a –
[00:19:07] NC: You got into Harvard. Stop. No. I want to go there.
[00:19:14] AT: Although maybe I think you could call.
[00:19:16] NC: Really?
[00:19:16] AT: Yeah. I think they are like –
[00:19:18] NC: Is there like a 900 number?
[00:19:19] AT: Something like after 5PM on this day we will have the decisions. That was it. I remember sitting in my bedroom calling and like I was shaking because I was so nervous.
[00:19:31] JL: For me, like maybe this was – Like I should have known, because I was kind of like – I was just doing what I thought I was supposed to do. I had a stack of other applications that I had not even started, because I was like, “Oh! I’m sure everything will work out in the end or whatever.” I was like, “Oh, yeah! I think I should be getting my letter soon.” I just didn’t care that much for some reason, whereas now I just care about everything too much.
[00:19:56] AT: After your brothers. They didn’t go to Harvard. So it didn’t feel like you had to get into the same school as them or something.
[00:20:02] JL: Yeah. My mom, I remember I told her like, “If you get the letter, don’t open it without me.” So I got home and she had a letter that was in just like a normal sized envelope and you always hear if it’s like in a Manila envelope or whatever. It means you got in.
So my mom looked at me when I got in. She’s like, “It’s so small.” I got really – I was like, “Mom! Come on! Whatever.” She’s like, “I didn’t open it,” and I opened it. Then I remember when I opened it, I was like ecstatic. So then I realized I actually really did care. I just wasn’t thinking about it. We’re like, “Oh my God! This is so amazing.”
[00:20:39] AT: So that was December, right? Because you did an early action.
[00:20:42] JL: I guess it must’ve been December, yeah.
[00:20:43] NC: So arriving there, what were your guys majors? I mean, we’ve talked about your story.
[00:20:48] AT: So I was English, and you’re –
[00:20:52] JL: So I was eventually economics, but at Harvard you had to declare your major after freshman year. This is relatively early. Because I was premed at that time, I declared biology, which was interesting, because I hated science.
[00:21:06] AT: But you took Chem 10.
[00:21:08] JL: Okay. Here’s another thing. Sorry. I have to amend my story from before, where another summer I had to take off from Encore was in ’96, where I had to go to Northwestern for the college preparatory program, which my brothers had also done, where you take a course at Northwestern for college credit. It actually counts for college credit, and they took chemistry. So I took chemistry there as well.
At Northwestern, the sciences are really difficult. So it was actually really hard. So –
[00:21:36] AT: Probably the point is that you’re not going to really be able to keep up, but that you’re going to be prepared for –
[00:21:41] JL: Exactly. So I thought – I was like, “Oh! I could do chem 10 at Harvard. This is no problem.” I was completely lost for the first three weeks.
[00:21:49] AT: Sorry for that, because now we’re leaving Nathan out of the loop here with chem 10, chem 5.
[00:21:53] NC: I know. I was going to ask of this.
[00:21:56] AT: Check 10 is –
[00:21:57] NC: I’m like, “Wow! Did you have to take the first 9?”
[00:22:01] JL: Chem 5 and 7 are the normal –
[00:22:04] AT: That’s a year-long process to take chem 5 and 7, but you can condense that into one semester and just take chem 10, which doesn’t make any sense, because 5 and 7 don’t add up to 10.
[00:22:15] JL: No. But it wasn’t even like English. I felt like – I did not recognize this at all. I was completely lost and then it was like the week before the midterm, whatever, and then you could sort of drop it and go down to chem 5 if you wanted to. So I did that. Chem 5 was everything I recognized from the Northwestern program. So that was like relatively easier for me.
Then I took like a biology class and all these things. I was also just so sorry. I should probably tell you that the first week of Harvard, when I parents dropped me off, I told them that I was probably going to pursue music despite being at Harvard, and they got really upset at me.
[00:22:52] NC: The first week.
[00:22:53] JL: Yeah. It was horrible, and I felt so guilty that I was determined to be premed to please them.
[00:23:03] NC: Everybody kind of pretended that conversation didn’t happen.
[00:23:06] JL: Exactly.
[00:23:06] NC: Okay.
[00:23:07] JL: It was so traumatizing that I studied so hard my freshman year –
[00:23:10] AT: You got a prize.
[00:23:13] JL: Yeah. I lost weight. I got some dean’s award. I don’t even know what it was, but I was miserable. I didn’t party. I didn’t do anything. Oh! I think I got straight As too.
[00:23:23] AT: Yeah, that’s why you got the prize, right?
[00:23:24] JL: Yeah, the prize. I got some prize. Then after my last final exam, I still have the picture somewhere in my house where I looked like emaciated did. Then my friend from high school came and we got – She got me drunk for the first time, and it was so fun.
[00:23:39] AT: That was the year that I would have known you.
[00:23:42] JL: Yes. That was the year we overlapped.
[00:23:44] AT: Yeah. That’s why we never hangout, because I was busy drinking with my roommates and you were busy getting straight As.
[00:23:50] JL: Yeah. But it’s like what a waste. It’s like the waste of a year. I was just –
[00:23:53] AT: I hear this when I think I should have been more like that. That’s amazing. I don’t know what that’s like. It must be an amazing feeling to get like straight As at Harvard. That’s awesome.
