This month, we spoke with Kee-Hyun Kim, a 2001 graduate of the Walnut Hill Music Department. Kee is a member of the Parker Quartet, founded in 2002 at NEC. He caught us up on the years since his graduation from Walnut Hill, and offered a few words of wisdom to our current students and recent alumni. To find out when Kee is performing near you, check out the Parker Quartet’s calendar of events.
What brought you to Walnut Hill originally, and what was your experience like as a music student here? Do you have a favorite memory from those years?
I came to Walnut Hill originally because of the relationship the Music Department had with the New England Conservatory. After playing for the late Bernard Greenhouse in Seoul, I had been invited to come study informally with him at his home on Cape Cod. He introduced me to cello professor Laurence Lesser, who, as I was 16 at the time, recommended that I apply for a school called Walnut Hill. I applied in October 1998 and the following January I found myself standing on the doorstep of Stowe, marveling at this turn of events in my life, eager and anxious to become a part of this new world.
I absolutely loved the time I spent here. Coming from Seoul, where even at my arts high school there were 50-plus students to a classroom, and I had to commute sometimes an hour each way to school, I felt an immediate kinship with the campus and the community. It was an incredibly liberating experience, one that deepened every year that I was here.
Besides the incredibly nurturing environment, and the stellar academic and artistic education that Walnut Hill provided, in hindsight what was truly special about my time at the School was my exposure to ethnic, cultural, and sexual diversity; I would not be who I am today without these values of respect, inclusion, and tolerance that were instilled in me during my time here.
Catch us up on the years since you graduated: What did you do after Walnut Hill, and how did that lead you to where you are now?
After I graduated Walnut Hill in 2001, I made the choice to stay in the Boston area and continue my studies with my cello teacher at the New England Conservatory. NEC was going through a period of growth, hiring many top-notch faculty, and as such was attracting some of the most talented students from around the world. It was in this environment that I found my colleagues and we formed a string quartet together, and this has been my main creative outlet for much of my professional career.
Upon completion of a master’s program at NEC, we relocated to St. Paul, Minnesota, for five years, and in the fall of 2013 moved back to Boston to start a new job, as faculty at Harvard University’s Department of Music. The quartet has, almost since its inception, been fortunate to have found some early success, and we maintain a pretty robust touring and recording schedule.
Since moving back to Boston, I have gotten married and bought a home, but probably the most exciting news is that my wife and I are expecting our first child in July of this year!
Will we see you at Reunion Weekend this year? What are you most excited about, in terms of coming back to campus?
Yes, I think so! It has been many years since I have been back on campus. I read that the Reids, my Dorm Parents at New Cottage many years ago, are finally retiring, and I want to help celebrate the moment with them! I am excited to see some fellow alums and to catch up with them as well. Perhaps most special for me is the chance to bring my wife and to share with her this part of my life that made such a significant, lasting impact on my development.
Do you have any lessons or advice for our recently graduated Walnuts who are entering the world?
Be curious, be engaged, and know that there is not one singular path to success.
In addition to my work at Harvard, this year I have been giving cello lessons to students at Phillips Exeter, which has had me thinking about Walnut Hill a lot. I find myself incredibly excited, as well as slightly envious, of the wide range of their interests and abilities, and the many doors that that sort of education will open for them. I am a product of music conservatory training, and most of my formal education was solely focused on the study of Western classical music. To see some of my students now, who, along with their study of music, take classes in molecular biology, computer science, economics . . . makes me want to go back to school again!
As artists, it is easy for us to become insular and selfish, removed from reality, and isolated from the public who we wish could appreciate what we do. Know that the real world is a vast, interesting, and complex place, and we need perspective and other points of view in order to thrive and succeed. Not everyone who graduates from Walnut Hill is going to be the next big thing, but with talent, discipline, passion, and a little bit of luck, you will be able to forge your own unique path, and find artistic fulfillment. There are so many things that we can do with our art, and the skills that we acquire through the learning of our craft are applicable to many other endeavors. Don’t limit yourself to small, narrow goals; keep exploring, keep questioning, keep discovering, and I have no doubt that you will have a successful and fulfilling career, one that will make a lasting contribution to society.