Oct 11, 2006  •  In Music, Personal

Musical Instruments

I’ve played the piano since I was 5, and the violin since I was 8. There was one year in elementary school when I decided to try the flute but it didn’t come naturally easy to me as the piano and violin did, so I quit.

Since then, I’ve played many different pianos and violins. But I was always sensitive to each instrument. Maybe overly sensitive – meaning I could never play as well on instruments to which I could not connect.

With each new instrument, I would take at least a few minutes to get to “know” each other. I would test the responsiveness, the sound quality, the build quality. And the instruments would test my limits, challenging me to create and be creative. If I couldn’t connect with a particular instrument in those crucial first minutes, I knew nothing special would come out of the relationship.

I’ve always treasured my violin – crafted in the 1890’s by a lesser-known Italian violinmaker, it certainly wasn’t the best quality or the most expensive violin available for sale at the time. It has numerous nicks and scratches, and had been repaired many times over. But I love that it has this history. And I love that the back body was carved from a single piece of wood, when most violins have 2 pieces that comprise the back body. It has a deep, rich sound, and the dealer who sold it to me informed me that many people did not like it because it is louder than your average violin. However, this is perfect for me because I was never as confident in my violin playing as my piano playing and so I need an instrument to counteract my shyness.

The piano we have in my parents’ house, however, is not my favorite. My mother had chosen it for its looks: she liked the deep mahogany wood. It has pretty good sound and responsiveness, but since the piano wasn’t chosen for its performance, I just like it okay. And perhaps I always knew deep down that it wasn’t mine, since my sister regularly played it too.

My favorite piano while growing up was our friend Annie’s. Not only was it carved beautifully, it had a soft yet rich, melodious sound, with just the perfect amount of stickiness in the keys.

Later, when I attended violin camp as a teenager (yes, there is such a thing as violin camp, and yes I went to one), I came across a Bösendorfer piano. Each Bösendorfer is hand-made, where crafters work alongside walls covered in pictures of beautiful, and often nude, women. They look to these women for inspiration while carving and assembling each piano…how sexy is that?!?

Bösendorfers start at tens of thousands of dollars, reaching hundreds of thousands and sometimes even millions, so of course I’m not able to afford one. However, the one I did get to play while at violin camp was wonderful. It was the best piano I ever played.

Do you play a musical instrument? Are you sensitive to each instrument as well?

Sep 27, 2006  •  In Korean, Personal

My Name

Growing up in Korea, I hated my given name, 효진 (Hyojin). I’m not sure exactly why, but it always felt a bit 촌스러워 (the closest definition I can think of is rustic, unrefined).

In addition, the name itself was unusual. I was named by my grandfather, who combined two Chinese characters, 효도할 효 (孝 – filial piety), and 배풀 진 (陳 – fulfill, exhibit), to form the name…a pretty ambitious name to say the least.

(Interesting tidbit: I didn’t find out until later that the second character is also a popular Chinese surname, Chen.)

I envied the girls with the pretty/cute and more common names like 유리 (Yuri) and 소원 (Sowon). Maybe it’s because they were the prettiest, most popular girls I knew? Perhaps my desire to fit in with the crowd manifested itself in my wanting a prettier, more common name.

My English name, Jenny, was actually given to me by a school secretary. When first registering for school after we moved to the states, the secretary had a hell of a time trying to pronounce my sister and my names. After butchering our verbal identities many times over, she said, “Well, I’ll call you Jenny and I’ll call you Suzy.”

I never really liked Jenny either – it’s way too common. But many people have told me that it suits me. Does this mean that I’m a common, ordinary girl?

Due to the prevalence of the name Jenny and my increasing age (thus the pressure to act like an adult and be more professional), I’ve started to use my Korean name more often in the past few years. Some have commented that it sounds pretty. I always shrugged them off, based on my preconceptions.

But one night battling insomnia, I said my name to myself and listened with a stranger’s ear. And it was pretty! At other points along the way, I found out that my name isn’t as uncommon as I had previously thought, with even two Korean celebrities sharing the name.

All was well until a friend told me that in Chinese, Hyojin is a boy’s name. I confronted my mother about this, and she replied, “Oh, didn’t you know? Everyone thought you were going to be a boy before you were born. And until you started growing hair, everyone thought you were a boy. Hyojin is a boy’s name.”