[00:24:01] JL: You were having like the college experience, which granted I had the following there years.
[00:24:07] AT: Yeah. I mean, at some point you’ll have that experience.
[00:24:09] NC: I mean, maybe it sounds trite to say you needed that or something to remember, because eventually you decided violin was going to be it again.
[00:24:19] JL: Yeah, and I think a lot of kids, their first year at college is kind of an overlap of high school. So I was just sort of doing the same things and not doing the same things, but then I had my first drink. So things went down-hill. Just kidding. That’s what college is for.
[00:24:37] NC: Were you still practicing that first?
[00:24:37] JL: I wasn’t practicing on my own, but I was doing everything music related. I still remember my first chamber of group at Harvard was the Dvořák Piano Quartet.
[00:24:48] NC: Oh! Which we have played.
[00:24:49] JL: That was the first time which Nathan and I played this year, this past year. I remembered thinking, “Wow! This is like the greatest piece ever.” I still whenever I hear the second movement, second theme, I just think of college. It just brings back memories.
[00:25:07] NC: Then you both, I know, played in the – Even I know this, the acronym, HRO.
[00:25:13] AT: Very nice.
[00:25:15] NC: Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra.
[00:25:18] AT: Yes. Good guess.
[00:25:18] NC: So you both did that. Were you in it together?
[00:25:21] AT: No, because I quit after my sophomore year, and Johnny is three years younger than me. So he would have –
[00:25:27] NC: Was that a weekly meet up?
[00:25:30] JL: Yeah. I don’t remember how often a week they met.
[00:25:32] AT: I think that was once a week. I don’t remember.
[00:25:34] JL: Once or twice a week.
[00:25:35] NC: Several programs a year.
[00:25:37] JL: Like 4 or 5 programs a year.
[00:25:39] NC: Okay.
[00:25:40] JL: But like standard stuff. I feel like I played more standard stuff at Harvard than they do at Cleveland where they try to utilize as many instruments as possible. When I was in grad school at Cleveland, they played like the Walton Symphony No. 1 and stuff like that, whereas Harvard, they made a point of playing all the Brahms symphonies every four years so everybody could play all the Brahms symphonies.
I first Rite of Spring spring where Dr. [inaudible 00:26:07], rest in peace, went through every measure with us explaining to us how to do it. He did a trick for symphonic metamorphosis, which is my first program.
[00:26:17] NC: I mean, sometimes when someone new will join the orchestra, I mean, not just here but also in Chicago, and maybe they don’t know Rite of Spring at all, and I always think, “Didn’t they ever have that moment? Didn’t they have that time that they really had to go through Rite of Spring for the first time in school? Didn’t somebody yell at them about these rhythms ever? That was you.
[00:26:37] AT: I don’t remember doing Rite of Spring as a student ever.
[00:26:40] NC: Well, at Curtis it was always part of the finals for the conducting auditions. So since I was in the lab orchestra, I’d play the hard parts, like the hard rhythmic parts of Rite of Spring. I had to play them 8 or 9 times in a row for all the conducting candidates every year.
[00:26:57] AT: I did lab orchestra, so I must have done Rite of Spring.
[00:27:00] NC: Do you remember anything you played in [inaudible 00:27:01]? You remember a lot, right?
[00:27:03] AT: I feel like we did [inaudible 00:27:03] 5. I think we did. I’m sure we did, yeah, so Brahms. So it was just the two years. Maybe [inaudible 00:27:11] orchestra possibly. Yeah, I don’t remember a whole lot of specifics.
[00:27:16] NC: Were you taking lessons at this point?
[00:27:18] AT: We both took lesson with Mr. Chang.
[00:27:20] JL: Yes. But I only started with him junior year.
[00:27:23] AT: Okay. I think basically me too. I think I just – I don’t know if you did the same thing I did. Was it the thing where you had $200 per semester to take lessons?
[00:27:32] JL: I didn’t know about this. Gees!
[00:27:34] AT: Oh, yeah. Because there was no teacher on campus. There’s [inaudible 00:27:38] $200 per semester to take lessons.
[00:27:41] NC: I’m not sure if everybody realizes this too. I mean, you cannot major in music at Harvard.
[00:27:47] AT: You can, but not performance.
[00:27:48] NC: Okay. Not performance.
[00:27:49] AT: Only composition and theory.
[00:27:50] NC: Okay. So there’s no violin.
[00:27:52] JL: At least there wasn’t back then.
[00:27:54] AT: Yeah. I mean, now you can do the dual program. They didn’t have a dual program either with any senior or anything like they do these days. Yeah, that was –
[00:28:03] NC: So, they’d give you $200 for the whole semester.
[00:28:04] AT: Yeah. So this was back in the olden days. So it didn’t cost what it does now to take lessons. I have to say Mr. Chang definitely – He really liked teaching people from Harvard, because he went to Harvard.
[00:28:17] NC: This is Lynn Chang if we’re going to give him a shout out.
[00:28:20] AT: Yes. He would go out of his way. He would come to campus, or sometimes I’d meet him at MIT, but I think he would just teach. I think sometimes he was getting paid. I don’t think he was always getting paid. I really have to express appreciation for him just being like a really enthusiastic teacher.
