By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Seungwon Lee and Seulji Kim have a lot in common.
They’re both from South Korea. They’re both studying at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. And they’re both students of Jayoung Hong, a piano instructor and collaborative pianist at UNK.
“They are exceptional talents and musicians, and their accomplishments will be a real credit to our music program and university as they continue to progress in their careers,” Hong said. “The level of talent, dedication and intelligence it takes to be a piano performer of their level is considerable and speaks to a high level of discipline and grit.”
Their talent levels, as you can probably guess, are pretty similar.
Hong encouraged both pianists to participate in the Nebraska Music Teachers Association (NMTA) Collegiate Performance Competition earlier this month at UNK. They tied for first place in the junior/senior division.
“It’s a privilege to teach such talented young musicians,” said Hong, who is also from South Korea. “I am very proud of both of them for their success at the NMTA competition.”
Kim is in her first semester at UNK after transferring from the University of Minnesota, where she worked with Hong at the Minnesota International Piano Camp.
“I wanted to learn from Dr. Hong. That was the most important thing for me,” said Kim, a native of Jeonju, South Korea.
“I like her teaching style,” she added. “It is so amazing.”
Hong, who joined the UNK music faculty in 2015, is an award-winning pianist who has performed across the world at prestigious venues such as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., Carnegie Hall and Merkin Concert Hall in New York City, Pretoria City Hall in South Africa, National Theater and Concert Hall in Taiwan and Seoul Arts Center and Busan Cultural Center in South Korea.
She immediately noticed Kim’s potential.
“I found she was very musically talented and could make the piano sing to the audience,” Hong said.
The 24-year-old has come a long way since she started playing about a decade ago as a hobby.
Kim was drawn to music, specifically classical piano, and developed a passion that couldn’t be replicated in other academic areas.
“Math and science have a correct answer, but in music there is no correct answer, just my imagination,” she said.
The junior is studying piano performance at UNK. She wants to be a professional accompanist while continuing to hone her craft.
“Learning music is endless,” Kim said.
Lee, who started playing the piano around age 6, is a visiting student in her third semester at UNK.
She decided to enroll here after listening to Jake Kim, an international recruitment specialist for UNK, speak in her hometown of Seoul, South Korea, where she attended Sangmyung University.
The 25-year-old said music allows her to express herself, especially when she’s the one writing the pieces.
“I like playing my songs,” said Lee, who wants to be a composer.
The senior studying music composition credits Hong for expanding her horizons over the past 1 1/2 years and pushing her to try new things.
“She is very supportive of me,” Lee said.
One learning experience came when Lee was selected as the pianist for the Kearney Symphony Orchestra and UNK Jazz/Rock Ensemble.
“That was an unexpected opportunity,” she said. “I really appreciate that they gave me this opportunity.”
Hong knows her student earned the spot.
“I am very impressed by her ability to implement my suggestions and persevere for a specific goal,” she said.
Lee will return to South Korea in December – a moment that will be bittersweet. In the meantime, she plans to express that emotion in her own unique way.
“I want to be able to share my music before I leave,” Lee said.
HEAR THEM PLAY
UNK piano instructor Jayoung Hong and students Seulji Kim and Seungwon Lee will perform 3:30-4:30 p.m. Dec. 22 during a Holiday Harmony show at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St., in Omaha. Lee is also performing 7:30 p.m. Thursday (Nov. 1) during the UNK Jazz/Rock Ensemble concert in the Fine Arts Building Recital Hall, and Kim will play during the annual Korean Festival scheduled for 7-10 p.m. Nov. 11 in the Nebraskan Student Union Ponderosa Room.