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Chapter One - Twinkle This

My mom made me take piano lessons.


I crept into an intimidating studio at the Colburn School, sat down at a beat up Steinway with a tarnished lid and two chipped keys and played.


Twinkle Variations.


In the corner, my piano teacher, Dr. Heewon Kwon, frowned with disappointment.


This was November 2011, and not when I was five.


I had effectively quit the piano in the middle of my first quarter, freshman year, UCLA.

This was my first official piano lesson a handful of years later (if you know how old I am, you can do the math) playing Mozart’s "Twelve Variations on 'Ah Vouz Dirai-je de maman'". (“Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” for those who don’t speak French.)


I’m trying to find the best way to describe the rendition. Garbage. Yeah, garbage probably works.


I had the equivalent of a high school education in piano. And for whatever reason, I pompously decided to take my limited musical knowledge and do a grandiose solo recital with the likes of Mussorgsky, Liszt and Rachmaninov on the program.


Problem. I was stuck on “Twinkle, Twinkle”.


I started in the Suzuki Piano Method when I was five. Suzuki emphasizes listening and playing-by-ear over sight-reading. It gives kids a mnemonic device to learn rhythms.



16th and 8th notes with the words Lollipop and Popcorn, Lollipop and Popcorn as lyrics.







This was cute and all, but I hated drilling with such a passion that I think I started to say “Everybody, Everybody” with a jazz swing and bitter attitude, causing me never to be able to play the 16th notes that accompany the words evenly.


Either that or I have an undiagnosed speech impediment.


So I am a product of Suzuki piano... kinda. Had I stayed with my Suzuki instructor, Koko, I would have been another in the long line of kids that started the piano and quit at age 12. The concept of playing songs for stickers didn’t inspire me. (Teachers, you know what I’m talking about.) And I honestly believe that this early training of listening over reading music, really hampered my ability to sight read as an adult. Consequently, I’ve never been hired as a keyboardist on a Michael Giocchino film score, nor anyone else’s for that matter. (It was poor training, or I’m lazy. I’m not fully ready to admit to the latter yet.)


Fortunately, Koko got married, and I got shipped off to the Colburn School and Heewon.


Heewon was a teacher who nurtured creativity, going off syllabus and playing songs you were inspired by, no matter how difficult. It kept me interested. She supported my choices when I selected pieces to learn that were completely unapproved by the piano department at Colburn. She was the person who, when I took a huge hiatus from music, welcomed me back with no questions asked and picked up from where we left off.


What her stubborn defiance of department heads allowed me to do was stay interested and engaged. Instead of the required Mozart “Rondo Allegretto” and “Sonatina” or Bach Minuets 1, 2, 3 and 3A in F-flat minor, it was Chopin and Debussy... Liszt and Beethoven... Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. Music and composers I instantly fell in

love with.


There is no piano without Heewon.

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