[00:28:34] JL: Yeah. He was also just like a mentor, because he always wanted to hear what was going on, and it was mostly –
[00:28:40] AT: Yeah. I think it was like part therapy, part –
[00:28:42] JL: Yeah, it was part therapy for sure. The lessons were very long. The phone calls were very long.
[00:28:46] AT: Yeah, there were phone calls. He’d just call and check and say, “How is it going?” There’s a lot of that.
[00:28:50] JL: It was mostly like taking lessons for summer festivals or grad school auditions or something like that. But he always wants to know, “oh, so Akiko is doing this”. He was telling me about you, who I never ever really met.
[00:29:02] AT: Well, because at this point I was sort of a success story, right? I think at the time I was sort of the flunky – So when I say I took lessons with him, he technically charged like 60 an hour I think. So I could afford like 3 lessons. He was very generous with his time, but I really did not see him more than those three times a semester.
I even think maybe sometimes it was less, because I wouldn’t call. I didn’t think I was going to do this for a living until a little bit later in my college life. But I don’t know if you were a little bit more regimented about seeing him or –
[00:29:33] JL: No. Especially not my junior year. My parents definitely weren’t going to pay for the lessons, and I didn’t know about this $200 student grant until now, in 2019, as a 40-year-old. Thanks. But my senior, I think I was a little more regimented, because I knew I had to take grad school auditions.
[00:29:52] NC: At what point did you decide?
[00:29:54] JL: Yeah. So –
[00:29:54] AT: But you said you knew the whole time.
[00:29:56] JL: I knew the whole time in myself, but I think I’m not overgeneralizing here where I say, in Asian culture, parents have sort of a set view of what you wanted. You kind of have to like stagger the disappointments.
[00:30:10] AT: It was scheduled. You roll them out.
[00:30:13] JL: There were a lot of disappointments. So I stopped going to church. I didn’t want to become a doctor. I wanted to become a musician. I came out as being gay, all these stuff. When I gave up premed, I actually was like, “Well, I can’t just go straight to music.”
[00:30:29] AT: This is going to delay the coming out for at least 10 years.
[00:30:31] JL: Oh, totally. I had to delay the coming out until I had a stable job, for sure.
[00:30:36] AT: You had a lot riding on those job auditions. It’s like, “This is the one.”
[00:30:37] JL: Oh, totally. But I can’t just major in music. I didn’t even want to major in music, because it’s just musicology and history. It’s whatever. We don’t care about that. So I made a comprise with myself and I said, “I’m going to major in something practical so my parents aren’t completely worried about my future.”
So I chose economics and I told my father that I was going to be an investment banker, and that would have nothing to worry about. So he said, “Fine.”
[00:31:08] AT: Poor Johnny.
[00:31:09] JL: No. I am since fine. It was the jock major. It’s fine.
[00:31:12] AT: No. But I mean, because you had to like keep coming up with these elaborate reasons.
[00:31:17] JL: No. I was very crafty. Seriously. I had a whole timeline.
[00:31:21] AT: You’re like a Shawshank. You’re like stripping away the wall with a little tiny hammer.
[00:31:26] NC: Pressure plus time.
[00:31:29] AT: Dropping little bits of your concrete wall in the jail yard.
[00:31:32] JL: I played a concerto with like a summer orchestra at Harvard, and my uncle and aunt came also with my parents, and my uncle told me afterwards. He’s like – And it went well. He said, “Yeah, you’re not good enough to be a musician.” I’m sure that they all discussed it beforehand and –
[00:31:52] AT: Right, like we should discourage you.
[00:31:53] JL: Yeah.
[00:31:53] NC: Wait. Was he like an artist manager or what?
[00:31:57] JL: No. He was like an ENT doctor or something, but he’s from New York and he thinks he knows everything.
[00:32:04] AT: ENT and he’s from New York. He’s from New York and he said Johnny shouldn’t be –
[00:32:09] NC: That counts for a lot. What was it like auditioning for grad school? I mean, was there doubt at that point? Maybe I have lost a step. Can I get into these schools that I want to, or was it – Did you kind of know where you stood?
[00:32:20] JL: It was actually the first reality check was the summer festivals. I thought that I was still this hotshot, whatever. I can do anything.
[00:32:31] AT: You mean summer while you were at Harvard.
[00:32:33] JL: While I was in school. Yeah.
[00:32:35] AT: After your freshman year though, you worked for the Japanese chemistry guy.
[00:32:38] JL: Yes, I did. So that was when I was still premed. So I worked at the med school as a lab assistant. Then the following year when I had declared economics is my major, I worked [inaudible 00:32:49] Investments.
[00:32:50] AT: Oh! That’s right.
[00:32:51] JL: All I remember about that summer was that on the way there on the bus in Cambridge, I would listen to like chamber music on my iPod or whatever, my Discman. Remember how it was back then? It was like the answer was right there. It’s like a romantic comedy. It was right there in front of me the whole time.
[00:33:13] AT: That’s really sweet. I mean, you really – It’s like deeply ingrained.
