CLASSICAL MUSIC is not a very friendly genre to many people, as the melodies merely seem to be intricate combinations of musical notes. But here, a ponytailed violinist appears on the scene to rescue the audience as the leader of the string quartet Quartet X, writer of books and various columns about music, and host of his own classical music program and concert, "Cho Yoon-bhum's Power Classic." Cho Yoon-bhum ('95, Dept. of Inst. Music), a daring, adventurous, and versatile musician, talks animatedly about his role in popularizing classical music, emphasizing the importance of succeeding by your capability, not by the fame of your school.
Annals: How were your school years?
Cho: When I was little, I had a chance to join the string band as a violinist. In fourth grade, I stopped playing the violin though, since the violin seemed too difficult to play, and I entered an ordinary middle school. Yet afterwards, I thought that attending an ordinary school meant I would automatically become a company employee, a life which seemed to be boring. Therefore, I started to play the violin again and entered Sunhwa Arts High School.
Unfortunately, the arts school concentrated on major subjects such as Math and English, just like any other ordinary school that strives to achieve good results for the university entrance examinations. I also did not want to attend university because I was confident that I could pave my own way to success without attending university. Therefore, rather than studying, I spent most of my time practicing the violin and did not take the College Scholastic Aptitude Test in my senior year. Meanwhile, I failed to enter the Korea National University of Arts, which I attempted to attend instead of university. After graduating from high school, I spent a year starting all kinds of venture businesses such as publishing online movie magazines. The next year, however, I applied for Yonsei University on account of the military service and got into the Department of Instrumental Music.
Unlike high school, the university required a great deal of practice, and I began to find studying the humanities more appealing. Thus, I spent most of my time in the Central Library rather than practicing the violin. I sometimes skipped classes because I had other things to do as a venture businessman. At last, I decided not to take the performance test when I was a senior, and I dropped out of school in the second semester.
Why did you drop out of university when you were a senior?
To be brief, I dropped out of school because I thought genuine artists should prove their ability without the help of their academic background. I wanted to show that there could be another way to success without capitalizing on the reputation of my alma mater. This somewhat corresponds with the reason why I did not want to go to university when I was in high school. Perhaps I could participate in competitions under the name of my school, use the awards I won to study abroad, and then use the name of the school when I studied abroad to become a music instructor or professor. But I felt that I could not become a true artist in this way. I am not criticizing the musicians who list their personal history in their profiles, but I just innocently wanted to show that graduating a prestigious school is not a prerequisite to succeed as an artist.
How and why did you form Quartet X?
After I quitted school, I resumed my venture business until a friend of mine suggested helping the amateur orchestra in the Department of Dentistry. I was really impressed by their genuine passion for music, and I realized their enthusiasm is the real attitude musicians should have. Since then, I wanted to start music again and formed a string quartet, Quartet X, with three other music majors I met at the orchestra for the purpose of showing that we could play music with just our real talent and passion, not with the help of the name of the university. For this reason, Quartet X does not list the academic background of its members in the concert pamphlets.
Why do you want to help the public be familiar with classical music?
Classical music is what a composer wholeheartedly made for all people to enjoy. Sadly, the public feels distant from classical music. Classical music does require more efforts than popular music to be understood in depth because it has its own unique system and principles. However, once you begin to understand it, you will find it very fascinating. And as many of the outstanding pieces of classical music happen to be string quartets, I, together with the other members of Quartet X, feel a stronger sense of responsibility to let people know about classical music. Besides, I believe that musicians are, in a sense, marketers who have to try various methods to promote classical music, especially those works that are less familiar to the public yet of great value. Hence, I have been not only playing the violin but also have been explaining the music I play in an accessible way at stage, on television, and in books or columns.
How have you become engaged in diverse fields besides music?
I essentially have had interest in various fields such as movies, graphic design, editing, and electrical devices, and I used them to share what I think is enjoyable with other people. Regarding my previous experiences in publishing movie magazines, I used movie posters, graphic design, and editing to design posters and pamphlets for Quartet X's concerts by myself. Also, since I regard movies and electrical devices as effective means to promote classical music, I am currently writing a screenplay about classical music, and I am really interested in electronic media such as the recently released tablet PCs. I believe it is important for artists to be capable of combining the merits of other artistic genres, and make full use of them in their main field.
Any last words for Yonseians?
I want to tell Yonseians not to rely on the school's reputation as a means to success. For instance, the Helsinki Music Institute (currently renamed as the Sibelius Academy) in Finland takes pride in the fact that the famous composer Sibelius was once their student, and many students would aspire to enter this reputable school. However, what is important is that you should actually become a "Sibelius" who benefits the school. Thus you should say that you can contribute to Yonsei University since you are a great man yourself, not that you are a great man because you are a student at Yonsei University. The Central Library benefited me so much during my school years, and I confidently say I am a Yonseian because I am doing much to give back to the school. Think what you can do for Yonsei University, and endeavor to become greater, giving new light to the school yourself.