[00:33:15] JL: Yeah. So junior year I was like, “Okay, I’m going to audition for these music festivals and make tapes on my minidisc player and all these stuff,” but it was kind of a rude awakening, because maybe two years means a lot, because I went to an audition for Tanglewood and one of the judges who shall remain nameless.
[00:33:36] AT: I know who he is.
[00:33:37] JL: Yeah. Just gave me some advice and it wasn’t – It hurt my feelings. Let’s just say that.
[00:33:45] AT: It’s like so vague.
[00:33:46] JL: Yeah. I don’t know. I think I was overly confident in the beginning and I realized I had a lot of work to do.
[00:33:52] NC: Without saying a name, what was the advice?
[00:33:55] JL: I mean, to be fair, the audition was very difficult. It was like Opus 130 and like [inaudible 00:33:59] 5 and all these stuff. I had prepared all of myself. I don’t think I had met Lynn Chang at the time yet. I was like, “How hard can this be? I just play these small excerpts.”
[00:34:08] AT: Remember those days?
[00:34:10] JL: Yeah. He stopped me in the hallway after my audition when I was on the way to the bathroom and I thought –
[00:34:18] AT: You thought like it went well?
[00:34:19] JL: Yeah. I thought it went well, and I thought that he was going to say, “Oh, it went well.”
[00:34:24] AT: Like here’s a nice man that’s going to tell me it went well.
[00:34:25] JL: He basically was like, “You know you played the second half of the phrase twice the speed as the first half of the phrase in the Beethoven, right?” I said, “Oh! I hadn’t realize.” He goes, “I take that rhythm isn’t your strongest quality,” and I was like, “Oh! Okay.” So I got on the number one bus back to Harvard and I was like, “What have I done?”
[00:34:48] NC: I think the summer festival thing though is – While I was at Curtis, because I had gone to Sarasota the summer before I went to Curtis. So a couple of years – Yeah, similar situation. It was like my second or third year in school and I thought, “Well, I don’t have anything else going on this summer. Maybe I’ll try and go back to Sarasota, because that was kind of fun.” I made a tape and didn’t get in.
[00:35:12] AT: What year was that?
[00:35:13] NC: That would have been like ’98.
[00:35:16] JL: Didn’t they know that you got in before?
[00:35:18] AT: But you ended up going to Marlboro.
[00:35:19] NC: No. Not that year. I didn’t go till ’99. I went in ’96, which was the summer before I went to Curtis. So then two years later I tried to go back after two years in Curtis and didn’t get in. I never got into Ravinia. Never got into the Steans Institute at Ravinia. Yeah, I think the summer festival thing can be a cool –
[00:35:39] AT: I think I applied one summer to be in like the Disney orchestra or something, and I didn’t get in. It’s coming back to me now.
[00:35:47] NC: That sounds more humiliating, but I’m sure it was like basically the same people auditioning for all those stuff. So it was probably the same level of competition.
[00:35:54] AT: Coming back to me now. Actually I feel like if I see [inaudible 00:35:56] ever again I’m going to ask him, because I think we both got rejected.
[00:35:59] JL: I still have the acceptance letter from [inaudible 00:36:02] my senior at Harvard.
[00:36:04] AT: Do you still have it?
[00:36:05] JL: Because I remember being so excited when I got in, because I was so dejected from all my rejections for summer festivals.
[00:36:11] AT: We are a call [inaudible 00:36:13] alumns.
[00:36:12] NC: Actually, that was a similar thing for me, because I got into [inaudible 00:36:14]. I hadn’t gotten into these other places, and that’s where Akiko and I met.
[00:36:19] AT: That’s right, and then promptly lost touch.
[00:36:24] NC: We can thank Sarasota’s rejection for at least letting us meet for the first time.
[00:36:29] AT: Yes, and I got into Tanglewood that year, and then I turned them down, then I got into some hot water for that. That’s a different —
[00:36:37] JL: Oh! Maybe that’s why I didn’t get in. Lynn Chang said to me, “None of my students ever get rejected from Tanglewood.
[00:36:44] AT: That’s a very helpful thing to say.
[00:36:47] JL: I was like, “Well, thanks.”
[00:36:48] AT: It’s like, “Well, I’m glad I could be first.
[00:36:49] NC: I mean, you went to Cleveland Institute. I mean, was that partly – I mean, did that have anything to do with the fact that you are from there. You’re familiar with the school?
[00:36:58] JL: Yes. I think my original plan was to study with a teacher that I really wanted to study with, but that didn’t work out, and so I also wanted to study with [inaudible 00:37:08] because I knew that eventually I wanted to be an orchestra musician, and –
[00:37:15] NC: You did back then.
[00:37:17] JL: I wanted to study excerpts, because I wanted to win an orchestral audition. Cleveland was great. The atmosphere there at the time was – The level was very high and it’s a smaller school that Juilliard, and I feel like the students were very supportive of each other, and a lot of students won jobs. A lot of students started quartets, and I’m still close to them to this day.
But in Cleveland, I had an apartment near the school even though my parents were like 10 miles away. I just don’t want to live with them.
[00:37:52] AT: They were fine with that. They didn’t mind.
[00:37:54] JL: They were fine with it, but my dad did tell me. He said, “You know, if you were going to go to med school, I would pay all of your tuition. But because you’re going to music school, you’re going to take out loans.” So I did.
[00:38:08] AT: Yeah, I took out loans too. I did live for free.
[00:38:12] JL: You lived in your parent’s house?
[00:38:13] AT: No, because my mom grew up in an apartment close to Manhattan School and they still had the apartment, so I just moved in there for two years. I have that. But they did say they weren’t going to pay for grad school.
[00:38:26] NC: Would they have paid for law school?
[00:38:27] AT: I don’t know. I don’t know if they would have. I remember –
[00:38:30] NC: This is kind of an Asian thing, right?
[00:38:32] AT: Like the carrot on a stick, the bribing.
[00:38:35] JL: Yeah, like paying for you until you get a job type thing.
[00:38:38] AT: I don’t think they would have paid for law school though, honestly. I do remember when I was in the finals for the St. Louis audition, or maybe it was after I didn’t get it. My mom said, “Your dad was so excited that you might get that job that he said he’d buy you a Saturn if you won.” Does anybody even know what a Saturn is? Thoughtful. I think she told me after the fact, and I think it was actually after – Maybe it’s even after I won my LA Phil job. I was like, “Well, where’s my car?”
[00:39:09] NC: Now that I’ve actually won.
[00:39:11] AT: Yeah. I won a job. Can I have that car? Like, “No. Offer expired.”
[00:39:16] NC: Well, when did you start taking auditions, Johnny?
[00:39:19] JL: Second year master’s, and I think my first year of master’s I was like gigging around Ohio with little community orchestras, and then I really started sort of gung-ho. Interestingly, St. Louis was my first audition, and there were a lot of kids in my class that were taking the same audition, and with St. Louis at the time, they had three rounds of prelims on three different Mondays. So I was in the second round of Mondays, and a bunch of my friends won in the first round. At the time I had won a few regional auditions. So I was like, “I’ll be fine.”
[00:39:55] AT: So you’d taken orchestra auditions already.
[00:39:58] JL: Well, it was like concert master for like the Canton Symphony or something like that. It was still an audition. So I was like, “Oh, I’ll be fine. My friends who had taken it, they had advanced and so it’s like, “Oh, it’ll be fine.”
So I got there. This is my first real orchestra audition behind a screen, which is a completely different experience. I remembered my last excerpt was the Nutcracker, which St. Louis kind of almost exclusively asks for, which is great, because it’s a great excerpt to ask for.
[00:40:26] AT: I remember premiering Nutcracker for St. Louis.
[00:40:28] JL: Yeah. I remembered the end of the overture. It was so high and I was so nervous. My forearm just started cramping up and I just started getting slower and slower. I was like dee-dee-dee-dee. Then after it was over –
[00:40:42] AT: You’re like running out of battery.
[00:40:43] JL: Yeah, the committee was like, “Okay. Thanks.” Still I thought I did well, like the denial was amazing. Then a few other classmates who are there at the same audition, they passed and I did not. I was devastated. It was my first audition. I remembered my mom pick me up from Hopkins Airport in Cleveland and we’re just driving in silence. Then she finally said, “Maybe you should have gone to med school.”
[00:41:09] NC: I don’t think I’ve ever had to do any drives or flights back with anybody after a losing audition. Usually, I get to stew in my own juices.
[00:41:21] JL: Sounds good.
[00:41:23] NC: What was the rest of your audition? How many others did you take?
[00:41:25] JL: I think I took a total of 9 before I won my first full-time job, which was the Charlotte Symphony.
[00:41:34] AT: So this is all during your second year.
[00:41:37] JL: Yes. But the Charlotte was actually after I had graduated. So my plan during graduation was to just live at home and continue being like concert master at Canton Symphony and doing whatever, whatever.
[00:41:53] AT: Your parents, were they starting to get –
[00:41:56] JL: I don’t really address the topic with them.
[00:42:00] AT: So when you won Charlotte, you were living at home?
[00:42:02] JL: No. So I was at Spoleto for summer festival, and Spoleto is in Charleston, which is 3-hour drive from Charlotte. I remember that I took a day off from Spoleto to take the audition. So when I won I was like, “Yes! Stay right here.” Exactly. I took my Honda Civic and my parent’s car. We drove down afterwards from Cleveland. I remember the day I arrived in Charlotte, they declared a strike. So that was my first day of work.
[00:42:31] AT: Your position there was?
[00:42:32] JL: It was assistant concert master.
[00:42:34] AT: Which is what? Third –
[00:42:36] JL: Chair. That was my first year. Then the second year I was like associate. It was an acting associate. There was a lot of –
[00:42:41] AT: So you played concert master.
[00:42:43] JL: There were a lot of concert master opportunities. There was like a John Wayne’s concert, like the Schindler’s List, the entire suite type of thing, which is a little bit too long actually. Even during the strike concerts, like playing concert master the whole time.
[00:42:59] AT: That’s way more concert master experience than I had.
[00:42:59] NC: That seems unsportsmanlike, like stick the new guy. He’s not even getting paid yet.
[00:43:06] JL: I know! Seriously? Who is he?
[00:43:10] NC: How long were you in Charlotte before –
[00:43:11] JL: Over two years. I think I had a good year in 2005. I think a lot of auditioning is timing. When you’re feeling like in your zone, got the hot hand. A lot of people sort of get obsessed with winning an audition, and I think that when I won Charlotte, I was kind of like, “Wow! This is amazing. I have a fulltime job.” I was prepared to live there for the rest of my life, and I was totally fine. I loved it so much and I was like doing a lot of chamber music and all these stuff.
[00:43:40] AT: Do you ever go back and visit Charlotte?
[00:43:41] JL: I did for the couple of years when I was in LA. But I haven’t been there since there. That year I was sort of – I think I was just really in a good place with myself and with playing and stuff like that.
[00:43:55] NC: Yeah. Sometimes those times where it’s like you almost don’t have to get too intense.
[00:44:02] AT: I don’t know what you guys are talking about.
[00:44:04] JL: Well, you’re kind of like – Your whole life isn’t resting on this audition.
[00:44:07] AT: Every audition I’ve taken felt like my whole life is resting on it. Although it’s – I don’t remember being super wound up for this one like when I was 20.
[00:44:15] JL: Right. Exactly. Same thing.
[00:44:16] AT: Yeah, that’s true, I guess.
[00:44:19] NC: Were you happy at Juilliard when you were taking this audition?
[00:44:21] AT: Happy at Juilliard? No.
[00:44:26] NC: What a question.
[00:44:26] AT: Yeah. No. No, I love New York and I was talking about how great New York is, and it is. But I was like really happy to leave when I graduated. I don’t know. I was not happy maybe socially. Certainly, I wasn’t like something with New York Phil or anything, like awesome. So I was just like, “Well, I’m ready.”
[00:44:44] JL: Do you think it’s different for you because you grew up there?
[00:44:46] AT: I went to Juilliard because I wanted to be in New York, not even because I wanted to go to Juilliard. It seems strange. I mean, I said that and it sounds weird to say it now. But like if I’d gotten in Columbia or NYU Law, which I didn’t, that would have been like a much harder decision. I might have actually like, “Oh, just –” Well, say I hadn’t gone into Juilliard and I had gotten in those places. I definitely would be a lawyer now, or I would have gotten law school. Who knows if I would have been a lawyer now?
[00:45:09] JL: Do you think you would have been happy?
[00:45:10] AT: I don’t know. I do know that I am the stereotypical person who had no idea whether or not they wanted to be a lawyer, but was just going to do it because the English major thing. If you look at it that way, there’s probably a good change I wouldn’t have been happy. But I think Roderick describes the same – Our friend Roderick, describes the same path where he was like, “Well, I was an English major. So what else am I going to do?” He’s like killing it as a lawyer. Maybe I could have been wrong.
[00:45:35] NC: He was our special guest just a couple of episodes ago on the audience experience if you want to –
[00:45:40] AT: Yeah. Pretty sure that he’s in a great place of career and life-wise. So who knows?
[00:45:45] NC: Well if you had one or two –
[00:45:48] AT: No. He has to tell the story how he won the LA Phil job.
[00:45:50] JL: So this was in my good year, 2005, because I had also won Grand Park, which was going to be my summer gig for Charlotte.
[00:45:57] AT: Which is where Nathan, and you, and I reunited.
[00:45:59] JL: Right. Where Nathan was talking about wine.
[00:46:01] AT: Right, and his collector glasses. I heard you practicing. I was like, “This guy is awesome.”
[00:46:05] JL: Whatever. I don’t remember that. I think you’re making that up.
[00:46:08] AT: No. Because you were in the other room. Of course you don’t remember it. I was [inaudible 00:46:10].
[00:46:12] JL: I saw the audition in international musician and I was like, “Oh!” So my parents had since moved on from Cleveland, to Palm Springs, because they want to move to warmer temperatures.” I was like, “Oh! I can just take this audition as a way to like practice and improve my playing.” But mostly because I know I’m not going to advance. So I can just like fail in my first –
[00:46:32] AT: So you thought that you came out here thinking –
[00:46:35] JL: Yeah. I was like, “I’m going to fail my first round and then –”
[00:46:37] AT: Why? Why would you think that?
[00:46:39] JL: I think it’s just like –
[00:46:40] AT: Oh! Because you were in a good place and you were fine with it if you didn’t – Okay. Right.
[00:46:44] JL: Yeah. In the words of Love Actually, self-preservation.
[00:46:48] AT: I don’t really get that quote.
[00:46:49] JL: Exactly. I obviously didn’t tell them about it because they would just worry. So –
[00:46:54] AT: You didn’t tell them you’re in LA.
[00:46:56] JL: At first. I didn’t tell them I was taking this audition, because she would just call me every day like, “Are you practicing?” So I remembered also in the practicing sessions, we have work. I had to play concert master a few weeks beforehand too. So that was stressful. I remembered like a few days before I had to leave for LA. My boyfriend at the time was like, “Hey, you want to come on a yacht with us on this lake?” I was like, “I don’t know. I feel like I should prepare.” He’s like, “Oh, come on! You’re more than prepared enough.” So went and we had a great time.
[00:47:29] AT: I was going to say, this is a great tale, self-sacrifice. But no, that’s not.
[00:47:33] JL: No. It was like I needed the break or something. Then I went there and I remembered –
[00:47:40] NC: It’s called tapering?
[00:47:41] JL: Really?
[00:47:41] AT: Yeah, like you’re fresh for your audition.
[00:47:44] JL: I guess so.
[00:47:44] AT: Saving your strength for the big day.
[00:47:48] JL: Yeah, it’s tapering if you do well, but if you don’t –
[00:47:54] AT: It’s called slacking off if you fail.
[00:47:56] JL: I mean, I remembered the first excerpt was Mendelssohn Italian, which is deceptively hard for all you violinist out there. My heart rate was still up a lot, and my spiccato was not controlled enough and I remembered the first run through was not as good as I hoped it would be. The committee kind of stopped and they were like, “Can you play that again?” I was like, “Oh! Thank God. They’re giving me another shot. I shook up my hands, and the person manager at the time, Jeff [inaudible 00:48:23] was like, “Oh! You got this,” or something. So I did it again. It was better. Then I advanced and I remembered thinking, “Oh, shoot!”
[00:48:34] AT: I was not on this committee. I keep thinking I was.
[00:48:36] JL: I don’t think you were.
[00:48:37] AT: Because this was 2005.
[00:48:39] JL: Yes.
[00:48:40] AT: Okay. So I was gone.
[00:48:41] JL: When I advanced I was like, “Oh, shoot! I have to tell my parents that I’m in town.” So I called my mom and of course she started crying and she’s like, “Praise the Lord.” I was like, “Oh, shoot! I shouldn’t have told her.”
Yeah. So every round there were – There was a semifinal round. There was a final round. There’s a super final round. Then when the super final round ended, I had to call her at 10PM on a Sunday night, and I called her and she said, “Praise the Lord.” She was like crying. Yeah, it was crazy. I remember like running home. Sorry. Home, being my brother’s place, because my brother was also in his residency. This is the one that became a doctor. Thank the Lord.
[00:49:24] AT: Again, he’s an anesthesiologist.
[00:49:25] JL: Anesthesiologist. He was living downtown at the time. I just went on like apartments.com and it was like a very good day.
[00:49:32] AT: I feel like it was meant to be for you here.
[00:49:33] JL: Yeah.
[00:49:35] AT: Me too since I’ve –
[00:49:37] JL: Came back.
[00:49:37] AT: Like I’m just stuck here.
[00:49:39] NC: Oh! Come on. I stuck you here for the second time.
[00:49:45] AT: Oh! That’s sweet.
[00:49:49] NC: Well, any general audition tips for everybody listening besides being happy with yourself, being at peace with yourself?
[00:49:57] JL: That’s something you can’t really plan for unfortunately. But for general audition tips, that works for me. This is a longtime ago. Akiko, help me out here.
[00:50:07] AT: I can’t give you your audition tips. Sorry.
[00:50:10] NC: Well, what were your audition tips?
[00:50:13] JL: You’re asking me?
[00:50:14] NC: Yeah. I mean –
[00:50:16] JL: I’m a very anally retentive person. I love doing really stupid things, like making a binder full of your excerpts.
[00:50:26] AT: As we always say, that’s the essential –
[00:50:27] JL: It’s like the first thing I do. I go to like Kinco’s or whatever it’s called now and put the spiro around it and I get a bottle of white out and I white out whatever –
[00:50:36] AT: I thought you’re going to say a bottle of wine.
[00:50:39] JL: That too.
[00:50:40] AT: Bottle of wine.
[00:50:41] JL: Yeah. I love – Okay. I know there are some people that say that you should have everything for memory, all these stuff, you know better. I played my concerto with the music even, because I didn’t want to risk that one mistake, one memory slip that would be the deciding factor. I had that also and I would practice my concerto even with metronome. Metronome is the key. I would be in the shower and I would test myself, like 88, [inaudible 00:51:12] 132, [inaudible 00:51:13].
[00:51:14] AT: No. These are great tips. That’s like an amazing –
[00:51:16] JL: You should be able to do that in your head.
[00:51:18] AT: Just internalize the tempo. Yeah, that’s something I never did, and that’s why it would get away from me especially before I really figured out how to record myself and use my ear better. But my first several auditions, I would get to a certain point and then I think I would just – I didn’t have those things really set in stone. That’s a really, really good tip.
[00:51:38] NC: This is all because that guy said that rhythm wasn’t your strong suit, so you just like to get to the shower and –
[00:51:42] AT: Maybe you could thank him.
[00:51:44] JL: It’s like I hate him so much, but maybe that’s what pushed me over the edge. But also sound. I think that the rhythm is obviously one of the most important things. But sound. At the end of the day, who wants to hear you if you don’t have a good sound. In audition setting, you should probably try to play everything with a really beautiful sound.
[00:52:05] NC: It’s worth repeating. I mean, even in the finals, in the auditions that we’ve heard here in LA. That’s usually what it comes down to.
[00:52:13] JL: Yeah.
[00:52:14] NC: Not only violinists listening to the auditions. I mean, it’s people from all instrument groups and their comments are like, “I like listening to this person. I just didn’t enjoy listening to that person.” I can tell what they’re responding to is – Yeah. Who presses? Who scratches? Sorry to hijack your tip.
[00:52:36] AT: These are great tips.
[00:52:36] JL: I mean, I haven’t even really thought of this in so long.
[00:52:40] NC: I think traditionally, as being Stand Partners for Life, we should close with Stand Partner beef, Stand Partner etiquette, different things that you either you tried to do or not do as a stand partner, and that you look for.
[00:52:56] JL: Yes.
[00:52:58] AT: I know that you’re very into the fact that your stand partner smells really nice.
[00:53:03] JL: I have to first say that I love my stand partner, which is something that I know most people can’t say.
[00:53:09] NC: No. Because you have a fixed chair. So you have generally a fixed stand partner unless someone’s out.
[00:53:16] JL: Yeah. Fixed isn’t always fixed, because most of the time somebody’s out. So we have to move up or move down.
[00:53:25] AT: We don’t move down.
[00:53:25] JL: Not down. Sorry. But one of us has to move up. So someone else has to move up. So I actually get a wide variety of stand partners. But –
[00:53:34] AT: Life with the fourth chair.
[00:53:35] JL: Yeah. My third chair stand partner. She’s amazing. But what I look for in another stand partner is – Gosh! Where do I even start?
[00:53:48] AT: Takes the job seriously.
[00:53:49] NC: You’re Dr. Frankenstein. You’re in the lab. You get to build your perfect stand partner. What are the –
[00:53:52] AT: Yeah. You get to carve up a bunch of corpses and stitch them together and reanimate them into your ideal stand partner.
[00:54:00] NC: Are they talking all the time when the conductor is talking?
[00:54:02] JL: Exactly. I mean, no. Obviously, no.
[00:54:05] NC: Getting the ball rolling.
[00:54:06] JL: Yeah. Not talking. Not making small talk. Not practicing while the conductor is talking.
[00:54:15] AT: Are they writing in fingerings?
[00:54:17] JL: Hopefully not writing in fingerings. If they do, they write it respectfully.
[00:54:23] NC: They write good ones maybe.
[00:54:24] AT: Well, I mean it could go with that. Not sure you’d agree.
[00:54:29] JL: Turn the page on-time. Hard looking the space.
[00:54:32] AT: Quickly, kind of like slowly lift your arm [inaudible 00:54:36] and then turn the page.
[00:54:38] JL: What’s your biggest stand partner pet peeve?
[00:54:41] AT: Too many. I don’t want to get specific in case somebody –
[00:54:45] JL: I know.
[00:54:45] AT: When they turn their chair.
[00:54:49] NC: All right. Well, these are all great starting, because people always ask about those, and I think most violinists and actually most people that have played in youth orchestra are surprised that the same issues that we encountered in youth orchestra still exists at the pro level. It’s all the same people that forgot their pencils in youth orchestra. Probably forget their pencils in the LA Phil and –
[00:55:11] AT: I forgot mine today.
[00:55:13] NC: Only for the second half. So I think –
[00:55:15] AT: No. I didn’t bring it out at all today. It’s just that Bing forgot hers. She was second half. Since I never brought mine at all, like we were –
[00:55:22] JL: This is good though. I feel like returning to your childhood, don’t practice concertos on stage. Don’t play louder than your stand partner. If you can’t hear your stand partner, then you’re playing too loudly.
[00:55:35] AT: I think I do that.
[00:55:37] NC: Akiko’s rule is if I’m hearing my stand partner, then –
[00:55:39] AT: I’m not playing loud enough.
[00:55:40] NC: I’m not doing this.
[00:55:41] AT: Yeah. Okay. Ha! Ha!
[00:55:44] JL: Akiko is really good.
[00:55:47] AT: I think I sound great. Get out of my way.
[00:55:53] JL: I think you should play as loud as you want. You encounter a lot of riffraff in your professional life. Just say no job is perfect.
[00:56:02] NC: Yeah, that’s true. Worth remembering. It’s often what you make of it.
[00:56:07] AT: As long as you have good friends and good wine.
[00:56:10] JL: Exactly. Even something like this where you remember like why you went into music in the first place. It’s like would I rather be in a lab doing something I absolutely hate? Versus we played this Berkner Concert last week, and then it was like, “I love the symphony so much, and I was having such a good time on stage.” I was like, “This is so much better than being in an office.”
[00:56:35] NC: Yeah. Once the concert starts and nobody can talk and –
[00:56:38] JL: Exactly. It’s the talking and it’s the stand partner stuff you have to deal with. That’s the hard stuff.
[00:56:46] NC: Yeah, playing the music is –
[00:56:46] AT: Get lost in the moment.
[00:56:48] NC: That’s hard too, but they’re awarded as –
[00:56:52] JL: Actually, let me add to that. It’s like the extra stuff you do outside of work. When Nathan and I were playing last year this chamber of music, and it was like – It was a lot of fun and it was just very efficient. The rehearsals were efficient, which I appreciate.
[00:57:06] NC: Because we have to get back to the kids.
[00:57:08] JL: Exactly. Everyone has their life outside of work.
[00:57:11] NC: Well, we really can’t thank you enough. Thanks so much for being here, and as always for hanging out. Thank you all for tuning in for another Stand Partners for Life, and we will see you next episode.